“But give NYC credit where it’s due, it’s actually hard to find a bad bun here…”
The potential burger consumption for this trip to New York had been planned with a succinct military precision most people employ to organise a wedding - going through the painstaking process of adding:
- every worthy burger eatery
- near every conceivable tourist trap
- within staggering distance of every filthy dive bar
onto an offline map on my phone. It took fucking ages. By the end it was such a work of art if a priest had rolled in and said ‘Do you take this map…’ I probably would have said ‘I do’. Mind you, by that point it was 3am, and I was deliriously tired.
But. Victory. When hunger pangs befell us on Times Square, I knew the newest location of Five Napkin Burger was a couple of short blocks away. Boom. Payoff.
This branch on East 14th St is a pristine restaurant-bar amalgam - a bar counter at the back stretches the length of the room and a mixture of classic booths and tables are in the main. You can sit down and have a meal here, or you could grab a burger while throwing back some gin and juice. It’s a good mix, pulled off without the pretence you could get in a place like this, and very spacious considering the neighbourhood.
The signature Original 5 Napkin came out with the top bun slanted over like a knowingly-placed New Era cap, allowing a sneaky peek at the goods inside. This is a seemingly popular, if not semi-synonymous, way of serving resto-burgers in NYC. It’s kind of open, but kind of not, and kind of makes sense: a meaty peep show. Now, while your average patties are Bruce Banner, this one is a fucking Hulk, an almost intimidating 10oz brick of beef. It looked incredible. Nicely medium and showing off some lovely pinkness, it walloped out a consistent meaty depth with every bite. It was the tiniest bit dry, but that’s nit picking to the nth degree. My cohorts ordered medium rare and those pucks were practically raining juice.
My ordering bad.
The bun looked like it didn’t stand a fucking chance, but it stood up to the bulging meat heroically. The shiny, pillow-soft brioche holding everything easily, and with enough give to allow the meat to take centre stage.
The brilliant part? How it had been described on the menu. If anywhere in the UK put a burger on a ‘soft white roll’, the place would suffer from Sporadic Foodie Groan Syndrome; primarily caused by knowing you are going to get a Gregg’s-esque moisture-sucking flour ball. But give NYC credit where it’s due, it’s actually hard to find a bad bun here. Like, really bloody hard, such is the quality of the lower end. If this is a plain old white roll, imagine what a full-on custom bun is like!
Now here’s where it all gets a bit, well, weird. The gruyere sprawled over the burger provided all the necessary stringy rubbery texture, but was very sharp when tried on its own. And the onions, whilst caramelised nicely - holding shape and not bordering into mush - were crazy rich, causing a savoury-sweet clash of epic proportions. Swirl into this skirmish a heavy-on-the-rosemary aioli and you’ve got yourself a combination that conspires to produce a very strange flavour. Rosemary and garlic are very common bedfellows, but topped on beef the whole thing seemed a little off. Perhaps my taste buds are too plebeian for a combo like this, but I was thankful the meatiness of the patty dominated the mouthful, subduing the rest to an extent.
The bacon cheese my buddies ordered looked similarly good and apparently tasted boss, so would probably be the recommendation as a first foray into Napkin territory. Order medium-rare. And get it with tater tots, obviously.
Coincidentally, that’s the wifi password too.