I’m officially done with tasteless beef. Part of this is I’m getting older, and I recognize that, despite pretending to court cardiac arrest in some of my writing like it was a hot prom date, arteriosclerosis, unlike Donald Trump’s promises to make Mexico pay for a border wall, is a real thing. I’ve already seen some of the best minds of my generation stented and statin-ed.
I had been a staunch defender of commodity beef. While people lined up at Au Cheval for that burger like Kanye West was about to play a small club show, another group derided these lines as hype for a commodity Sysco patty. I sided with the Kanye disciples because, while the beef was from Sysco, it wasn’t their lowest line stuff, it was grilled to a pink medium, larded with the silkiest Dijon-mayo, and a locally baked pillowy bun. It was the ideal gourmet facsimile of what your dad messed up on his backyard Weber.
But here’s the thing. If you dig deep on the bun and the accoutrement, why not the beef too? If the Au Cheval burger was stuffed with a funky locally-raised dry aged patty, I would never seek another burger anywhere, ever.
The thing that put me over the edge on this is the Mott burger from Mini-Mott. If the Au Cheval team ran a marathon to construct their burger, the Mini Mott team ran an ultramarathon and then followed that with a triathlon for fun. Which is to say, they have the sexy soft bun too, but they put hoisin in the aioli and add a little miso-butter, pickled jalapenos, and they even take time to frizzle (probably not a real verb) sweet potato shavings. But then they destroy the patty until it’s a Trump-friendly well done and swaddle it in gooey American cheese. Even if it had flavor, you’d never find it.
Which isn’t to say the burger isn’t tasty. It is, in the same way a Big Mac as a sum of its parts can rock your world, but when you start to separate out the elements of what the golden arches serve you, you realize just how horrible the reconstituted onions and brain-matter-textured grayish beef patties are. When I focus on the experience of chewing the beef at Mini Mott, I realize I might as well be eating the Impossible burger. Frankly, I think this is why people have been so floored by the Impossible burger. We’ve gotten so used to flavorless commodity beef, that the standard for replacement is as low as Death Valley.
Though it still used the same insipid cow flesh, the best burger at Mini-Mott was a special, an elotes-flavored offering topped with salty queso, pickled jalapenos, cilantro, and roast sweet corn.
While the patties fail to achieve such a shade, there is a LOT of pink at Mott. The patio chairs and the tissue paper that lines the trays feel like they’ve been art-directed by Elle Woods for her personal Instagram feed.
There are wings and shakes too (when I think about it, Mini-Mott is basically an haute Asian-inspired hipster Hooters without the tight shirts). The wings are double-fried, once at low temp and finished at high temp, and sprinkled with soy, jaggery, dried chilis, sesame, poppy seed, and fried shallots. I have never wanted to dump soy on an everything bagel in my life, but, you know, it all kind of works. There’s crunch and umami and sweet. But despite the dual fry technique, the chicken flesh itself is dry, while the skin is soggy like a nonagenarian’s neck wattle. The Mini-Mott crew has great ideas, they just aren’t executing them very tightly.
The Belgian-chocolate shake is velvety smooth, rich with cocoa, and served in a lithe elegant Pilsner glass. The whole setup makes me imagine Holly Golighty relishing this creamy dream while chilling away the afternoon curbside on the salmon-colored patio chairs. That being said, for now, she’s better off sticking to breakfast at Tiffany’s.