Some of the gab was triggered by a weird and unfortunate incident involving the more famous brother, VH1 staple Gavin DeGraw, near The National Underground location in New York. (He got jumped by some East Village thugs and then subsequently hit by a taxi while leaving the scene of the mugging. He has since recovered.)
But most of the buzz revolved around the The National Underground's burger, which at least one outlet proclaimed one of the five best burgers on the island of Manhattan. While our buddies over at Cream were skeptical that Lower Broadway needed another burger joint, word of mouth on the street and positive comments here on Bites piqued my interest. Initially, I was unaware that NU was open for lunch, so that delayed my visit for a few weeks. Once I discovered that they serve lunch during the week, it was on like DeGrawnkey Kong.
Tucked in a tiny alcove at 105 Broadway, between Big River and our big river, The National Underground would be easy to miss. Even though the establishment restricts entry to ages 21 and older starting at 9 p.m., they have opted not to allow smoking inside, so the patio tables outdoors are often a haven for smokers seeking a puff during a slow song. In nicer weather when the wind is blowing upriver, I can see this patio being a nice place to while away a happy hour after work.
Inside, the decor is rugged but comfortable, with a small bar and eight or nine tables. Signs advertising bourbons and bands adorn the walls, and a small raised stage is the site of the action almost every evening. Live music starts at 5 p.m., with a cover charge only for larger touring acts. The brothers envisioned the space as sort of a House of Blues-style place for food and live music, but scaled down for intimacy. There is a two-drink minimum to keep patrons from lingering too long without eating or drinking, but with the quality of the food I'm about to describe and the price of their drinks, I'm fine with rousting the non-eaters or at least making them buy a couple of drinks for their real estate.
At the original NU location, they pride themselves for using a Martin's potato bun to swaddle their patty, but after a search for a similar product in Music City they settled on a bun from Publix. It actually holds up pretty well, but just about any bread will end up a little damp trying to hold in the juiciness of this burger. The burger is served with grilled potatoes cut razor-thin on a mandolin, and a pile of caramelized onions that you can put on your burger or enjoy discretely, if not discreetly.
A full bar serves up beer, wine and liquor at fairly reasonable prices, considering The National Underground's proximity to the Lower Broadway Honky-Tonk Cartel and its $4.25 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Most bottle and draft beers are in the $3 to $4 range. Initially, NU opened with an array of heavier New York and Brooklyn beers, but management quickly discovered that downtown denizens like their beers on the light side. Well drinks are $5, but if you order the "Hipster Special," you can get a well shot and a PBR for six bucks.
Interestingly, while the Nashville outpost of NU is about the same size as the NYC version, ours sells considerably more food, and they are working to build their lunch business. The bar is open until 3 a.m., and they will serve food until the last person is out the door. Apparently, Nashvillians have bought into the burger mystique of The National Underground, and after one visit, I can see why. If you get to drop in and sample more of the menu before I do, report back here in the comments.
The National Underground