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Dining Out: Five Napkin Burger: Meat the way it ought to be in Astoria

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Five Napkin Burger, that Manhattan bastion of juicy ground meat, has done the reverse commute, cloning itself for a third location in Astoria, at 35th Avenue and 36th Street. Instead of the frenzied eclecticism of the restaurant’s former occupant, Bizaare Ave. Café, the eatery has adopted a meat locker theme, with white subway-tiled walls and floors and racks of meat hooks serving as lighting fixtures throughout. To underscore the retro-ness of the menu, old commercial milkshake blenders, seltzer siphons and vintage fans are used as a repetitive decorative element.

While mostly playing to its core constituency of devotees of old-timey American cuisine and beverages, Five Napkin still tips its hat to sustainable food advocates and locavores by daily grinding its own locally sourced meats and using veggies from the Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop commercial farming venture in nearby Long Island City.

The starters here are a study in both multiculturalism and indulgence. Chicken noodle matzo ball soup lives companionably with pork taquitos and Vietnamese shrimp and salad roll.

True to our roots, we succumbed to weirdly delicious deep-fried pickles and pastrami. Four of these more decadent cousins of pigs in the blanket come served on mini beds of warmed sauerkraut drizzled with mustard oil. The innards are rolled slices of sweet pickle wrapped first in thinly sliced pastrami, then in a thin pastry jacket, and deep fried. Its one of those things that definitely tastes better than it sounds.

Perhaps to atone for our indulgence in deep-fried fare, and other indulgences yet to come, we ordered the mixed salad. We, too, have a garden, and the salad mimicked what we have also been harvesting lately, which from us is the highest form of compliment. The greens were young and tender, and the cherry tomatoes like candy.

The Five Napkin Burger burger is what started it all, so how could we not sample the signature dish, tempting as some of the other burgers sounded? It’s a massive, loosely packed, 10 oz. loaf of freshly ground chuck with a little extra fat added for good measure. It comes dressed with sweetly caramelized onions, oozing Gruyere cheese and a little rosemary aioli for good measure. If you’re a burger lover with a massive appetite, it is an intentionally greasy masterpiece. If you’re a regular person, it’s about three dinners worth of meat.

The terrific beef was seared on the outside and bloody red in the middle, just the way we like it (they do pay attention to how you order your burger). The toppings are well chosen enhancements, rather than distractions to great meat. The accompanying fries were about as good as McDonald’s are when you time them right. Since Julia Child waxed poetic about Mickey D’s fries, that’s a good thing.

Those with reservations about gorging on 10 ounces of fatty beef can opt for an ahi (tuna) burger, an Italian ground turkey burger or a Five Napkin veggie burger. We ventured into even more uncharted territory with Lobster Roll Sliders. This trio of lobster salad-filled, toasted brioche buns came with fries and, inexplicably, a small dish of thinly sliced sweet pickles similar to the ones we had just eaten deep-fried. We say “inexplicably” because no pickles came with the burger, a more obvious pairing. The lobster salad was first rate, but the brioche rolls were glaringly stale to a point that toasting did not adequately revive. We were eventually reduced to picking the tasty lobster salad off virtually inedible rolls.

A great burger deserves a great beer, and for that you will have come to the right place. Five Napkin serves 50 beers, including their namesake brew, a lively nut brown lager. If the word “calories” has no meaning for you, you can always wash down your meal with a shake or a float.

The Bottom Line

Five Napkin Burger turns back the clock to a time when Americans ate American food made with unadulterated fresh ingredients and without a guilty conscience. For those who live in fear of fat or flesh, there are enough non-carniverous options on the menu to keep them equally satisfied. Loud music and other sounds reverberating off the tile walls will attract a young crowd with a high tolerance for ambient noise. This will give those young-uns a chance to taste what real food used to taste like.

Five Napkin Burger

35-01 36th St.

Astoria, NY 11106

718-433-2727

www.fivenapkinburger.com

Price Range: Appetizers $7.25—$10.75, entrees $12.95—$19.75

Cuisine: Retro burger joint with multicultural influences

Setting: Spacious meat locker

Service: Friendly and efficient

Hours: Lunch and dinner daily; Saturday and Sunday brunch

Reservations: Optional

Alcohol: Full bar

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Music: Recorded

Takeout: Yes

Credit Cards: All

Noise Level: Loud

Handicap Accessible: Yes

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