It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving and all I really wanted to do was skip every meal for the next month. That was the only way I felt I would fit into my Speedo for my swim workouts. To my body’s disappointment (or relief, however you look at it), my plan went out the window when my parents called me at work and they mentioned the word “burgers.” My mom said she was getting “cabin fever” in Connecticut. I didn’t think that was possible when you’re a) not in the mountains and b) not in a cabin. Regardless, they were coming into the city and we were going to a place known for its burgers. Dad claimed they were Manhattan’s best, or I should say he claims someone else claimed they were Manhattan’s best. I thought since it wasn’t Corner Bistro, the Burger Joint, or P.J. Clarke’s, and I’d never heard of it, then how could it be?
Before dinner, I grabbed some much-needed drinks with the other weekend warriors (suckers) at my office. When I mentioned the word burgers to my friend she yelled, “Take them to J.G. Melon!” Well, what a coincidence. That’s where we were headed. I knew my Dad would be proud someone else recommended the place he picked out all by his lonesome, with the help of his trusty mouse, keyboard and internet favorite Zagat’s. Mom gets frustrated when she buys us guides and restaurant books and all my Dad and I ever want to do is surf the internet.
A couple dirty Goose martinis later, I showed up at J.G. Melon. I walked in and a smiley white-haired man in a baggy red sweater beelined for me. I jumped. I thought he was a patron at the bar and I invaded his personal space. Instead, he asked if I wanted a table and in the second after I said “Yes, for three pl-” he blurted, “Forty minutes!” I was impressed, and even more so when I didn’t believe his rapid-fire table-waiting gauge, and the wait ended up being half his prediction.
Mom and Dad weren’t there yet and the bar was crowded, but not so much you couldn’t get a drink or a stool. I scored both. With my cold Stella in hand, I sat content. The Giants game (not that I need reminding) was on and everyone’s eyes and focus were on the game and our lead. J.G. Melon’s golden lighting, classic wooden bar, and whir of conversation warmed me up outside and in. It didn’t take me long to realize J.G. Melon was a comfort destination, and servers came to expect smiles just like patrons came to expect great food. It seemed like most of the parties were twenty-somethings chomping on last chance holiday suppers with their parents. I was in the right place.
After ten or fifteen minutes in walked Mom and Dad. They had time to order a beer, look around, fall in love, and moments later our enthusiastic host returned. In another sneaky and startling attack he said, “Your table’s ready.” When I didn’t respond within a millisecond, I heard it again. “Your table’s ready!” This guy meant business, but not in an annoying way. He was trying to alleviate as much of the wait as he could and we appreciated it. His up-to-the-second alertness was lost on me at the end of my work week, but with a little prodding he led us off to our table in the corner.
The front of the house is a long narrow bar and I expected the dining area to be bigger. The room I thought was a portion of the sit-down space was actually the only sit-down space. Seating was tight. I had to do a little twist and suck in to get to my seat against the wall. This was a small price to pay for the dinner we were about to consume. My friend from work told me to get the spinach salad, a cheeseburger, and the cottage fries. I didn’t deviate from this eating itinerary. I ordered the small spinach salad, a burger with Swiss cheese, and the three of us shared cottage fries, make that two orders. Dad’s a sucker for cottage fries. His favorites are at the Palm, though Mom and I insist they are in fact cottage chips, like a homemade, bigger, warmer, and softer version of the Cape Cod chip. Mom and Dad also ordered burgers.
The spinach salad was simple and good. It was lots of spinach packed into a small bowl with a sweet vinaigrette, fresh crunchy bacon bits and mushrooms. I still had room for the main event. My favorite part of the burger was the melt-in-your-mouth bun. The bun was thin and the juices from the burger melded the three parts together into one big juicy concoction. The meat portion was the perfect size. It wasn’t a flat pattie but it wasn’t too big to bite into either. I debated adding ketchup and mayo but it was so juicy it didn’t need any. Instead I mixed the dipping duo for my fries. The little wheels of potatoes were warm and soft and a cross between waffle fries and steak fries, though much thinner than steak fries. With a touch of salt and my dip I could have eaten them all night.
Our conversation stopped over the burgers. All you could hear from our table was “oooohs” and “aaaaahs” with each new bite. Our server came to the table a couple times and we could only nod at him smiling. I think our sole complaint about dinner was our server. He wasn’t the friendliest chap to have ever walked the planet, but he wasn’t the rudest either.
When we left J.G. Melon we were already talking about who we would share this new find with and when we would be back. Before I made it to the door someone yelled, “Good night, M-! Thank you!” Again, he managed to surprise me. I wasn’t surprised that he found me to say goodbye with all the commotion at the entranceway, but that he remembered my name after hearing it once. I only wish I had asked for his to thank him for our memorable burger adventure.
*cash only and menu is a la carte*
1291 Third Ave. at 74th St.,