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Best Burger

The bike weaves between traffic on Middle Country Road, the rider looks about apprehensively. Was he followed? The Iron Chef is on the side of 347 behind a clump of bushes. The messenger approaches him and hands off a package. His assignment? To capture the burger population of Long Island.
Ok burger fans, are you ready for an old fashioned throw down?
Followers of Iron Chef Bobby Flay know his m.o. well. He has serious restaurants in Manhattan, and is a staple on the popular Food Network, including Boy Meets Grill and Throwdown, where he goes into a town and tries to outdo the reigning sheriff in whatever field, steaks, cupcakes, chili, Philly cheese steaks. Sometimes he wins and sometimes he loses. How did he do here on Long Island with his Bobby’s Burger Palace? You’ll find out!
The Challengers: Burger 9 Point 5, Merrick: This place is a small storefront on a main street but offers up some big time treats. Appetizers include the usual suspects like wings and tenders, but how about something a little different, like homemade Guacamole served with tortilla chips. Or thick cut Black and Tan Beer battered Onion Rings. These bad boys are delicious and plentiful. And who could pass up an appetizer called “ZOP”…battered fried zucchini, buttermilk onion rings and cheddar filled jalapeno poppers served with 3 dipping sauces.
Ok, ok, enough of the small talk…on to the beef. The burgers are big time, enough for any challenger to take the gold cup. The original is a mammoth 9.5 ounces, oozing juices and cooked perfect. Or perhaps you want to try the Rodeo, with bbq sauce, melted cheddar cheese and onion rings. Want to go ethnic? Try the Chad with melted gorgonzola cheese and spicy buffalo wing sauce.
Make no mistake about it, Burger 9 Point 5 knows how to serve up a good meal and good prices. Great selection of food , and if you drop in for lunch, a combo is only $5.99 and includes burger, choice of fries, knish or corn and a fountain beverage. Watch out Bobby, this place is breathing down your neck.
Burger 9 Poin t5 is located at 139B Merrick Ave, Merrick. (516) 543-4141; burger9point5.net.
Johnny Rockets, Roosevelt Field Mall; Broadway Mall and Tanger Outlets, Deer Park: Johnny Rockets is an International restaurant chain that recreates the old style ice cream parlor/luncheonette complete with faux old advertising signs, a slick décor and lots of fun for all.
We sampled the Tanger Deer Park location on a recent Friday, and the place was packed with moms and their kids and local workers from the area stores. We got there just as the staff was doing a little show tune number, an event that seems to happen on the half hour. Great for casual entertainment and it seemed to be enjoyed by both the young kids and the seniors.
Johnny Rockets has about 15 burgers on the menu, including the Smoke House Double which is two patties, cheddar cheese, thick bacon, onion rings, and smokehouse sauce for $9.59. Or the popular #12, which includes cheddar, lettuce, onion slice, pickle, mayo and a tangy red sauce.
We tried the Smoke House single, ordered it medium, got it a bit more well than we like but it still was flavorful burger and well worth the $7.49 which includes fries.
Ah yes, the fries……sometimes you have to wonder what goes on in the minds of the boys back at International headquarters who put this concept together. Give the customer fun surroundings, whimsical entertainment, a decent burger and shake or malt and then screw up the fries BIG TIME. The fries are so bad, they go beyond description. As soon as I walked in and saw the white fries on customers’ plates, I knew. Think Waldbaum’s frozen fries and you’ll have the Johnny Rockets fries. Why?
For more information and locations on Johnny Rockets go to johnnyrockets.com.
And now, on to the titular champion (by reputation at least) …
Bobby’s Burger Palace, Smith Haven Mall, Lake Grove: Bobby Flay is a super cool guy who has a great TV personae, fun to watch, witty, humble at times, and extremely talented. The question then is, how did the Iron Chef mess up so bad?
I had waited to go to the Burger Palace after Newsday wrote that the fries were frozen and several blogs reported uneven dining. Finally, the time seemed right, the fries had been re-invented. I wish the rest of the Palace had been.
It would seem that someone with Bobby Flay’s experience and financial backing would put together a dining experience that was truly fun. Burgers, like BBQ is all about having fun, burgers are the ultimate comfort food.
The Burger Palace is the most sterile restaurant I’ve been in for a long time. Think Jetsons-like décor with very modern lines and colors, and nearly barren walls….nothing to look at, nothing to drool over, just orange and avocado walls and counters and walls and counters. Well, nearly nothing. If you consider huge pieces of artwork of two strips of bacon or avocados exciting, this is your place.
You place your order when you enter, take a seat, and the food is brought to your table. At 6:45 on a Tuesday night, dinner time, there were 6 customers in the place. It stayed that way for most of the time I was there.
I had this month’s special, the Cheyenne Burger, with smoked cheddar, onion strings (very aptly named) and bacon strips. When the burger arrived, I had to check under the cheese to make sure it was really there. It probably was about 4 ounces, maybe 5. The burger was very tasty, the strings were miniscule, one big fat onion ring would have been preferred, and the bacon was rubbery.
The fries were home made and delicious, but would have enjoyed the accompanying dipping sauce more if half the fries had not been little stubs, hard for dipping without dipping your finger as well.
Other burger choices include the Dallas Burger, spice crusted with coleslaw, jack cheese, bbq sauce and pickles and the Miami Burger, pressed with ham, Swiss cheese , pickles, mustard and mayo.
On each table is a rack of sauces including jalapeno hot sauce, burger sauce, yellow mustard. Whoa…..yellow mustard on gourmet burgers? Has the Iron Chef not heard of mustard with horseradish or even spicy brown? These would have been a better choice.
As I finished my burger, I lusted after the burger I had recently at Fatty Beltbuckles. a monster , dripping juice, overflowing from the bun. I ordered it at a BBQ joint because the guy next to me had one and I had to have one too. It looked that good.
The fountain selection is unbelievably pedestrian…Coke, diet Coke, Sprite, Fresca, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke. Wow, the Coke salesman must have made a score here. Hey Bobby, how about wondering over to the competition for some inspiration. At Five Guys you can get Dr. Pepper, Birch Beer, Orange (what restaurant doesn’t carry orange?), Fruit Punch for the little guys. Sure you can buy a bottled Boylan’s but are they re-fillable?
The burger was $7.50, the fries $2.50 and the Boylan $2.50. It came to $13.50 for a burger meal. Way too much for what you got.
Hey Bobby, come out to my neck of the woods sometime and I’ll take you right up the road from your place to the Good Steer, where the burgers are nirvana.
Or even better, maybe I can get a couple of the local guys together and we can head over to your place for a Throwdown.
Bobby’s Burger Palace is located at the entrance at 355 Smith Haven Mall, Lake Grove; (631) 382-9590; bobbysburgerpalace.com.

