In a year with few openings of note, Upland, Justin Smillie and Stephen Starr's inviting South of Fifth spot that plies familiar ingredients with unexpected touches, has stood out. In an unusual twist of fate, it is equally popular with many of the city's better chefs as well as South Beach's sun-bleached sugar-baby crowd.
In hopes of drawing attention to its lunch service, the restaurant has reduced the price of its California burger, usually $21, to $9.99. The price cut is a gimmick, but the burger is anything but. Manager Mary Zayaruzny says there's "no end in sight" for how long the discount will last.
It's among a handful of new burgers that, rather than deploy a thick patty of ground beef, opt for two thin, crisper rounds to achieve that unmistakable meaty bite. Here, they use celebrity butcher Pat LaFrieda, who grinds grass-fed chuck, short rib, and skirt, yielding a patty that's sufficiently juicy. A couple of slices of American cheese, some Peppadew peppers, and a few avocado crescents on a soft, sturdy sesame-seed bun complete the sandwich. A pile of thin, crisp French fries is hard to resist.
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Similarly styled burgers, beyond Shake Shack's double-patty Shack burger, include K Ramen. Burger. Beer.'s K burger ($17). Two medium-thick patties are seared on a flattop until they their exteriors develop a smoky char, while the meat inside is still juicy and slightly pink. The patties are lathered is a house sauce that tastes similar to Shake Shack’s Shack Sauce — a combo of mayo and ketchup blended with pickles and a few spices suspected to be paprika and garlic — which beautifully complements melty American cheese. The brioche bun, which is neither too sweet, too dense, nor too spongy, is nothing short of perfect. Caramelized onions lend a bit of sweetness, while a thick slab of tomato provides some tartness and crunch.
About 20 blocks north at Richard Hales' Bird & Bone, the eatery's namesake burger ($18) tucks twin patties, bacon, cheddar, pickles, and onions between slices of Zak the Baker brioche.
There's something about these burgers — the thinner patties and crisp, salty crusts — that gives the skull-tingling satisfaction of junk food with the comfort of knowing the meat wasn't processed in a dark, dingy factory filled with indentured servants.