You might have noticed that New York City boasts about a million burger restaurants. Quite a few of them are not noteworthy, but of course the goal of any burger-happy individual here is to find the worthy ones, right? In that spirit I ventured to the Astoria outpost of Five Napkin Burger — burgers so juicy, you need… well, you get the picture.
Located on the corner of 35th Avenue and 36th Street, Five Napkin cuts a far more interesting profile than the building that contains it. Inside, a long bar takes up the left side of the space, with booths and tables filling the spacious, tiled floor. Incandescent bulbs hang from the very high ceiling to a level that periodically matches the level of my temple.
My dining companion had been waiting far too long for me to arrive, but fortunately there’s a fairly comprehensive beer list in place from which to order. I saw several beers I’d be happy drinking all afternoon. First up, once I got the bartender’s attention (my friend was already drinking while waiting for me) was Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold, a tasty Belgian tripel-style beer from the folks in Pleasantville. Later in the afternoon arrived the Kelso Nut Brown Lager, from Fort Greene, and it was the nutty, slightly-roasty and clean beer I expected and enjoy drinking on a regular basis.
My friend insisted on the Pork Taquitos, and who was I to argue (even though I had my eye on the fried pickles and pastrami)? The wee tacos are simply prepped, with queso fresco, salsa and sour cream.
Crispy shells join with slightly-spicy shredded pork and make quite the delicious dish.
And… yes! Unadvertised jalapenos in the salsa! I was pleasantly surprised that a somewhat Mexican dish was whipped up at ostensibly a burger-focused restaurant and done well — the meat stayed juicy, the cheese was plentiful and added a certain sweetness and drier texture to offset the pork, topped with a little heat and a lot of crunch even on the last taquito. Good choice!
Burgers were ordered and arrived at the bar with those second beers. The bacon-cheddar burger is as good as any by which to judge a burger joint, and this one was deemed successful.
As this was my first visit to Five Napkin, I ordered, yup, the Five Napkin Burger, medium rare. Ten ounces of ground chuck, as with the other burger, caramelized onions, gruyere, rosemary aioli. Though I’m sure they will accept substitutions… come on, this is the standard burger, order something else if you don’t want the Five Napkin Burger.
Great bun. Clearly if this pile of meat is going to require five napkins, it’s going to need to stay together also. Right? I know it looks like everything was just glopped on this, and that’s probably because it was. Install the top bun, though, and everything looks lovely.
I had to take a few bites to form an opinion. The meat was tender and cooked a beautiful medium-rare, but it seemed less juicy than I’d prefer, certainly not five napkins worth of juice by any stretch, but it has the bun to soak up most of the excess. Do note that you really, really have to enjoy rosemary; it’s fairly prominent in there. The sweetness of the onions certainly made me happy, and coupled with a little saltiness from the cheese pulled the burger into recommended territory with ease.
Burgers naturally come with potato-based sides, so we chose the sweet potato fries and the “tater tots”. More on those shortly. The sweet potato fries are fairly thickly cut, and had the requisite thin crisp outer shell with a softer core, and pretty straightforwardly sweet potato the whole way through. No wilty fries in there either.
Though these were Tater Tots by name, they didn’t look like lunchroom tots, the formed masses brought to Americans by certain frozen food corporations. Texturally, these were more breaded, deep-fried mashed potato balls. On the other hand, these tasted like breaded, deep-fried mashed potato balls.
Doesn’t that look awesome? I thought so, too. I couldn’t begin to tell you what herb or vegetable is represented by the green flecks, but this is the way I’d enjoy consuming my potatoes from now on, thank you.
I was surprisingly pleased by Five Napkin Burger on this, my inaugural visit. The food satisfied at a reasonable price — all the above for a shade over $50, sans tax and tip. Service at the bar started out a little poorly, but I believe the bartender simply thought I had a beverage already. Dishes were cooked properly, and I was happy with most aspects of what I ate and drank. I will be returning, perhaps as dinner on the way to Sunswick 35-35 a block away, perhaps just to sit and enjoy food and drink at a quality establishment. Either way, it’s worth my time and money.