In the hurly-burly neon buffet of Times Square signage, the new BK Whopper Bar is relatively understated. The Subway sign, for instance, has a lot of flashy lights. The Whopper Bar sign just is. The other day, tucked into a far corner of the second floor, Burger King Head Chef J Sullivan, a gruff Texan in a black chef's apron, and its VP of Innovation John Schaufelberger, a better looking version of Philip Seymour Hoffman wearing a Façonnable shirt, sat behind a long table with a black tablecloth. On top of this table were some of the new offerings. In one large pizza box shaped box lurked the by now-infamous New York Pizza Burger.
The New York Pizza Burger ($12.99), edible chimera, is the Dangermouse of fast food. It's an homage to New York created by a Texan corporate chef in Miami for transient tourists to the city. The Burger is available only in New York for the moment— Chef Sullivan's "fast food translation of the locavore movement" — but, pending its success, might be rolled out nationwide. The thing is large, served on a nine-and-a-half-inch sesame bun and is meant to be shared. "You know," said Sullivan, "You look at people like Paul Kahan who is doing communal dining at Avec. That's something I was thinking about with the New York Pizza Burger."
The Burger is meant to contain "pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, marinara sauce and Tuscan pesto sauce" but when Sullivan opened the pizza box in which the burger comes, I saw only a sesame-studded Frisbee with a cheese antumbra. The pepperoni, marinara and Tuscan pesto sauce — though pesto is traditionally a Ligurian specialty — and even the meat were obscured by the deluge of cheese. I took a "slice." "Oooh," said Schaufelberger, "You got a good one. Sometimes the patties overlap and you get double meat. It's a good sign."
I took the pizza burger, sliding my thumb underneath and planting my four fingers on top. On the path to my mouth, I rotated my wrist approximately 110 degrees in clockwise direction and shoved the tip into my mouth, thus demonstrating correct pizza-slice eating technique. "Oooh," noticed Schaufelberger, "It's interesting: Some people treat the burger like a slice of pizza. There's a whole range of techniques for eating pizza from the fold-over to the rotation." Chef J Sullivan eyed me as I chewed.
Sullivan said, "I'm excited to open the Whopper Bar to spotlight the Whopper. It's a premium sandwich." Schaufelberger nodded in agreement. I nodded too, a mouthful of Pizza Burger preventing me from responding, "Premium compared to what?" The pizza burger tastes like cheese and bread and oregano. I tasted no pepperoni nor any pesto nor, really, any meat.
In that way it succeeds in the semiotic suggestion of a pizza but it doesn't really taste like a burger and certainly tastes not a lick like a Whopper, a strange failure for the pièce de résistance of a Whopper Bar. I set my slice down and a man wearing a black shirt that read "Whoppertender" on the back in silver letters whisked it and the entire thing away. Instead of thinking it went to waste, I like to think the NY Pizza Burger was delivered back into its fairytale land of a mythic New York, populated solely by John Lennons wearing New York Fucking City t-shirts, saying "Fuhgetaboutit" and eating a piping hot slice of Pizza Burger.