I think Five Napkin Burger is one of the best restaurants on the Upper West Side
By Zachary Fagenson
By Bill Citara
By Laine Doss
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By Carina Ost
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It is well known that Americans love hamburgers, but this is getting ridiculous. In recent years we've seen the opening of Shake Shack, Burger & Beer Joint, 8 oz. Burger Bar, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, OneBurger, Fatburger, Bulldog Burger, OMG! Burgers, Heavy Burger, and Latin Burger & Taco — along with all the lower-end McD/BK/Checkers outlets. Umami Burger and Smashburger are scheduled for 2012. If you are what you eat, pretty soon we'll be dabbing ourselves with ketchup instead of cologne.
Anyway, add two more joints to the board: Five Napkin Burger, which debuted in NYC in 2008, opened its fifth location on Lincoln Road in mid-June (three others are in New York, one in Boston, and an upcoming venture in Atlanta); and BGR the Burger Joint, with nearly a dozen East Coast venues (and one in Alabama), premiered its first South Florida venue on Miracle Mile two weeks after Five Napkin.
BGR is an abbreviation of burger and is decidedly more fast-food-oriented than FNB. Diners wait in line to place their orders and pay, and then take a seat in the spacious room — formerly a Fatburger — adorned with vintage '80s rock album re-creations. Similar era music plays over the speakers; it's something like a Johnny Rockets for adult palates.
232 Miracle Mile
Coral Gables, FL 33134
Region: Coral Gables/South Miami
455 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Region: South Beach
The menu asks that patrons "Please be patient, each item on our menu is cooked to order. No shortcuts, no pre-cooking, no heat lamps." It's true: We waited about ten minutes to get to the counter, and another ten or so for the food. On the plus side, everything was brought to the table hot and fresh.
Five Napkin Burger's 114-seat corner venue (with 96 more seats outdoors) features shiny subway tiles on the walls and meatpacking racks with hooks hanging overhead. Somehow this translates to a dining room as warm and cozy as an oyster bar. No oysters are served here, but executive chef Andy D'Amico's diverse menu dishes sushi, steak frites, fish 'n' chips, matzo ball soup, and pork taquitos — right alongside eight types of hamburgers. There are also 60 wines, 82 beers (eight on tap), a full bar with nine signature cocktails, and many milkshake flavors.
FNB claims to be "the only upscale restaurant devoted to the art of the hamburger" (subway tiles and meat hooks apparently passing for upscale these days). BGR says its burgers "are crafted with the finest beef on the planet." We tried the signature hamburgers — along with turkey and veggie burgers, French fries, sweet potato fries, onion rings, and milkshakes — at both places.
Signature beef burger. Five Napkin's house burger is a big, fat ten-ounce patty of fresh ground chuck nestled in a plush buttered-and-toasted bun. The garnish of sautéed onions, melted Gruyère cheese, and rosemary aioli seems an eclectic choice for a signature burger (no lettuce, tomato, onion, or pickle — although there is a ten-ounce bacon-cheddar burger with those additions on the menu). It tastes fine enough, and the beef has a pleasingly mellow flavor, but it lacks the charred exterior you get from a grill (the patties are griddled). This is a very good hamburger, not an amazing one. Signature and bacon-cheddar: $10.95 each.
"One of the greatest burgers in the world," GQ raves about the BGR hamburger, and although we're not ready to join in that particular chorus, we do sing its praises. There's an amplified beefy taste to the prime, dry-aged meat (from free-range, grain-fed, hormone-/filler-/antibiotics-free cattle). And because the burger is not that big (seven ounces), the fetching char flavor of the grill is more pronounced than that of a heftier patty like the Five Napkin rendition. One can specify lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, or mojo sauce (spicy mayo) as garnishes. Our beefsteak tomato slice on this and all burgers here was huge. Rule of thumb that BGR might want to consider: The tomato should never be thicker than the meat. A sesame seed "brioche" bun gets buttered and griddled by the same machine (visible from the ordering counter). Burger: $6.99. Bacon or cheese: 99 cents extra. Double it for another $2.
I thought the BGR burger had better flavor, and preferred the more balanced beef-to-bun ratio. Big burger buffs might disagree.
Turkey burger. FNB: Like the beef version, this turkey patty is a fatty — and quite appetizing. It tastes pretty much like pure ground turkey flecked with onions, herbs, and seasonings. I was hesitant about the standard "Italian" topping of mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, and vinegar-marinated roasted peppers, but they actually enhance the flavor. Price: $10.95
BGR: Um, unique. Interesting. Moist. Not bad. Definitely the first sous-vide turkey burger I've ever had. Black snippets of portobello mushrooms (that look like truffles) are woven through the puck-shaped patty along with a mild infusion of Gorgonzola cheese. Grilled red onions are nestled on top. But the texture is sort of rubbery — or at least not what one expects from meat. And the middle is barely warmed. Price: $9.99.
We'll take Five Napkin's version; it just seems more like a turkey burger.