Our 4Food Creation Turns Out to Be a Garbage Plate Miracle

If there’s anything worse than a gimmicky restaurant in Midtown, it must be a Midtown restaurant with an overabundance of gimmicks. 4Food (Madison btw. 40+41st) arrived on the scene last year with a semi-healthy (?) burger concept called (W)holeburgers featuring patties with holes in them, along with a multitude of creative sandwich toppings, an industrial chic look (complete with iPad stations), space age packaging, and an aggressive social networking strategy. None of that made me anxious to try it, but it was one of their other gimmicks that finally got me in the door, and convinced me to create a Midtown Lunch inspired burger – their Billboard-esque chart of customer burger creations.

Every week, 4Food’s email newsletter provides a chart of the most popular burgers that customers have ordered online and chosen to share (a burger must be purchased online before it can be “marketed”). Pee Wee Herman even got in on the fun. You can see how long a burger has been on the charts and what position it held last week. Burgers even get special recognition for hitting 50 and 100 burgers sold milestones like gold and platinum records. The chart is also available in a less detailed format on their website, and the top ten creations appear on the big menu above their counter right alongside 4Food’s own creations.

It’s fun, and more than a little silly, but it also helps solve one of the fundamental problems with places like 4Food that offer their patrons a great deal of freedom. These places are always a damned if you do, damned if you don’t for me because if you try something really off the wall, it might suck, but if you stick to tried and true things, you’re not taking advantage of the situation. The chart lets you see creations that the 4Food brain trust may have never thought of, but that have also been tried, and presumably liked, by a lot of people. 4Food’s options don’t allow for anything really crazy, but there’s plenty of room for combinations you might not have thought to try on your own.

For my first visit, I went with 4Food’s most popular customer creation to date, the Caliburger ($7.50). It’s a beef patty on brioche, with an avocado and chili mango scoop (the thing that goes in the hole in the patty), topped off with a slice of avocado, lettuce, tomato and dijon mustard.

Obviously it wouldn’t make much sense to compare 4Food to other burger places in Midtown. After all, they put holes in their patties. That being said, it was an enjoyable sandwich. The patty is very lean and it’s cooked through, so there’s no juice dripping from it, but it wasn’t a dried up puck either. It’s got a decent beefy flavor, just don’t expect a gourmet blend or an expertly seasoned piece of meat.

The produce was good, but the bun was a little too firm and the dijon mustard was applied with a very liberal hand, to the point where it dominated the whole sandwich. I could only find one tiny disc of avocado on my burger and it was off to one side, which was disappointing. The mango scoop was sweeter than I expected (I didn’t taste any of the jalapeno that’s supposed to be in it). The tangy mustard and sweet mango filling seemed to butt heads more than complement each other, but I was still happy to have them.

All in all, it wasn’t a perfect sandwich, or a mindblowing experience, but it tasted pretty good. Unfortunately, it’s not very big. In case you hadn’t already guessed, 4Food is not the most budget or big appetite friendly place around.

I also had a side of their roasted roots ($3.50), basically their version of fries. Potatoes, sweet potatoes, and purple potatoes are sliced into steak fry like pieces, and then roasted and seasoned to become a finger food. I like the idea and they’re pretty good, but some pieces had tough, chewy bits of burnt skin. I don’t remember this being a concern at the free lunch, when they were cubing the potatoes.

After trying someone else’s creation, I decided to create something of my own, which basically amounted to choosing what Zach calls “fat guy toppings” without letting the price balloon (certain items carry extra charges). I ended up with a beef patty on a multigrain bun with a mac and cheese scoop, a slice of pancetta bacon, cheddar cheese, onions, pickles, ketchup and dijon mustard (I requested that they go easy on the condiments) for $7.50.

Now this was a bit more like it. I enjoyed this sandwich a lot, aided by the fact that I subconsciously included a lot of ingredients from my beloved cheeseburger Garbage Plate. The beef, pasta, cheese, onion, mustard combination definitely took a little piece of me back to Rochester. The pancetta adds a little supplementary salty, fatty meatiness (which is always appreciated) and the bun holds everything together. It might be a little too firm for some, but I liked it more than the brioche.

The Garbage Plate is has practically reached mythical status here at Midtown Lunch. It’s something that’s not available anywhere in Midtown and is extremely hard to find in pretty much all of NYC. This burger is no replacement for the real thing (obviously) but for those unfortunate souls who’ve never tasted one and want an idea of what the flavor profile is like, or for people who just want a little reminder, I think this sandwich does the trick.

I also tried a side of their coconut rice ($3). Kind of an odd side for such a sandwich-centric place, and it wasn’t as good as Lena’s, but it was definitely tasty. Little bits of coconut provide flavor and crunch. Rice is a pretty good way to try and fill up, but this serving won’t stuff you.

4Food also allows you to order any of the scoops as a side. I was curious about their MoFongo ($3.50), based on a Puerto Rican dish that I’ve never had before (but that Andrea H. was delighted to find downtown). According to the 4Food website it’s “sweet plantains, bacon, onions, garlic, salt, lime juice, and cilantro is cooked to a chunky mash.” I’d say it’s heavy on the mash and the sweet. It didn’t taste bad, but everything was sort of mushed together and I mostly only tasted the plantains.

Ordering through the 4Food website went very smoothly and I didn’t experience any of the problems people reported back when they first opened (it was also never really busy when I went around 1 or 2). I chose to pick my food up 15 or 20 minutes from when I ordered and it was ready and waiting for me when I got there, and it didn’t seem like it had been sitting around long. The one drawback is that it seems like you have to pay online with a credit card.

There is nothing particularly great about 4Food, but I liked the food enough and experimenting with their  different options is kind of fun. They don’t allow for truly out-there creations like The Counter, but you can probably mix and match just about anything and still get a sandwich that tastes decent.  And, on those days when I’m craving that garbage plate flavor, I know where I’m heading. And you can too… we’ve made it available on their website as the official “ML Garbage Plate Burger”.

The + (What somebody who likes this place will say)

  • Lots of toppings, including some you won’t find at any other “burger” places, allowing for unique sandwiches
  • The ability to choose from 4Food creations, customer creations, or building your own
  • A “healthy” take on burgers (uh… unless you get our Garbage Plate burger)
  • Some nice, unusual sides

The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place will say)

  • It’s too expensive
  • The portions are too small
  • Some of their “scoops” don’t have very balanced flavors
  • I want to create a really crazy burger
  • I want a “burger,” not some abomination with a hole in the middle

4Food, 286 Madison Ave. (btw. 40+41st), 212-810-4592, website


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