Astoria, NYC: A Pretty Sweet Burger at Sweet Afton

AHT: New York

Burger reviews in the New York City area.

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[Photographs: Adam Kuban]

Sweet Afton

30-09 34th Street, Astoria NY 11103 (off 30th Avenue; map);718-777-2570; sweetaftonbar.com
Getting there: N/Q to 30th Avenue
The short order: A very good pub burger (but on the smaller end of the scale as far as pub burgers go) made from La Frieda beef. Tasty meat, good sear on the patty, but the bun leaves a tiny bit to be desired. It's not a dealbreaker, though
Want fries with that? Yes. Skin-on, fresh-cut fries are plenty potato-ey, not too greasy, and seasoned just right. The popular fried pickles, though, are soggy and don't live up to their promise
Price: Burger (no sides), $9; cheese, bacon, or caramelized onions, + $1; fries, $4; fried pickles, $3; weekend brunch burger w/fried egg, $9

If you live in Astoria and love food and drink, you already know about Sweet Afton. (Or you may have just read about the place here on SENY.)

If you haven't been, it's a sort of nebulously UK–themed pub just off 30th Avenue on 34th Street. SE'r nycParkie sums up the vibe pretty well:

I love how for us locals this place is always described as the "Brooklyn type bar" in the 'hood. For some that's good and for others that means they wouldn't step in this place. The latter are missing out on some tasty food for sure.

Or, if you've been to Wilfie & Nell (SENY intel here) or Bua, you get the picture. Same owners.

Like its sister joints in Manhattan, Sweet Afton serves a very short — some would say well-edited—menu of traditional pub grub, all with a local bent. The pickles are from McClure's in Brooklyn, meats from Butcher's Block in Sunnyside, cheeses from Murray's, the breads from Rollo Mio in Maspeth, and, of course, the burgers, well, their meat comes from Pat La Frieda.

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While La Frieda beef does not necessarily guarantee a burger is going to be good, it's at least an indication that a restaurant is trying to do things right. And for the most part, Sweet Afton does do right with its burgers.

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The patty takes on a nice sear, giving you some crunchy bits and some carnal, cavemanish UGH-FIRE-GOOOOOD flavor. Oh, and it's nicely seasoned. They're not afraid of salt here.

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The innards are beefy-tasting enough, not too aggressive, and are juicy even when ordered medium, as I did on a recent visit. (I've found that ordering medium-rare results in a burger a little too close to rare for my taste.)

The only thing I'm going to fault this burger on, though, is the bun. Again, I quote nycParkie*: "...I thought the bun was too much." It really is. It's a bit dry, a bit chewy, a tiny bit too big. It results in some burger blowout as you try to clamp your jaw around it and bite down, with the loosely packed patty in serious danger of breaking apart but just managing to retain structural integrity. How I would love to taste this burger on a squishy soft white bun!

Still, I'm willing to overlook that fault because I do like the atmosphere of the place, and the service is friendly.

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Fried pickles are kind of a thing, aren't they? People's eyes always seem to light up at the mention of them. I know mine do. This appetizer, made from thick slices of McClure's pickles, seem to be popular at Sweet Afton as well. And they look spectacular when they hit your table, their golden brown batter in beautiful contrast with the dark wood of the bar's rustic tables.

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I was really hoping for something special, but the the reality is that the batter is rubbery, doughy, more steamed than fried—no doubt from the water content of the hearty hunks of pickle. (And a number of SE'rs seem to have the same opinion.) I can't help but wonder what these would be like if they were half as thin. I'm hopeful they'd then have at least some crispness. As it is now, they lack any.

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If you must have a side, the fries will do nicely. They're thick, flavorful, skin-on hunks of well-seasoned potato goodness. They're not as interesting as the fried pickles hope to be, but if you want some greasy go-with to help sop up the alcohol, there you go.

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I know it's not burger-related, but Sweet Afton also makes a good mac and cheese and has an equally "well-edited" brunch menu that I've yet to explore in full. (It has a burger topped with a fried egg for $9.) If you haven't been, it's worth checking out. Certainly the best burger I've had in the neighborhood so far—even despite the bun problems.

See also: Bar Eats — Sweet Afton »

* Who I think I would get along with, at least based on similar taste in food.