A Hamburger Today

In food on 08/20/2010 at 12:12 pm

This place is so nice, I went twice in one week. Not only is it a feast for the eyes, the Elysian Cafe burger is the best I’ve had in all of Hoboken so far. The high-low culture prevalent in this tiny hamlet led me to believe they knew how to make milkshakes and a cow patty. It’s been frightfully disappointing until now.

Even though we pretend we live in the 6th Borough, it is still Jersey, so I would expect a diner here to have a good burger, and hope for a tasty milkshake to wash it down. There’s a place patronized by the blue collar locals called Chickies in the less gentrified section westward. It is adequately rundown, with warped floorboards, marinating in its own disintegration. Unfortunately, the flavorless ‘burger’ I was given there was a tiny flat meatball engulfed by a deli roll. The ‘fries’ were grease-laden discs of undercooked tuber and the milkshake was soup.

Arthur’s Steaks also has a predilection for substituting my pomme frites for their version of home fries. Personally I think it’s a big mistake to mess with an American classic. And if you serve a giant slab of tasteless meat, do you think you will just beat the customer into submission? The reputation here is not well-deserved at all.

People rave about this Irish bar n’ grill across from us called Onieal’s. It’s a corner spot with wrap around cafe seating. They even have a $60 prix fixe dinner on white linen service in the back. One afternoon around 4pm, we decided to try their meat samich. I asked for rare and received raw, on another deli roll. Is this misappropriated usage some type of hometown quirk? The waitress was petulant when I showed her my soggy cow sashimi. She said the purple mush was cooked to the temperature requested. I’m sorry but there is a big difference between raw and cooked red juices oozing from a rare patty. The other half’s mac n’ cheese was grainy and runny. So much for reliable neighborhood eats.

Needless to say, when our Shelter Island friend came to visit, we had given up on finding a good diner in Hoboken. There is the uptown Malibu Diner, but the ambience is more Greek than local. It just doesn’t feel right. And they serve another mediocre thin milkshake that doesn’t stand up to Holsten’s of Bloomfield. Thus we decided to do a proper brunch, which the Elysian Cafe is known for.

The corner location uptown on the main drag Washington Street didn’t bode well for it since it’s littered with chain restaurants that cater to the non-discriminating yuppie. The green decor outside seemed boring, but I was afraid of what lurked within, so we asked for a table outside; the heat wave had just broke. Alas, the wait was going to be awhile, so we reluctantly entered, sweeping past thick, heavy and filthy wall-length velvet curtains.

My eyes have never feasted on such a sight: >15ft ceilings with such meticulous restored detail I didn’t know where to look first. I was like a medical student off Adderall. We were transported to a French chateau fit for Louis XIV. And this was just the bar anteroom. The inner sanctum/main dining area is a gloriously gigantic white room, where the ceiling was dripping with more visual delights.

I was mesmerized until I saw the walls, which were covered from top to bottom with even more layers of relief detail, one fleur after another. It was so opulent that it became a happy joke. I couldn’t stop smiling. You’d expect the people working here to have attitudes matching the hoity toity decor, but no, they are polite and helpful. It was really amazing.

The light streaming in through sunburst prisms etched into the windows gave the room a look you only see in gothic cathedrals when the sun streams through the stained glass three stories up. It served to ruin many of my pictures with an eerie glow, but also made the huge room feel cozy and chic. The sound of angels rang in the air.  I half-expected to watch the clouds part and see E.T. reach down to touch Elliot with a glowing red index finger.

The piece de resistance, if there could be only one, is this grate on top of the mirror that covers the air circulating unit. The owners, who also run another brunch place in town, really outdid themselves with this restoration. At this point, I didn’t care if the food was horrible, I was going to come back just to oogle some more.

But guess what? The burger here is just as amazing as the ambience! The charred crispy crust reveals well-cooked meat within. ‘Tis a shame they don’t serve milkshakes here because I bet it would be pretty decent. The food theme is actually an American take on French Bistro, which normally would be a kiss of death for my palate. But I don’t mind if I just get the burger every time. Sometimes all I crave is just a nice piece of meat.

I went back several days later with my Malaysian Cousin and her two ducklings. This time I tried the chocolate cake which turned out to be a molten cake-let with a tiny scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side. It was adequately tasty, not too sweet.

Thumbs down given by Boy Duckling to the French Onion Soup, which was bemoaned as too salty. I don’t care for mushy bread in liquid myself. It looked appropriately classic.

Girl Duckling didn’t like her burger but Mama exclaimed its praises. She preferred it over her Crepés du Jour, which enrobed a filling of short ribs and mushrooms. I think the other half would like it, and it would be better than the yet another disastrous dining establishment on the boardwalk that specializes in crepès.

It’s funny that after a string of substandard cuisine how appreciative one can be when you find a keeper. I suppose it helps if you have a slight sense of humor.

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