"The BK Black & Bleu Steakhouse XT" ($7.69) utilizes a double-thick patty. Photo: Robert Sietsema
I have a confession to make: Ever since I was a kid, I've loved Whoppers. There was something about the out-sized patty – even though it was razor thin – and its ability to absorb smoke, coupled with the salad on top that somehow gave the thing a "healthy" aura, that hooked me young.
When given the assignment of checking out the new upscale BK hamburger joint in midtown Manhattan, which promised beer in addition to Whoppers, I was elated, though also skeptical. The place is called Whopper Bar, which sounds like a place that fishermen go to tell lies about the fish they've caught. It's occupies a bi-level corner space in the Garment District just south of Times Square, and they must be paying a whopping rent for the premises. Instead of the usual arrangement of tables and chairs, there are counters with stools, and oddly shaped tables thrown every which-way, with plenty of room in between for the lines of curiosity seekers now forming to try the new and weird menu.
Instead of the usual uniforms, the staff is dressed in black, as if they were secret ops in Mission Impossible. Still, the installation and arrangement of food machines behind the counter is the usual packed welter, and the employees bump into each other in the confined space just like Keystone Cops, as per usual. The menu begins with a normal Whopper, and then mutates the hell out of it in a half-dozen variations. I tried the three most interesting and daring, but was denied a chance to try a fourth – the so-called Meat Beast, which features pepperoni, cheese, and "crispy bacon" – because, as the counter gal told me, "I don't think we've ever had any pepperoni here." Quite an oversight on their part, considering it's this place is showcasing new products.
Here's the lowdown on the other three: The Bourbon Whopper doesn't feature any actual Bourbon, just a "bourbon-flavored" sauce that's like barbecue sauce, only sweeter. This burger establishes tropes that extend to the other burgers in the collection. The bacon, for example (sometimes referred to as "crispy bacon"), is sliced only three inches long, so thin that you can see through the fatty part as if it were a distorted pane of glass. The Bourbon Whopper also features onion rings (pale and listless), and Cheddar, plus the usual lettuce and unripe tomato. It seemed cynical of them in creating a luxury burger line, that they didn't lift a finger to improve any of the ingredients.
The principal seemed even truer for the next batter in the line-up, the so-called California Whopper. This bunned entity featured bacon (once again, four thin demi-slices), Swiss cheese (virtually indistinguishable in flavor from the "Cheddar" on the previous Whopper, only white), and guacamole. I was excited to see what the guacamole would be like, but after carefully parsing the burger, scraping off about a cup of dense white mayo, the guac was nowhere to be found. Maybe they were actually calling the mayo guacamole, but I suspect that they'd conveniently run out of it just like they'd run out of pepperoni. Still, this turned out to be my most favorite of the newfangled burgers, probably because it most resembled a normal Whopper.
The third represented a special class of the new Whoppers that utilize a double-thick patty, the verbosely named BK Black & Bleu Steakhouse XT, which sounds like meat from an abused farm animal. Having a double-thick patty does nothing to make the meat more moist, and I pondered how the burger, at double-thickness, could still be so dry in the middle. Instructively, the double patty didn't add to the calorie count at all, and this Whopper variation still fell within the 1,210 to 1,470 calorie range in which all these products fell. The Black & Bleu featured something called "Blackened Cajun Sauce," which makes not the tiniest amount of culinary sense. It turned out to be an orange fluid dotted with little black specs that, if it had any flavor at all, I was unable to detect it. The "Bleu" part of the name refers to bleu cheese, and indeed there were some little clumps of white at various places on the patty.
I took little bites of each, and carefully took the burgers apart to see how they were fabricated, but it was a joyless exercise – none of the sandwiches improved on the original Whopper, and many of the quirky innovations – like the Bourbon-Flavored Sauce (for which a double asterisk warns, "Does not contain alcohol"), were actually annoying. And, the belabored toppings tended to obscure the smoky flavor of the patty.
There are a few branded desserts ("Oreo BK Sundae Fusion" and "Hershey's Sundae Pie"), but, really, if the burgers aren't worth ordering, can there be any hope for the desserts? I suspect the real message of the place is a transgressional one, since the burgers all increase the usual Whopper calorie count, and allow you to slurp down additional fatty sauces. In fact, if you take one of these new Whoppers, add fries and a tall soft drink, your meal is going to top out around 2000 calories, the RDA for an entire day.
"We'll be getting our liquor license, and will have beer in two weeks," one of the black-shirted figures told me as I exited. But I don't think I'm coming back – you can get a beer anywhere in that neighborhood, and I'd be the last person to bother drinking a Coors, Miller, or Bud, which is all they'll be serving. If the place is trying to be hip and upscale, they've missed the boat entirely.