It’s impossible to stroll down Tel Aviv’s Ibn Gabirol Street, and see people thronging, gorging, wandering around, enjoying themselves, without wondering whether all this is going to vanish soon. The looming threat here isn’t an Iranian bomb or the Chinese coronavirus, but the light rail system, whose green line is supposed to slice through the most fun and bustling street in the city. The works will dig up and paralyze the street beyond recognition for years before its estimated date of completion in 2024.
It’s enough to see what’s happened to the areas around the city’s Maariv junction, Gan Hahashmal and Jerusalem Boulevard to grasp the potential loss and to become gloomy even before the first jackhammer goes into action. But we can comfort ourselves with the fact that, at least for now, it’s business as usual.
And what is more business as usual than a new hamburger joint? Yes, yet another. I wouldn’t be surprised if, while beginning the excavations for the light rail, they discovered the remains of ancient diners under the earth and fossilized meat patties in buns.
Moreover, as if to justify such speculation, not only is it possible to find a great many popular hamburger joints and diners within a small radius of the newcomer, GDB, but the latter was actually built on a lot occupied for the last three years by two other hamburger places: Burger Factory Express, which pretended to offer a kosher experience but didn’t really succeed; and 110 Burger, the fast-food arm of the Agadir burger chain, which never managed to take off in the face of the competition nearby – Ad Ha’etzem Express and Captain.
GDB, which began last year as a once-a-week pop-up stall in the Carmel Market but now has its own diner, is going in a different direction, swimming against the tide of its genre. It does not offer a small, quickly prepared, thin, trashy burger, but one that tries to restore the product to its former glory. This is a hamburger that takes itself very seriously, aims high and tries to emit an aroma of quality, even gourmandism.
To this end, the folks behind GDB – George Abdo and Arthur Kushner of the George de Boeuf butcher’s shop, along with the We Like You Too group (Café Nordoy, Nordinyo, the little kiosks on Ben-Zion and Ben-Gurion boulevards) – are careful to stress several things about their 200-gram patty: The meat was aged for 21 days, it’s chopped steak that doesn’t undergo any additional processing before being grilled, and only after it’s been grilled is it lightly seasoned.
We ordered two meals. The “Classic” is a hamburger on a bun with tomato, lettuce, pickles, ketchup and mayonnaise, plus a side of French fries and a drink; it costs 61 shekels ($18). The “GDB,” 78 shekels, is a hamburger in a “rabbi bun” (more on that below) with cheddar and Gouda, arugula, jalapeno pepper, Japanese mayonnaise and pepper aioli, French fries and a drink.
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We were disappointed, like many people waiting with us, by the temporary lack of a vegan option (a sweet potato patty). But we did try the “steak and chips” option: 150 grams of aged sirloin (79 shekels).
Moreover, we were happy to discover that the business about chopped-up steak wasn’t just talk, but a promise that was fulfilled by any standard, thanks to the coarse, finely chopped texture, the intense taste, the precise combination of meat and fat, the delicate salt-and-pepper seasoning that didn’t penetrate the meat but supported it from the outside, the perfectly grilled exterior that left a wonderful pinkness inside. This seems to be one of the best burgers in the city. Actually, I wouldn’t fall off my chair if it claimed to be the best.
But this is also GDB’s trap. Even though it has this wonderful patty in hand, due to the desire to offer something seen as top of the line, it has buried it under ingredients that may enrich the bite and lend added value for the price – which isn’t cheap – but also blur the dominance of the pure meat.
While the “Classic” option is absolutely fine from this perspective, the premium version throws together a slew of ingredients, each with its own desires, tastes and textures. We have nothing against arugula (even on a hamburger); we love jalapeno pepper; and one cannot say that all this wasn’t tasty. But one can still wonder whether this hamburger wouldn’t have won the same esteem – and perhaps even more – without them.
Especially unnecessary in our view was the “rabbi bun” – the hamburger roll with a black skullcap made of garlic powder: not too much taste and a lot to crumbs, but apparently with enough Likes on Instagram.
The steak meal also showed that GDB would do better not to make such a big deal. Even though it was pricey for street food, this was an enjoyable option that’s almost unavailable in Tel Aviv (except, we should point out, at B12) – a good steak that can be eaten on-the-go, without having to enter a restaurant, with all that entails. It was wonderfully prepared, meaty and almost devoid of fat; it was served sliced, with rosemary sprigs and garlic confit on top and a pile of French fries underneath (about the latter, to our great but usual regret, there’s not much to say; they were thin sticks, a frozen commercial product. It’s a pity there was no investment and no pretensions here).
To a city and street known for the long lines snaking outside food stands and eateries, we can now add the one outside GDB. If it has the sense to maintain its fundamentally high-quality menu, one can assume that even after the initial hype dies down, there will be quite a few people who will gladly seek out its hamburgers on a regular basis. Maybe even after the dust of the work on the light rail has settled.
GDB. 22 Ibn Gabirol St., Tel Aviv. Open Sunday-Thursday 5 P.M. to 11 P.M. (the hours are due to be extended)