Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Salt Bae's new burger outpost for extreme disappointment.
Nusret Gökçe, a chef and butcher from Turkey, became famous in 2017 for bouncing flakes of salt off his forearm and onto other people's food, which for some reason millions of Instagram followers found charming and earned him the handle Salt Bae. Gökçe has parlayed this fame into an international chain of over a dozen steak houses and burger restaurants, the most recent of which opened near Union Square a couple of weeks ago.
It's worth noting that Salt Bae's little empire comes with a lengthy list of accusations and lawsuits against Gökçe for everything from labor law violations to wage theft to sex discrimination.
Should you still want to go, here's what to expect. When you enter, you enter a Salt Bae theme park—unsurprisingly, there are images everywhere of Gökçe doing his Salt Bae thing (drawings, photographs, light sculptures), and if he's around, he'll be more than happy to pose for however many pictures you want to take.
The restaurant is large, with seating for about 60 at stools, various tables, and banquettes, and the location is on a prime Union Square/Gramercy corner, at Park Avenue South and 18th Street. There's a bar with an undulating wooden base dividing the room, and each table has a numbered coat-check glued to its surface, but these are the only bits of decor that are not Gökçe-centric.
The food is terrible here. I had the unfortunate opportunity a few weeks ago to eat several sad servings of hospital food, and everything I had at Salt Bae was worse, and delivered with much less love. The menu, framed within a weirdly weighty metal tombstone apparently marking the death of everything pleasurable about eating, is wall-to-wall bad sandwiches.
Let's start with ridiculous, possibly illegal "FREE FOR LADIES" Veggie Burger. Unlike other non-ladies I've read about, I had to pay $14.50 for mine, but honestly? Free is no bargain for this horror show, which tasted of old broccoli and was garnished with a pathetic slice of wilted iceberg lettuce that was browning at the edges. You've only been open a few days, and the place has been packed, how is your lettuce so old? Even the stale "homemade pink bun" on this was really more pale orange, as if Gökçe couldn't even be bothered to do sexism well.
Worse, though, was the Wet Burger, which is apparently a popular snack in Turkey and I had seen described elsewhere as being like a "sloppy joe," but this version is actually just a meager disc of meat sitting within a soggy, unpleasantly sweet bun. It's also tiny, but you can't eat more than a single bite anyway. And then there's the signature Salt Bae Burger, featuring a mound of flavorless "Waygu meat" with oozy toppings designed for Instagram. In fact, it arrives at your table sliced in half, camera-ready.