Astoria, NYC: A Great Burger in an Unlikely Spot at Astor Bake Shop
Astor Bake Shop
12-23 Astoria Boulevard, Astoria NY 11102 (map); 718-606-8439; astor-bakeshop.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Their brisket and short rib burger may be the best burger I've had so far in Astoria.
Want Fries With That? The fries are amazing; crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, with plenty of potato flavor
Price: Burger, $7.95; w/cheese, +$1.25; french fries, $3.25
Astor Bake Shop opened just shy of a year ago in an unlikely place. Far from the subway lines that serve Astoria, it's a place you might only visit if you lived in the area or took a short detour south after a day in Astoria Park. The shop is the "labor of love" of chef-owner George McKirdy, a veteran of some fancy Manhattan restaurants. Although a bakery in appellation, it serves a short menu of breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes as well. Among them a very good burger, maybe even the best I've had so far in Astoria.
There are actually two burgers on Astor Bake Shop's menu, the prosaic "Burger" (with lettuce, tomato, and pickle on a challah roll) and the "Astor Burger" (all of the former along with "Astor sauce," Swiss, and creamy cole slaw).
Whichever you get (I've only had the Burger as the Astor Burger doesn't call to me), make sure to order it medium-rare. The six-ounce blend of brisket and short rib from LaFrieda is still flavorful but becomes too dry at medium or anything north thereof.
The coarsely ground patty is griddle-cooked, coming off the heat with a salty, seared surface that's crunchy and chewy in parts. When cooked medium-rare, that surface gives way to a beefy, juicy-enough interior.
Ignore any of the advice you see on Yelp or Foursquare that mentions a Portuguese roll. The burgers are listed on the menu as having a challah bun, but I've also been served a burger on a sort of squishy toasted oat–garnished bun. I'm not the biggest fan of fancy-pants buns, but both work just fine. The challah is not nearly as sweet as you'd imagine, and the oat-topped bun is actually quite nice, with pockets and crannies that seem expressly built to soak up the juices. Both come toasted crisp and buttered.
The fries here are amazing. I'm not the biggest fry fan and yet I couldn't stop eating them. On the outside, they're perfectly golden, light, and as crisp as they need to be and not any bit more—not crunchy, not leathery, but crisp. On the inside, they're fluffy and have plenty of potato flavor. Heck, I think they meet all of the Burger Lab's criteria for great fries. You really should get a side of them, in regular or garlic-herb variety.
The space is cute—tall ceilings and windows give it an airy, relaxed feeling. It's a little bit farmhouse, a little bit soda fountain, a little bit Dean & DeLuca. Much more Manhattan or Brooklyn than Queens, which is either good or bad, depending on your outlook. I find it's the kind of place I want to linger on the weekends, which brings me to my one complaint. Linger you might. The service can be a little slow and inattentive at times, but the folks there have always been friendly—just maybe too few of them when the place gets busy.
I've had several burgers now since moving to Astoria, and this one might well be the best. If only Astor Bake Shop weren't so off the beaten path.