What started out as a bunch of friends catching up over burgers, the Gotham Burger Social Club has blown up to become one of the most sought-out burger authorities and food followings in the city since its founding in 2013.
Hundreds of people have requested to join the 15-person club, it has more than 111,000 Instagram followers and there’s a possible TV show in the works.
So how did this group get so popular? amNewYork spoke with club founder Mike Puma to find out.
How would you describe the state of the New York burger scene?
New York’s burger scene is definitely at the top of its game. You have restaurants that have reinvented the burger with better ingredients and more attention to techniques like cooking surfaces, the grind of the beef and the blend. It’s no longer about grilling up an 80/20 beef patty and adding salt, cooking it medium and serving it with American cheese, LTO [lettuce, tomato and onion] and ketchup on a white bun. Today it’s really about finding the best beef blends possible and adding specialized toppings like bacon jam, caramelized onions and using different cheeses to enhance the flavor, such as gruyere. You can now find kitchens using potato, brioche, pretzel, ciabatta etc., to serve their burgers on. Most of the buns now are coming from artisanal bakeries rather than from a plastic bag.
When did the burger get its foodie credibility?
Years ago, Keith McNally upped the game at Minetta Tavern when he started the trend of using dry-aged beef, which is usually reserved for high-end steakhouses. He really changed the makeup of the burger with the Black Label Burger, a burger no one would have thought of doing. From there everyone started coming out with their own custom crafted burgers and specialty toppings and buns.
Why did you choose to focus on the burger?
It’s universal, who doesn’t love a burger? Everybody’s got a burger. Whether it’s a small dive bar or an upscale restaurant, you can find a burger at almost every restaurant in Manhattan. We might wear suits, but we’re not some highfalutin club, we’re just down to earth guys who like getting together over burgers and some cocktails to have a good time.
What separates a Gotham Burger Social Club-approved burger from all the rest?
A great burger is more than just using good quality meat; it’s how the patty is formed, seasoned and cooked. The bun is just as important as the burger itself — a bad bun can ruin the best burger. Lastly, the burger to bun ration needs to be equal. It’s all about the attention to detail that makes a really great burger.
Who is in the club? And why boys only?
It was never meant to be a guy’s-only club. We started as a group of friends who decided to go on a burger tour. For years we had a crew that would get together almost every week and eat out on Thursday nights. Then as we got older, we saw less of each other as some guys got married, moved, had kids, etc. I think every group of friends goes through this process. Now all the guys know that the second Tuesday of each month is burger night and they look forward to it and schedule things around it.
How has the group grown?
In the beginning, I would contact restaurants with great burgers to see if they could seat 15 guys, which can always be an obstacle. Today we are solicited on a daily basis by restaurants to get us to come in and try their burger. The landscape has also gotten very competitive on social media, so we always need to have great pics that draw people in and do the food justice.
Why do you think your club, just a bunch of friends eating burgers, has become so popular?
We’re just as surprised as you are! From our first post we got a tremendous response and I realized we were on to something. People were signing up for our newsletter and asking us how to join. We’ve given a lot of credibility to the best burgers out there, and people agree with our ratings and give us great feedback.
How do members apply?
New members are really tough to add unless we lose some of the original guys. I like to see how they fit in with the rest of the members, most of whom have known each other for over 15 years. There’s really no formal process, just a gut feeling and how the guys get along with them.
We know you are a burger club, so why does your Instagram feature pictures of food besides the burger?
Instagram is such a great platform for food. There is so much great food in this city that there are times when I’ll eat something and say to myself, people need to know about this great pasta or steak. Our fans certainly follow us for our burgers, but let’s be honest, people love to know about great pizza and tacos, too. We get a lot of people who travel to New York City and ask us to help set up all their meals for them. Unlike a lot of “foodporn” pages that don’t really give you much information about whether the food is good or bad, we get a lot of great feedback that people really appreciate our opinions on the taste and quality of food around the city.
I hear you are currently in talks for a possible TV show.
We have been filming some local on-air segments and a possible full-length show about our burger experiences. The TV show would be for a local channel first, and if successful we might branch out to other cities. The idea is to find great burgers all over the city, from old school spots to new places trying to make their mark in NYC’s competitive burger scene. We plan on talking to chefs about how they prepare their signature burgers and why the locals love their favorite burger joint. We’ve done segments for Fox5 NY, “Toni On! New York” and are airing a segment on the new Cheddar.TV site as well. We’ve also had a guest appearance on Bravo’s “Watch What Happens Live” as guest bartenders and Michael Symon’s “Burgers, Brew and Que” on The Food Network.
Scroll down for the top five burgers in New York City, according to Puma.