Build Your Own Burger at Joy Burger Bar
She likes wine; he likes beer. She roots for the Yankees; he’s a die-hard Mets fan. But a burger—they’ll both agree on that.
Jodi Lustig and Adam Wattstein are the duo behind Joy Burger Bar, an eatery on Lexington and East 100th Street. There you do find it all: wine, beer, sports, but above all, burgers, in all of their dozens of glorious permutations.
The main premise here is that you can build your own burger. Regulars make straight for the counter, dictating their orders.
First the flame-grilled beef patty comes in three sizes: the 3-ounce Munch (bigger than a slider, but enough to quell a small craving); the most popular, middle size, the 5-ounce Midi; and the more imposing 8-ounce Maxi ($4.35, $5.95, and $7.15, respectively).
Next comes cheese, if you want any. But the pride and glory here is the sauce. Or, rather the sauces—nine of them—each as distinctive as the next.
You can almost travel the span of the globe with these: pesto, chimichurri, spicy mango chutney, and sweet chili, among others.
Only, just don’t look for regular mayo here. There are two choices for mayo, spicy mayo and garlic mayo.
That’s just as well. I found the garlic mayo addicting, and also loved some of the spicier ones: the sweet chili and the spicy mango chutney—each giving its own take on sweet-spicy.
Don’t keep the sauce for the burger alone, either. Order some extra (for 35 cents each) and use it as a dip for your fries.
There are also more conventional sauces—Dijon mustard and barbecue, for example—but I found these to pale next to the more piquant ones.
I didn’t get to try the turkey or veggie burgers, but the beef patties were juicy and very satisfying. The buns might surprise some who might prefer more sturdiness in their buns. They are toasted and under the pressure of my hands (and I’m no Hulk) shrunk to a fragile thinness. But no matter what, the focus is the stuff between the buns.
The toppings range from jalapeño (very nice for a spicy kick) to avocado to portobello mushroom.
The fries are hand-cut and plain good ol’ comforting. No frills to be had here: no crazy seasoning, no flecks of herbs, no essence of truffle—just plain old potatoey goodness with a sprinkle of salt ($2.75).
Companions for the burger also include some very good giant onion rings ($3.75), sweet potato fries with maple syrup on the side ($3.50), and zucchini fries.
The atmosphere is half reminiscent of a diner, with its vintage posters and colorful, mismatched upholstered chairs. The eatery’s corner spot guarantees a bright, airy feel. There are a couple of flat-screen TVs, often showing sports (Lustig and Wattstein are fans).
The music ranges from ’50s to ’90s rock, a fun mix that includes anything from Aretha Franklin to Cyndi Lauper to Aerosmith. Wattstein is a rock fan, but also knew he didn’t want to feature songs with questionable lyrics, because of the families with children who eat there.
The drinks also go beyond soft drinks. Wattstein leans toward craft beers, and offers KelSo beers (Pilsner, Nut Brown) as well as an IPA from 21st Amendment and a Pale Ale from Sly Fox. For $5 a can, you hardly break the bank.
Whites and reds are also available for those who prefer. Lustig loves her burger with a riesling herself, but on the menu you’ll find that as well as a pinot grigio, chardonnay, and reds like malbec and merlot for $6 to $7 a glass.
For the under-21 crowd, there is the freshly made lemonade, and also the super minty Limonana—essentially an alcohol-free frozen mojito slushy ($4.25).
Finally there are also salads. I had an avocado salad, which was served in a plastic container for easy carry out. I hadn’t expected much, but it was fresh—the balsamic dressing pleasant and light—and my friends and I managed to do a thorough cleanout of it, even after having had several burgers.
Everyone Loves a Burger
Joy Burger Bar also makes a good spot for people watching.
Sit a while and you’ll see the democracy of burgers at work. From high school kids dropping in to workers at the local Mount Sinai hospital, everyone seems to love a good burger, some time.
For all the trimmings available here, enjoying your burger, however you like it, is at the heart of this place.
“If you want a burger with cheese, they’ll make it for you. There’s no pressure. If you want a plain cheeseburger, that’s OK if that’s what makes you happy,” Wattstein said.
Joy Burger Bar
1567 Lexington Ave. (at East 100th Street)
Daily, 11 a.m.–11 p.m.