Sandro Santana admits he’s “extremely stressed.” He’s working twelve-hour days, seven days a week, running his family’s two-month-old burger joint, Burger it Up!. With no previous restaurant experience except for teenage years as a dishwasher he’s smoothing out daily operations and trying to drum up business. But if he’s running on empty his beaming grin doesn’t show it.
Burger It Up! is dealing “Gourmet Burgers and Booze” on Knickerbocker with a black, white, and red motif and a logo written in a graffiti-inspired slant. There is beer and booze, the hard stuff well-hidden behind the counter, and gargantuan burgers. Stools run along the window and the TV murmurs along with the stereo on the back wall. Family members will occasionally wait on tables and there’s a cook in the kitchen, but everything else is Santana’s job, which includes slicing potatoes for fries whenever there’s a free moment.
Burgers with different toppings is the heart of the menu: a pizza burger with mozzarella and basil, a bacon-cheddar burger with a fried egg, a Philly burger with sautéed onions and American cheese; any of these can be veggie burgers (which come from a freezer box). The classic burger is a highly seasoned patty packed as tight as breakfast sausage on a bready brioche bun, lettuce, tomato, and pickles by Brooklyn Brine on the side. The burgers come nicely charred, much like the backyard BBQ burger you probably ate last weekend. Cooking temperatures can vary wildly; I had burgers come out rare and well on different visits. And sometimes fries arrive under-seasoned — even the spicy style, flecked with red and black pepper, could use more salt. If burgers aren’t your thing, there are hot wings, chicken sandwiches, and chili dogs. Don’t miss happy hour, with $1 PBRs.
Santana is most proud of his “chimichurri,” a Dominican-style hamburger served with a mix of ketchup and mayo topped with shredded cabbage, inspired by the chimi served at trucks that come out in the neighborhood late at night. Those vendors “smash it down too much,” Santana laughs. “And it’s supposed to have slices of green tomato on it, not red,” he remarks, but he has had trouble finding a vendor that supplies them.
Dominican style also comes from a giant bottle of mamajuana, a sweet and spicy tipple made from bark, herbs, and spices. “We get the cheapest rum we can buy, we put the sticks in and cure it. We add red wine, honey, and that’s it,” he explains, “the older it is the better it is.” Myth tells that it wards off the flu, promotes a man’s virility, and it even helps smooth out the stomach after a stocky burger.