No food trucks allowed on the beach? No problem. The solution: 5 Napkin Express. You might be familiar with 5 Napkin Grill, the Lincoln Road outpost whose originator hails from the Big Apple and is wildly famous for the namesake dish. If you've been there, you know the matzo ball soup and wasabi deviled eggs are just as good as the burgers.
Thing is, 5 Napkin Grill is a sit-down kind of place, so the folks behind it thought it would be nice to offer SoBe residents and the working community an alternative -- something to grab and go. What's the ultimate grab-and-go food? Burgers.
If you walk around the corner to the back of 5 Napkin, you'll find a minimal space with few barstools, a wall shelf to eat at, and a colorful mural by local artist Kazilla, which adds some flair to the checkered tile space. There's also a chalk piece drawn by the owner, his wife, and their two teenaged children. Look at it long enough while you wait for your order and you'll find a number of interesting things in it.
"This is the first express concept for the 5 Napkin brand," assistant general manager Peder Rippe says. "What better place than to try out this fast-casual, grab-and-go concept than South Beach?" To ensure it's rolled out accordingly, the company has sent in staff from New York.
Located just across from the New World Center, it's a great place to grab a burger and take it for a picnic, concert, or weekly movie screening. Service is speedy and offered only to walk-ins, so you can't place your order in advance for take-out or delivery. "The premise is that it's just like a food truck. You walk up, wait in line, order, and get your food. Then you can eat here, take it to the park, the beach, back to the office, or walk and talk down Lincoln Road," Rippe explains.
With seven burger options, the menu is simple yet diverse. Nothing costs more than $7, and everything is made from scratch, in-house, and using natural ingredients. Tea and coffee are freshly brewed, and Jarritos Mexican sodas offer a natural alternative to fructose syrup sodas.
I went crazy and sampled three burgers. The house burger is what started it all: The 5NBX burger ($5.75) puts Gruyère, caramelized onion, and rosemary aioli atop fresh ground beef and between two buns. The cheese and onion make it richly decadent, and the aioli adds a creamy texture. If you like mushrooms, try the PTF burger ($6.75), which packs roasted portobellos, truffle mayo, and fontina cheese on top of a perfectly cooked patty. And if you're a turkey burger kind of person, the asiago turkey burger ($5.75) is for you. Pancetta, asiago cheese, herb-roasted tomatoes, arugula, and basil pesto mayo on a turkey patty make for an ultra-cool bite and my personal favorite. There are also veggie, chicken, and fish alternatives.
As far as sides, you'll want to get the cheddar tots ($3.75). Think of a light, creamy pomme purée with Tillamook cheddar folded into it, lightly breaded, and fried until crisp. There's also crisp sweet potato and barbecue seasoned fries, and homemade ranch to go along with all three.
Beer is served in a bag because of the open-container law and is priced at $4 for PBR or Tecate and $5 for Whale's Tale Pale Ale. Get a milkshake ($4.75), which uses crème anglaise as the thickening agent. Cookies and cream, peanut butter-chocolate, and salted caramel are some options beyond the typical vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry flavors.
5 Napkin Express is open from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week. Breakfast is available till 11:30 a.m.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha