I can count on three fingers the number of times I've been early for anything, but I recently arrived at Pulino's in Manhattan at 11:59 p.m., a full 60 seconds before the place started serving its midnight-only cheeseburgers. Why? Because Nate Appleman, an F&W Best New Chef 2009, had just announced he'd be making only 30 orders each night of his signature burger, a refreshingly classic version topped with cheddar and griddled onions and served on a Martin's potato roll. I knew if I didn't pull off one of my rare feats of punctuality, I'd lose out. Am I a sucker? Probably. But I couldn't help feeling a rush from walking into Pulino's just in time. In my early teens, crossing the finish line at track meets gave me the same high. Racing to a restaurant for a cheeseburger is, trust me, much more fun.
The Pulino's late-night burger was inspired by Atlanta restaurant Holeman & Finch Public House, where Linton Hopkins (another F&W Best New Chef 2009) serves only two dozen burgers starting at 10 p.m.and sells out nightly. Suddenly, the world seems full of similar kinds of ephemeral food experiences. Not just limited-edition dishes but also one-night-only themed restaurant dinners like the fried-chicken competition that chefs Ludovic Lefebvre and Eric Greenspan recently hosted at Los Angeles's Foundry on Melrose. And let's not forget pop-ups like London's the Double Club, a hybrid Congolese-Western restaurant, art space and lounge that attracted celebrities like fashion designer Stella McCartney and architect Zaha Hadid in its eight-month life last year.