You only have to spend a few afternoon hours at Black Tap to know that burgers and beer bring the whole world together.
There’s pretty much one seating option at this SoHo 18-seater: at the lunch counter.
On this particular afternoon, sitting next to me was a dapper young man in a suit, impeccably accessorized—pocket square neatly folded. Next to him were a couple of guys nursing their beers and watching the Bayern Munich-Barcelona game. Next to them was a young couple with a 5-month-old who made meowing sounds occasionally. And down the line to the end: a lone gentleman and a group of four young friends.
That lunch counter, where folks from different walks of life sit side by side, united by their love for burgers and beer, is an updated fixture right out of chef Joe Isidori’s childhood.
The Michelin-starred chef came from a family of Italian-American cooks and chefs, as far back as three generations, where cooking and eating has always been a way of life. But on some days, “when mom or grandma didn’t want to cook” they’d head to the lunch counter.
On the wall, Isidori put up a neon sign of Miller High Life up. Immediate association? His grandmother. “My grandmother drank two things: Miller High Life and Asti Spumante.”
He remembers as a child hand rolling pasta with her while she had sips of Miller High Life.
Isidori’s trajectory has been a fascinating one to watch. He became executive chef at age 22; went to work for Trump International at 25, and earned a Michelin star by age 30.
“I came up in the world of champagne of roses. The economy was great. It was only fine dining,” he said.
The concept for Black Tap had been percolating through Isidori’s mind for some time.
“The best ideas happen by accident you know,” he said. He had a restaurant in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, called Arthur on Smith.
There he developed an Italian-style sausage burger with some handcut fries, sauces, and sold it for $18 with an ice cold beer. “It got to the point where I was only doing business at the bar,” he said.
He offered his sausage burger at a community street fair; $9 for a burger and a beer. Soon after he set up his grill and umbrella he had 150 people in line. “I was looking at my sous chef and said, ‘Just keep cooking.’ That’s when the lightbulb went off: This is what people want.”
The burger menu has something for everyone, from beef patties (a blend of brisket and chuck), organic turkey, grass-fed lamb, to falafel.
But still Isidori had his requirements. You gotta love a man with strong opinions about his burgers.
First off, the bun. “It had to be a Martin’s potato roll, hands down. It’s the best bun there is. The burger with dry brioche—it’s a fad. A chef likes a burger that comes off the grill with double American cheese on a Martin’s potato roll, period,” he said.
The cheese also loves the burger. It covers the burger, top and sides, and by looks alone, you can’t tell what kind of burger it is.
Don’t want the bun? You can just have a burger salad.
The burgers normally come with handcut fries. Isidori doesn’t try to mess around with his fries with cheese or truffle or novelty toppings.
If you’re more of the onion rings type, don’t miss those. The onions are first tamed by a bath in buttermilk before being battered (including a secret ingredient) and then fried ($4).
One surprise: the burgers don’t need extra seasoning. Sure, on the table you’ve your Heinz ketchup and Guilden’s spicy brown mustard, and Frank’s RedHot.
But Isidori’s also complemented each burger with its own sauce. Among them “the special sauce”: Thousand Islands dressing with Korean pepper, chipotle, and Worcestershire.
I tried a handful of burgers at Black Tap, and my favorite beef burger was the Greg Norman, with Wagyu beef, a dressing of buttermilk and dill, offset by just the lightest touch of blue cheese, and served with arugula (it is the priciest of the bunch at $18). Burger heaven, here I come.
For something different, try the Spicy Mexican, a chorizo burger with jack cheese, pico de gallo, and chipotle mayo ($12).
For sides, try the Crispy Brussels sprouts ($7) served with a sesame tahini sauce (or if you’re like me, you just do without the sauce anyway), and a terrific Mexican Avocado salad with pico de gallo and cilantro, what makes this dish is the pink bits of spicy pickled onions ($6).
Beer offerings include old school beers like Miller High Life of course ($5), but also craft beers on tap, including Brooklyn Summer Ale ($7) and Ommegang Witte ($7).
If you have any room after all that (hats off to you), you can indulge in some more nostalgia and top off with an Oreo or Nutella milkshake.
Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer
529 Broome St. (between Sullivan 7 Thompson streets)
Monday–Wednesday 11:30 a.m.–11 p.m.
Thursday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–midnight
Sunday 11:30 a.m.–10:30 p.m.
Isidori’s been cooking with Asian flavors most of his career. Watch the master at work at Taste Asia on June 26 in Times Square! TasteAsia.org