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.
Five Napkin Burger and BGR the Burger Joint
Five Napkin Burger
BGR the Burger Joint
See a slide show of Five Napkin Burger and BGR the Burger Joint.
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.
Veggie burger. FNB: With its mix of mushrooms, lentils, carrots, wheat berries, zucchini, and especially beets, this burger has the appearance of very rare beef, which is not necessarily a turn-on for vegetarians. But it's moist, a little sweet, and very flavorful. Garnished with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and Russian dressing piled onto a sunflower-seed-flecked whole-wheat bun. Price: $8.95.
BGR: Made with brown rice, black beans, oats, and molasses. The last ingredient sweetens it too much (more so than FNB's), but it otherwise possesses a pleasingly wholesome flavor. It comes on the same bun and with the same options as the regular burger. Price: $7.99.
Slight edge to Five Napkin; BGR's was a bit too cloying.
Fries. FNB: Thin and ultracrisp — like McDonald's fries if rigor mortis set in. Seriously, though, they're textbook examples of the thin French fry and come salted to just the right degree. "Tuscan fries" come with Parmesan, garlic, and herbs. Regular: $3.25; Tuscan: $3.75.
BGR: Yukon Gold fries here are meaty — although I'd call them "medium-size" rather than "thick cut" as the menu puts it. Like FNB's, these are double-fried per order and come out perfectly crisp. You'll have to salt your own, though the fries can be topped with rosemary, roasted garlic, or Parmesan cheese at no extra cost. Larger portion than at FNB: $2.89.
I liked BGR's more, but the better one depends on your preference for thin or medium-cut fries.
Sweet potato fries. FNB: The sweet fries here are wide enough to have ridges imprinted on them. They're fairly crisp and taste pretty good: $3.75.
BGR: The Idaho sweets are a thin-to-medium cut, with double-fried exteriors that are slightly dark and very crunchy. Great stuff, and, like the regular fries, a relatively generous portion: $3.99.
BGR's are crisper and sweeter.
Onion rings. FNB: Lushly cooked onions beneath crisp if dry cornmeal breading. Just five to an order: $4.25 (a more sizable stack with two dips is $6.75).
BGR: Thick Vidalia onions tightly coated in a crunchy beer batter. The order is considerably larger than FNB's: $4.49.
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BGR for sure in this category.
Milkshakes. FNB: Our vanilla shake was brought to the table in the ice-frosted stainless-steel canister it was blended in, and poured into chilled glasses. Flecks of vanilla bean were visible in the creamy-smooth drink (made with Dreyer's ice cream), which was thick enough to necessitate use of a spoon. A subsequent visit brought a considerably thinner chocolate shake. Price: $5.50, but enough for two glasses.
BGR: Shakes come in domed clear-plastic cups — they look too much like the ones at Dairy Queen. Plus they come with whipped cream on top, which is a little tacky. These are touted as "handspun" as opposed to blended, which is supposed to make them thicker and creamier. I don't think so. Our vanilla and chocolate shakes, made with Mayfield Dairy ice cream, were thick and creamy enough, but less so than FNB's blended vanilla. Price: $4.49.
Five Napkin's shakes are less consistent, but a good one at FNB is better than a typical one at BGR.