Stand
24 East 12th Street
(btw’n 5th Ave. and University Pl.)
Union Square
(212) 488-5900

 

 

 

When I think about the hamburger renaissance taking place in New York at the moment I get emotionally crumpled. On the one hand I want to send up a little smile of thanks to the Fates for bringing me back home at the exact moment my favorite kind of food is finally getting the treatment it deserves. On the other hand I wonder if this spotlight is just taking all the fun out of it.

I’m simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by all these trendy burger joints. (You know it’s bad when “trendy burger joint” becomes a real, commonly used phrase around town. And it has.) As much as I want to try a burger made by Laurent Tourendel or someone like him I also know that these guys are missing the whole point of the burger joint culture. It’s not that it’s no frills. It’s not that it’s your high-falutin’ corruption of no-frills. It’s that it’s down-to-earth, cheap, and good. The ideal burger joint is the first place you think of when you want to just hang out for a little while, and let the day pass you by. This is a kind of atmosphere that can’t be manufactured — it’s an act of spontaneous evolution that happens when the right burgers meet the right neighborhood. Though I wasn’t expecting it, that’s exactly what I’ve found at Stand, trendiness and all.


One might be suspicious of the place on sight, with its slate gray minimalism and swanky mirrored bar. But if you spend more than five minutes there it becomes clear that this isn’t your burger joint from Small Hometown, USA, but it is the burger joint of Union Square, with all of our young professionals, graphic designers, and downtown aesthetes. In other words, it makes sense here. And I wouldn’t be saying that if the food wasn’t note-perfect. Burgers are burgers, after all, and that’s why everyone is here. And you’ll find no truffle sauce or caviar or other insanity — just burgers, perfectly done, arranged simply across a thin column on a sans-serif menu. After a quick scan of your scant few options you’re on your way to lunch, thank the gods.

I’ve heard complaints that the burgers at Stand are too salty and I’d like to go on the record and say this is slander. That’s just the wholesome taste of char that any good burger fresh from the grill should have. Depending on how you like them cooked, Stand’s burgers are crispy and flavorful on the outside, velvety soft on the inside, always on a fresh-baked poppy seed bun. Actually, everything here is either freshly baked or organic or local or just delivered that morning from some guy down the street. Stand’s trademark feature isn’t style. It’s freshness.

Ack, caught myself! It’s easy to wax philosophic about such a philosophically sound burger joint but we need to spend more time talking about the food. Let’s continue.

I would normally stay away from such boring frozen supermarket fare as turkey burgers and veggie burgers, but Stand just wouldn’t serve you anything sub-par. These are made fresh on the premises like everything else and their surprising tastiness blows away your regret over not ordering a cheeseburger. To go along with everything you can have the expected fried accoutrements as well as an array of pickled cucumbers as well as a bowl of pickled everything else, and to round it out there’s Stand’s signature cole slaw which has a nice surprise that we’ll leave as a surprise for now.

And the sweet stuff — I’ve had it all before and I’m still astounded whenever I try their artisinal milkshakes and the soda floats with their homemade sodas (one tastes like dandelions!), even the freshly squeezed juice elixirs that make you feel a little bit healthier. On that note, I have to say I’ve often tried to eat healthy here because it’s so darned possible — a burger salad, some pickles, a nice lemon seltzer water and I’m on my light-footed way. But something fun sort of deflates from the experience whenever this happens. And I’m not trying to say healthy food can’t be fun. I think I’m trying to say that ever since a neighbor of mine last week pointedly asked me if there was any room in life for enjoyment I’ve been pondering the point of choosing not to experience these things that make us so happy.

It was pouring a few nights ago — drenching sheets of rain pounding the side of the house. It was getting late and I was in the thick of a Ridley Pearson book by the flickering candlelight. I had to go to bed soon. I knew this. But then I decided to just keep reading, because I wanted to know what would happen next, and it was fun, and I felt like it. And it hurt a little bit when the alarm went off the next morning, but I just hit the snooze button anyway. We’re adults, after all, and it’s up to us to decide if, indeed, there really is a way to declare an oasis of pleasure in this routinely ordered existence we’ve created for ourselves.

The last time I went to Stand the lucky girl sitting at the next table had a toasted marshmallow shake, and when the waitress saw my eyes light up she just brought one out to me, no questions asked. I chatted with the guy dropping off their daily supply of seltzer while that icy sweetness settled my mind for an all-too brief moment, and my only thought was that, yes — profoundly yes — these are happy times.

 

Advertisements