Bill’s Bar & Burger Enters the Crowded Midtown Burger Scene
Since Bill’s Bar & Burger opened in the Meatpacking District late last year, I was under the impression that it was meant to compete with Shake Shack. I can’t speak to the original location, but after eating at the new Rockefeller Center location (51st btw. 5+6th), I can tell you that Shack Shack has nothing to worry about. This comparison isn’t about the quality of the food (we’ll get there), it’s just that Bill’s offers a completely different experience.
Bill’s is a sit down restaurant with an expansive menu (including burgers, appetizers, sandwiches and salads) as compared to Shake Shack’s gussied up fast food lay out and stripped down offerings. While their burgers may beg for comparison, not much else about these two establishments does. Bill’s atmosphere sits comfortably between the tourist trap chains like T.G.I. Friday’s and fancier expense account places, the two categories that seem to dominate most of Midtown’s non-diner sitdown restaurants. It’s is comfortable and waitstaff is pretty attentive, but it’s also laid back enough that you won’t feel out of place in a t-shirt.
As I mentioned, they have a varied menu with lots of enticing options. For my first visit though, it seemed most logical (and economical) to stick with the basics. A classic burger with lettuce, tomato and pickles ($6.95) and an order of fries served with Bill’s house ketchup ($3.50). The burger was good, maybe very good. The meat seemed less flavorful and unique than Shake Shack (despite the well publicized fact that they both use LaFrieda beef). The patty came out juicy, which was nice but it also rendered the bottom bun a bit of a mushy mess right from the start. I enjoyed the burger a lot, but I’m not sure I’d recommend people go out of their way for it.
The fries were also very enjoyable. Hot, crisp and salty, they were just a little bit thicker than McDonald’s. The house ketchup tasted a lot like a cocktail sauce spiced up with some hot peppers. The horseradish only came through on a few bites, but I’m almost sure it’s in there. I liked the ketchup a lot though and even put a bit on my burger even though I rarely use ketchup on anything but fries.
The basics are pretty good, but come at a fairly steep price (a comparable meal at Shake Shack would be less, even before adding a tip to your Bill’s tab). But Bill’s has so much more to offer (and since the menu for Rock Center isn’t online yet, here’s a peak at the relevant sections).
I’d probably go with Mushroom & Swiss or Bacon & Cheddar on a return visit.
Although the Magic Mushroom might be cause for a trip all its own.
I hope I never see the Tomato Pizza Soup in person.
Oh yeah, they have salads too. They also have specialty milk shakes and something called lettuce cup starters. I don’t know what that is. Maybe like a salad version of the KFC Famous Bowl?
Here’s a peek at the slightly swankier looking downstairs area which should be open next week.
It’s worth mentioning that the “bar” in Bill’s Bar & Burger isn’t just for show. Many people were enjoying beer in the early afternoon when I was there and they have an extensive beer list, including a whole section of New York beers (Rochester’s own Genny Cream Ale FTW!).
Bill’s doesn’t really work as an everyday Midtown Lunch kind of place; it’s a sitdown restaurant, it’s pretty much impossible to get a meal for under $10 (you’ll be able to get closer once they start doing take out), and you definitely end up paying for the ambiance (read: rent) not just the food. If you’re looking for a place to gather with some friends and have a sitdown lunch or dinner, however, then Bill’s should be a nice alternative to all the diners, chains and expense account joints. The little bit of the menu I had was quite good and the rest offers some intriguing possibilities at the very least. It’s generally not a good idea to judge a place by its first day, but Bill’s seems to be off to a good start so far.
Bill’s Bar & Burger, 45 Rockefeller Plaza (51st btw. 5+6th), 212-705-8510