Dec 16, 2009
gtmag in New York State (exc. NYC)

DJ's International Buffet Delivers the Goods

There must be someone new in the kitchen at DJ’s International Buffet in Garden City. After a considerable absence, we returned to DJ’s to find a much expanded and higher quality menu.
DJ’s was always ago for a quick Chinese buffet pick-me up. But it was not in the league of East Buffet or Harvest in Little Neck. Perhaps the closing of East (now relaunched as Best Buffet) motivated DJ’s to improve their offerings.
Prime rib at any buffet is an iffy thing, but at DJ’s, they have a whole side of prime rib, well-prepared and very, very tasty. The prime rib alone is worth the price of the meal.
Pass on the duck, two visits have showcased a dry looking bird….Move a few steps to the left and load up on delicious lamb chops, shrimp and crab, Korean short ribs. All expertly prepared on the grill. Sushi lovers won’t have to go too far, DJ’s offers an impressive selection of sushi as well as noodles, dumplings and other goodies in the dim sum section.
On to the main arena…It’s worth it to spend the few extra bucks and go on the weekends, they have delicious lobster, cut up and ready to devour. I’m addicted to the sweet and filling coconut chicken, the teriyaki chicken, the General Tso’s. They have expanded to include nearly a dozen chicken dishes and all are tasty, tender and expertly prepared.
Ribs are a good mix, try the big meaty ribs or the spare ribs. And don’t miss out on the pork bellies, something you won’t find everywhere.
Shrimp, shrimp and more shrimp…three or four different styles and plenty to go around.
Crabs legs, crabmeat, sea bass and other seafood selections are artfully displayed and even more artfully devoured.
Dessert is one big step up from most Chinese buffets. The tarts are tasty, the Italian rainbow cookies are good and the fruit carousel is loaded with melons, jello, pineapple, flan and much more. The ice cream selection, although Hershey’s, is fairly decent, especially since they have flavors like Chocolate Chocolate Chip.
Most important, the chafing dishes are continually replaced so the food never looks run down or dry. I saw one worker put in a new order of chicken, and actually remove the dried out leftovers, rather than mix them in with the new offerings.
Dinner is $16.95 Monday thru Thursday, $23.95 on weekends. They also have a breakfast buffet which I haven’t tried in a while but included the usual suspects of eggs, bacon, sausage. Perhaps the revamped menu has hit breakfast as well.
DJ’s International Buffet is located at 1100 Stewart Avenue in Garden City; call them at (516) 227-2427.
Oh, and there is disco every weekend in the large lounge.

Dec 16, 2009
gtmag in Manhattan