East End Eats: When We Talk About Burgers

Bay Burger serves the simplest, stripped down (or dressed up) version of a burger you could possibly wish for
Bay Burger has filled a niche in the community: a pared-down, simple, fresh, and delicious burger joint. Morgan McGivern

Bay Burger
1742 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike, Sag Harbor
Wednesday through Monday,
11 a.m.-9 p.m.

    For some reason dining at Bay Burger the other night got me to thinking about the Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Bear with me here, this will make sense eventually. The title of the story came to mind when I posed the question to my guests: “What do you look for in a burger; what is your idea of the perfect burger?” People’s very strong opinions on burgers are as varied and particular as they are on the topic of love.

    I had never been to Bay Burger before, but people frequently ask me which restaurant has the best burger. I answer Rowdy Hall, or LT Burger, or the 1770 House. Now I will answer Bay Burger, for Bay Burger serves the simplest, stripped down (or dressed up) version of a burger you could possibly wish for. When I posed the question, everyone agreed that the quality of meat and how it is handled matters. Check. Cooked to specifications? Check. Served on a fresh homemade bun? Bonus points for Bay Burger. Kerrie, the teenage expert on this expedition, prefers patties, easier to handle than those high mounds offered at some establishments. We pretty much agreed all around that the Bay Burger was as close as you could get to a homemade burger.

    From the outside, Bay Burger looks like a fast food joint or soft serve ice cream parlor, kind of like the old A and B Snowflake in East Hampton. It’s a small box with a big parking lot. The inside is simple as well, pale blue walls, wainscoting, white picnic tables with silver aluminum chairs. There is a back room with a big flat screen TV that looks like it would be good for sequestering sugared-up, ill-behaved, Manhattan babies in the summertime. You order your food at the counter, take a number, and your food is delivered to your table.

    We began our meal with burgers . . . and stuff . . . a wide variety. Fish burger, falafel burger, buffalo chicken sandwich, a plain burger, a cheeseburger, wedge salad, fries, and fries ’n’ tots “loaded,” which means with melted cheese and bacon on top. Oh, and onion rings.

    The fish burger was a nice, fresh piece of cod, served on one of the delicious homemade rolls with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. It was excellent. The falafel burger had the traditional flavors, a seasoned chickpea mixture formed into a patty, crisp on the outside, served with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and a mild tahini sauce. The buffalo chicken sandwich was ridiculously good, crisp chicken with just enough spice to make it interesting. The burgers were just right, perfectly cooked to order. The wedge salad was okay, but perhaps just a bit too ice cold for a snowy evening meal. The bacon on it looked sad. The fries are very good, probably frozen, but a high quality skin-on variety. And what can you say about fries ‘n’ tots smothered in cheese and bacon? Just surrender. The onion rings were delicious, super crunchy and served with a slightly sweet chipotle mayonnaise.

    If you are so inclined, beer and wine are available and extremely reasonable. There are four beers on tap, and one is only $2 per pint: Narragansett. The wines are local, from Wolffer, Martha Clara, and Palmer, among others from the North and South Forks.

    The prices at Bay Burger are extremely reasonable. Sandwiches and burgers are $3 to $9, the wedge salad is $8, fries and tots are $3, ice cream is $3.50 per scoop. As far as service goes, the nice fellow behind the counter was smiling and got our order right. You can’t ask for much more from a place like this.

    The only places that come to mind that are comparable to Bay Burger are the In ’N’ Out Burger chain of L.A. and Five Guys, both of which I have tried. The In ’N’ Out is pretty good for a drive-through, as long as you eat quickly in the parking lot. Five Guys is, in my opinion, over-rated. The one I visited recently was dirty, the service perfunctory, and meat just okay.

    For desserts we had to try the justifiably famous Joe and Liza’s ice cream, made in-house. We tried the peppermint stick, bourbon pecan pie, chocolate, and vanilla. As someone who has been making ice cream professionally for 20 years, I have very strong opinions on this subject. The tricky part is infusing it with enough flavor, as this becomes dulled by the freezing process. What may taste good warm or at room temperature does not necessarily stand up to freezing. You really have to load up on the chocolate or coffee or vanilla ingredients. The peppermint stick and bourbon pecan pie ice creams were very good, but the vanilla and chocolate were the best, especially the chocolate, which was full of deep, dark, cocoa flavor.

    The Raymond Carver short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” was published in The New Yorker after being heavily edited by Gordon Lish. Like many of Carver’s beautifully written stories, it is blue collar, a bit sad sack. Too much gin is consumed, and a lot is revealed. There is sweetness and simplicity and clarity in his writing. And after being edited by Mr. Lish, the story is even more touching and clear and kind of perfect.

    Joe and Liza Tremblay are the owners of Bay Burger, which opened in 2007 and is now open year round for the first time. They have filled a niche in the community: a pared-down, simple, fresh, and delicious burger joint. What could have been merely good, they have made better. This is what we talk about when we talk about burgers.