Battle loyal

New York City is home to iconic eats-Junior's cheesecake, Gray's Papaya hot dogs and more-with die-hard followings. TONY asked four self-professed fanatics to take on the challengers.

Hot dogs



Also see:

  Cheesecake  |  Burgers  |  Potato knishes

The fan: Michael Monfre, 23, retail store manager. “I ate two dogs daily for four months. Finally I realized I had to have a salad.”





vs.
Gray’s Papaya (402 Sixth Ave at 8th St, 212-260-3532; 539 Eighth Ave at 37th St, 212-904-1588; 2090 Broadway at 72nd St, 212-799-0243)

This muscular Queens native knows his beef: Monfre spent his teen years working in a butcher shop. He’s been avidly downing Gray’s hot dogs since discovering them two years ago, and grins when he recalls the day coworkers alerted him to the two-dogs-and-a-drink special. When Monfre sinks his teeth into the all-beef Sabrett—he takes his with ketchup, mustard and onions—he declares, “I like the way the natural casing breaks in my mouth.”
  Westville (210 W 10th St at Bleecker St, 212-741-7971; 173 Ave A at 11th St, 212-677-2033)

We ask Monfre to consider the Niman Ranch Fearless Frank, known for its juiciness, girth (twice Sabrett’s) and grass-fed beef filling. Westville grills its dogs, imparting an attractive char, and tops them with lightly caramelized onions. But the meat maven calls out the Niman instantly for its lack of snap: “Without that natural casing,” he says, “it’s very soft and chewy.” As for the taste, Monfre notes that the “big guy” is “too spicy.” He prefers Gray’s, hands down.



WINNER:

Gray’s Papaya

Cheesecake



Also see:

  Hot dogs  |  Burgers  |  Potato knishes

The fan: Collage Agronick, 32, prop house manager and four-year fan of Junior’s: “P. Diddy was right: This is the best cheesecake in New York!”





vs.
Junior’s (386 Flatbush Ave at DeKalb Ave, Downtown Brooklyn; 718-852-5257. 1515 Broadway, entrance on 45th St between Broadway and Eighth Ave, 212-302-2000)

Agronick’s high-pitched voice grows even more piqued when she recalls her discovery of Junior’s. She was watching the Making the Band when P. Diddy ordered his minions to get him a slice of cake. “I thought, Wow that looks good!” She visited Junior’s upon moving to Fort Greene, and was sold on how “it melts in your mouth.” Trying it today, she says, “I remember it as being fluffier. It’s not; it’s dense, but I love it.”
  Sweet Farm (158 Bedford Ave between North 8th and 9th Sts, Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-384-0158)

Her eyes widen when Agronick catches sight of the cheesecake from Billyburg competitor Sweet Farm, which features an airy filling with a touch of sour cream and a sweet graham cracker crust. The Junior’s loyalist is tempted—“It looks like it’s from an artisanal bakery”—but upon tasting it, decides that it’s “too fluffy, like eating creamed butter.” She prefers the old-school offering, including its lemony cake crust: “Junior’s wins.”



WINNER:

Junior’s

Burgers



Also see:

  Hot dogs  |  Cheesecake  |  Potato knishes

The fan: Rich Nguyen, 36, lawyer, has been smitten with Corner Bistro for six years: “I could sit there forever. It’s the best burger in the city.”





vs.
Corner Bistro (331 W 4th St at Jane St, 212-242-9502)

Corner Bistro’s The Catcher in the Rye vibe had Nguyen taken from his first visit: “Everyone was wearing a sweater, a tie and a coat and eating a burger,” he says. “[Salinger] describes these preppy little places that Holden Caulfield goes to. This was it.” He also loves that their patties, a mix of round, sirloin and chuck, can be topped with bacon—“we didn’t do that sort of thing in California.” Biting into a Bistro burger, he revels in its juiciness, the sesame seeds dotting its bun, and the thickness of the grilled patty.
  Shake Shack (Madison Square Park, 23rd St at Madison Ave, 212-889-6600)

Nguyen meets us for his first taste of a Shake Shack burger—a brisket-sirloin round seared on a diner-style griddle—on a windy afternoon in Madison Square Park. The attorney quickly notes that the Shack burger is not medium-rare, as he had requested, and that Corner’s was juicier. As time wore on, though, he mused that the Shack patty is better seasoned, and has a nice crust. At last, Nguyen sighs, “Though I hate to say this, today, the Shake Shack wins.”



WINNER:

Shake Shack

Potato knishes



Also see:

  Hot dogs  |  Cheesecake  |  Burgers

The fan: Martha Burzynski, 27, photographer, says of Yonah Schimmel, “They were my first New York knishes, the ones I keep coming back to, the best.”





vs.
Yonah Schimmel Knishery (137 E Houston St between First and Second Aves, 212-477-2858)

Burzynski cultivated her love of the knish during the ferociously hot summer of 2000. She would leave her sweltering apartment during brownouts, go to the air-conditioned Schimmel shop and order potato knishes from women “who worried over me like my long-lost Jewish great-aunts.” Today’s taste of Schimmel has her thinking it’s spicier—more garlic, more herbs than usual—but she is pleased to see it is “pleasantly bulbous,” with a meaty consistency.
  Knish Nosh (100-30 Queens Blvd at 67th Ave, Forest Hills, Queens; 718-897-4456)

We hand Burzynski a hand-rolled Knish Nosh knish, which boasts a filling of real potatoes and onions, and a flaky casing. Burzynski prefers the Nosh pastry from the first bite, admiring the creamy consistency. Schimmel’s seemed overseasoned by comparison, “like an entrée.” As she eats, Burzynski grows nostalgic for her grandmother’s “very good” knishes. Does Knish Nosh’s remind her of them? “Yes,” she admits with a smile.



WINNER:

Knish Nosh