Tom travels to an old-school New York joint that’s all about one thing: the burger.
Review: JG Melon
JG Melon, with its faded red neon sign, battered wooden bar and clanking, resolutely analogue till, feels like a relic of a New York long past. One that no longer exists, or perhaps never did. The lights are always dark-rum dim, no matter what time of day or night, while service – from men in ties, white shirts and aprons – moves between the cheerily loquacious. And the glum and downright gruff.
Despite opening in 1972, this could be an Upper East Side joint straight from the pages of Damon Runyon, where daytime topers with wiseguy nicknames hunch over hard liquor and cold beer. OK, so my immediate neighbours are a lantern-jawed preppy, glued to his Insta feed, and ‘Irish Joe’, a lugubrious-looking regular, swigging another Bud Lite. It’s four in the afternoon, and I bag the last spot at the bar.
To my left, above my head, a television plays live baseball. The walls are covered in prints, pictures, etches and sketches of melons in their every form. While behind me is the kitchen, small and enrobed in a pall of grey smoke. It’s here where the real magic happens. Sure, the martinis are ice cold and generous but not so generous they grow warm before the last sip. These barmen know their stuff.
But JG Melon is all about the burger. The whole room has a constant soundtrack of sizzle, loud enough to drown out muttered asides, as beef patty hits searing grill. Cheeseburger, rare, that’s it. There may be other things on the menu, but I’ve never bothered to ask. Forget Wagyu or dry ageing, artisan cheese or ‘secret’ burger sauce – just adding bacon is positively baroque.
Arriving in four minutes flat, with little save a few slices of red onion and a handful of pert pickles, the burger wears a melted slice of processed American cheese. Add ketchup and Grey Poupon to taste. And it’s everything a burger should be: greasy but not cloying, with frazzled edges and soft pink centre, all enclosed in a soft, toasted bun that valiantly struggles to contain the juices within. That bun is destined to fail, but move fast, and this one-handed masterpiece can be devoured in five joyous bites. It may not be the best burger in town, but it’s definitely my favourite. I wipe my hands and head for the door, while Irish Joe sinks another beer.
Around £10 per head. JG Melon, 1291 3rd Ave, New York; jgmelon-nyc.com