I went to Five Napkin Burger on Tuesday night with Serious Eats overlord Ed Levine and his son, Will. This is our story.
More like our initial impression, since it's too early to really get into it about this burger.
Five Napkin Burger is a spin-off the Upper West Side's Nice Matin, where the "Five Napkin Burger" originated as a menu item. Apparently, Simon Oren and Andy D'Amico, the folks behind Nice Matin, thought the Five Napkin Burger was strong enough to carry its own restaurant.
Five Napkin Burger
630 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10036 (at 45th Street; map); 212-757-2277
The Short Order: The Five Napkin Burger on Upper West Sider Nice Matin's menu gets its own restaurant. So far, the burger is plenty juicy but not five-napkin juicy. Good beef (chuck) overshadowed by caramelized onions and Comté cheese.
Size: 10-ounce patty, 6 inches tall
Want Fries with That? Included in the price of the meal, these fries are good. Maybe a tad too crisp. Eat them fast; they practically turn into potato chips after cooling
Price: $13.95, includes fries
We arrived around 8 p.m. to a packed house. No surprise, since the place is on Restaurant Row, and the blog buzz probably didn't hurt, either. Ed had a brilliant plan to circumvent the estimated 30- to 45-minute wait: sit at the bar, which features the full menu.
The friendly bartender set our makeshift table, and I noticed something: only one napkin. I was expecting a little stack of five. OK. Not really. But I thought it would be a nice touch if the place nodded to its name and playfully provided each place setting an arsenal of serviettes.
Turns out the one napkin was enough. Neither Ed nor I thought this burger earned its moniker. It was juicy, sure, but with that name, you've gotta step your game up to a whole 'nother level.
The original Five Napkin Burger is a coarsely ground, loosely packed ten-ounce patty, topped with Comté cheese, a slew of caramelized onion, a salad's worth of butter lettuce, and a nice red slice of tomato. It comes with fries.
Almost all of which I promptly removed.
Mine was perfectly cooked to temperature—maybe a hair overcooked, if at all. The beef—ground chuck—had a comforting old-school flavor that, surprisingly, I realized I'd been missing, what with all these places doing custom blends of this and that. But the caramelized onions (which, I swear, tasted like they'd been flavored with rosemary) and the Comté cheese (which tastes like a milder cheddar but has more complexity), I don't know. They're both nice touches in theory—and maybe just one or the other on a burger would work—but in practice this dynamic duo begins to overshadow the flavor of the meat.
Ed complained that the burgers here are what I call "snakejaw burgers": They're so thick you need a snake's hinged jaw to get your mouth around it. Ed said his jaw started to hurt while trying to bite into his burger. I just smushed mine down and didn't have too much trouble with it that way, though I agree with Ed that you really have to remove all the stuff to even make this burger manageable.
Ed also noted that places like Five Napkin Burger that offer only the half-pound burger option, that they really should put a four- or six-ounce burger on the menu—or sliders—for people with delicate jaws. "A half-pound is sometimes just too much," he said.