Joining the fray of burger & fries joints in the city comes Morgenstern's Famous on Houston Street, from proprietor Nick Morgenstern who used to run the now-defunct GG's in the East Village, home to one of the best burgers I've ever eaten at a pizza restaurant. And while his new offerings have more of a Smashburger feel to them than what I remember from the GG's days, the griddling skills of his team, and the quality of ingredients, remain high.
The new shop-within-a-shop is called Morgenstern's Burgers, Fries, and Pies, but the mechanics are the same as if you came just for ice cream: you order at the same counter and, if you're dining "in," you grab one of the two dozen or so tables set up outside under the awning running up LaGuardia Place. It's a pleasant place to sit and eat and people-watch for a while on a nice summer's evening.
The foundation for all the burgers are quarter-pound patties, freshly ground using either beef or pork, and the sesame buns, which are baked in-house every day. The All-American, which you can get either as a single or a double, is loaded up in classic fast-food style with shredded lettuce, pickle chips, tomatoes, diced onions, melted American cheese, and a lively "special sauce." It totally hits the spot.
Even better is the Buffalo Burger, which is not, as you might expect, made from bison meat; the name, rather, is an homage to those wings the city made famous, so the pork patty here is slathered in a spicy orange sauce and topped with ranch dressing, pickled celery, and melted American. It's a memorable beast, all juicy and packed with big flavors. You can also get your pork patty done up with teriyaki sauce, kewpie mayo, and hot mustard.
The only semi-dud at our feast the other night was the bacon-laden Bistro Burger, which lacked a certain something. The Fries, on the other hand, are excellent—skinny, crisp, and salty enough to have you go back inside and order a beverage, like a terrific sugary Rocket Fizz Pineapple Soda. There are plenty of other options in the beverage department as well, both boozy (spiked milkshakes, straight-up cocktails) and not (the O-So! Butterscotch Root Beer sounds like it's worth a try).
For dessert you can get a milkshake, a sundae, or a few scoops on a cone using any of Morgnstern's 88 or so flavors on hand—keep in mind, this is some of the absolute best ice cream available in NYC today. Order with confidence from anywhere on the lengthy menu. You might also want to consider a slice or two from one of Morgenstern's new line of Summer Pies, including a sweet and tangy Strawberry Icebox beauty, and a Chocolate Cream Pie that eats like pudding.
Morganstern's Burgers, Fries, and Pies is located within the Morgenstern's parlor at 88 West Houston Street, at the corner of LaGuardia Place, and is currently open every day from noon to 10 p.m. (212-209-7684; morgensternsnyc.com)