F. Ottomanelli Burgers & Belgian Fries
60-15 Woodside Ave, Woodside NY 11377 (map); 718-446-7489, ottomanelli.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: An overcooked, mealy burger with few redeeming qualities
Want Fries with That? Not especially, but they bulk out the wan burger.
Price: Single burger, $3.99; double, $5.29; bacon, + 70¢; medium fries, $3.15; large fries, $4.34
I wanted so much to love my burger at the new Woodside branch of F. Ottomanelli Burgers & Belgian Fries. Why? For starters, the promise of freshly ground chuck and short rib from butchers that have become something of a New York institution. The cozy space in homage to the '50s diner of our collective memories. The hope of a good, cheap burger in a charming part of Queens that I always love to visit. (Donovan's, the nearby pub famed for their burger, has been nothing but a disappointment to me.)
I went into my review hungry with positive bias. The fall was long and hard.
"What was wrong with it?" AHT editor Robyn asked. As much as I hate to say it, pretty much everything.
The standard Ottomanelli burger is a pre-formed four-ounce patty, seared on a flat-top, then covered and steamed until done. Toppings like cheese, bacon, onion, or chipotle seasoning are folded into the burger for something halfway between a Jucy Lucy and a meatloaf. They're best avoided.
The stuffed/blended burgers hit home the difference between good juicy burger fat and bad greasy burger fat. It turns out when you blend American cheese into a burger patty you wind up with an oily disk that leaks extra grease, not tasty meat juice. It also compresses the ground meat into a firm slab of sausage, as clear an example as any of the dangers of pre-salting your meat.
Not that the texture of the plain burgers is anything to be celebrated. Burgers are ground and formed into patties at the Ottomanelli butcher shop across the street, then sit in the display case all day. As with other fast food-style burgers, all the burgers at Ottomanelli are cooked to the same doneness, more than a hair past medium. This wasn't a dry burger per se, but it was definitely cooked into gray, mealy submission.
I could live with that (well, sorta) if the promised chuck and short rib lent their ample fat to lubricate the meat, or at least give it some serious beefy flavor. They did neither. An overcooked patty is hard to save under the best of circumstances; the underwhelming beef here did it no favors.
Not to beat a dead horse, but if you're going to overcook your burger, at least let a well-formed crust be a side effect. No luck here, though. The crust is spotty and lacking in caramelized flavor. Dwarfing the patty in a too-large, spongy, untoasted bun doesn't help matters. Any hope for textural contrast is lost in the pillowy sponge of the bland bun.
Thick-cut fries arrive in a cute metal cone. Though they're from fresh potatoes, not frozen sticks, they're lacking in both the deep potato flavor and light, fluffy texture you expect from a fry with some heft to it. They can, however, fill out your burger bun and add some much-needed textural contrast.
Right underneath the 7 train tracks you'll find a little taco cart that sells cemitas for $6. The sesame seed bun at the cart is more flavorful and plush than what you'll find at Ottomanelli; the sandwich is much more exciting. You should go there for your meat-on-bread fix, and you should go to the Ottomanelli butcher across the street from the burger shop for an Old New York experience that's increasingly hard to find. Just give this burger a pass.
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