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Sunday, October 20, 2019

The kosher community of the Upper West Side welcomed the newest branch of the Bergen County-based Gotham Burger Co. with open mouths. The Manhattan addition to the family- friendly Teaneck, New Jersey burger joint opened June 6, on the west side of Amsterdam Avenue, just south of 96th Street.

Gotham Burger Co. is a welcome addition to the growing array of kosher restaurants peppering the vibrant, Modern Orthodox neighborhood of the Upper West Side. Amsterdam Avenue in the “90s” has become a kosher Restaurant Row for this concentrated population. The new, upscale, kosher sports bar offers a unique addition to the area’s dining resources.

JLBC visited Gotham Burger Co. during the dinner hour on opening day. The 70-seat sports bar—there are giant screens everywhere—was packed with trendy, well-dressed Upper West Siders, Jewish and not; with modestly dressed and bearded Orthodox and multiple iterations between. Diners were willing to wait 15 minutes or more to order one of the burger, chicken, or salad specialties. The reputation of its sister restaurant on Queen Anne Road in Teaneck, famous for its personal service, is well known to many across-the-Hudson patrons. Everyone with whom the JLBC spoke seemed pleased to be able to enjoy good taste without the tolls.

Gotham Burger Co. offers an array of burgers including prime beef—served entrée size or as sliders. There are turkey, vegetarian and Portobello mushroom varieties, all served on brioche buns. Most burgers come with special “Gotham sauce” and amazing caramelized red onions. The beef is tender, done to order; the chick pea base of the vegetarian offering is well-spiced and maintains excellent texture. (We’ll try the turkey next time!)

Though “Burger” is a named component of the restaurant’s title, its menu offers impressive chicken dishes—served as wings, in fingers, by the piece, fried, grilled and “cheesy” (pareve, of course!)—as well as several hot dog dishes. Soups, sides and salads (JLBC enjoyed the Thai Beef Salad) are available for lunch or dinner. Sauced short ribs and spicy bowls of chili complete the selections. There is a prix fixe lunch and an all-day “combo” menu—sure to satisfy every appetite and budget.

Make sure to leave room for dessert—it’s worth the calories. Chocolate-peanut butter pie, hot apple fritters, chocolate mousse or soft-serve pareve ice creams will tempt your sweet tooth and please your palate.

Managing Partner Avi Roth transformed what was formerly a French bistro into a kosher sports bar. His New York staff is experienced and understands both the customers’ needs and the kitchen capabilities.

In Manhattan, the atmosphere is “more upscale than Teaneck,” says Roth, and includes a full service restaurant run by Gotham Teaneck veterans. ”“There is a different vibe and a real sports element. While the Teaneck Gotham is distinctly family oriented,” Avi says he expects that the West Side Gotham customer base will include a greater percentage of singles and couples, and will generate business from all of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and “even the Five Towns. ”

Roth holds a doctorate in developmental psychology from Columbia University and operated learning centers for about 15 years. After years as an educational consultant, he gave in to his inner grill meister and enrolled in the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts in Brooklyn. His aim was to take Danny Meyer’s idea, the upscale Shake Shack, and develop the notion into a kosher restaurant. The mother ship is in Teaneck, New Jersey, and he’s hoping he can turn his idea into a franchise.

Dealing with Bergen County clientele, Roth knows that customer service is everything. “Doing what the customer asks for is basic,” he says. “The most important thing is to create goodwill. Understanding customer needs and satisfying everyone is essential. People crave being taken care of. Whether we provide a dessert on the house or an extra something to take home, the way to keep a customer is to explain the reason behind anything negative and make it right. ”

Avi chuckled when we asked about Gotham Burger Co. ’s Batman reference. “In Teaneck the “Bat” symbol is right over the Gotham Burger logo!” A bit more seriously he added “Gotham means ‘big city. ’ In all honesty, we couldn’t believe the name was available. ”

According to Roth, the partners’ long-term plan is to open additional Gotham Burger Co. eateries throughout the tri-state area. Avi acknowledges that each location will have unique challenges, but anticipates that there will be basic similarities in coloring, woodwork and, of course, menu and service. Avi adds, “We’re very careful to make sure that kosher values are in place. Those are my core values. ”

TV screens will also always show only sports.

Gotham Burger Co, 726 Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan, serves until 4 a. m. on Saturday, until midnight, Sunday through Wednesday, and until 1 a. m. on Thursday. Friday they close one hour before Shabbat, and on Saturdays, they open one hour after Shabbat is over. A full service bar offers stylish cocktails, wine, liquor and beer. The “back room” is available for parties, and an outdoor deck is under construction.

By Maxine Dovere