Monday, 5 December 2011

5 Napkin Burger, Boston, USAmerica

This mini-chain boasts quite the reputation.  Because I have what some might consider an unhealthy obsession with burgers (the aforementioned people now referred to as "ex-friends"), I read about these life-changing meat discs....a lot.  

And despite the incredibly strong competition in NYC, 5 Napkin Burgers has been fêted quite a bit, even in an article by Tom Byng, the founder of the highly enjoyable and always-tasty-if-not-mindblowing local chain Byron Hamburgers.  Alas, multiple forces have conspired to keep me away from NYC for the last couple of years, but I happened to find myself just up the Northeast Corridor in Boston last week.  When meeting up with friends for dinner, I stipulated a 'killer burger,' and the suggestion of 5 Napkin was proffered and promptly accepted.

The 5 of us showed up at around 8pm on a Tuesday evening; not exactly prime dining time in Boston. (the place was probably 25% full)  No worries, I hadn't seen everyone for at least a year, and we were eager to share a collective moan about our child-rearing troubles peppered with reminisces about when we thought we were cool.  Anyhow.

The space is open and semi-spare without feeling cold: picture white tiling, exposed bulbs dangling from the ceiling, booths with whitewashed wooden sides -- no, really, picture them, because I forgot my camera, and it was far too dark to take any interior shots with my phone.  One big plus in their favour was the 200+ bottles of Maker's Mark on the top shelf behind the bar -- my bourbon-flavoured Achilles' heel.  
Photo courtesy of Tina from Carrots 'n' Cake; her review is here.
We settled into our booth and perused the menu.  Apparently their signature burger is shockingly titled the 5 Napkin -- "10 oz. fresh ground beef, gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, rosemary aioli, soft white roll."  As it was my first visit, I wanted to keep it a bit more simple and see how they did the classic, which in my book is a cheeseburger. 

And much to my delight, when listing off the cheeses available, the waiter finally delivered that magic word (at least when imagining said dairy product atop a burger): "American."  And thus my mind was made up - 1 cheeseburger, with American, cooked medium rare.

We had a couple of starters to kick things off.  The Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip was pleasant.  I've intentionally kept that short and sweet, as I feel it sums it up quite well.  But just in case it doesn't, I'll add that there was plenty of the titled vegetables, the artichoke chunks were just a bit firm (in a good way), and it was held together by a blandish cream cheese concoction.  Pleasant.  

I would imagine that the Hell's Kitchen Wings are named thus solely because the recipe originated from that region of Manhattan (?).  I'm hopeful that there isn't an implication of spice or kick in the name.  These followed the previous dish in the Pleasant Starters category: the slightly undersized flappers were juicy and well cooked with what was a fairly bog standard Buffalo wing sauce atop them.  Blue cheese dip on the side was, well, you get the idea.

And finally the main event.  When the burger was placed in front of me, I felt a slight twinge of apprehension.  First off, observe the size of that lettuce leaf.  Comical.  It and its tomato partner were unceremoniously flung aside.  Second issue was the charred American cheese betraying its time under the salamander.  Sigh.  I know that there are success stories of melting the cheese this way -- Fred Smith at the Admiral Codrington springs to mind -- but I definitely have a bias toward cloche + steam.

On to the meat.  As you might be able to discern from the horribly blurred cut through, the burger was cooked precisely to order, and the texture of the meat was fantastic.  It was loosely packed, peppered with pockets of juicy goodness.  I believe it was 100% chuck and would hazard a guess that the fat content was closer to 20% than 15%.  The top and bottom of the patty both had a decent char on them as well.  The meat itself tasted as though it had aged a bit, and whilst not mind-blowing, it was fairly - yep, you guessed it - pleasant.

Can you hear my disappointment?  Surely I've just described a pretty good burger, right?  Well, here's the thing:  I couldn't taste a speck of seasoning.  None.  

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that a burger needs a shit ton of salt on its top & bottom, added just before cooking, to create that unmistakable, dizzying, life-affirming crust.  This had none of that;  in fact, the taste buds on the tip of my tongue went home unfulfilled and sad.  What a shame.  At least this pushed the disintegrating bottom bun into the shadowy recesses of my already disappointed soul.

So what could've been a pretty damn good burger just left me with a lingering sense of sodium-free disappointment.  Part of me is tempted to give one of the NYC branches a try - or perhaps someone wants to send me to Miami to test theirs - but until then, I'd rather read about other burgers than try another one of theirs*.

5 Napkin Burger
105 Huntington Avenue (Prudential Center)
Boston, MA 02199 (map)

Monday through Thursday from 11:30AM – 11PM
Friday 11:30AM – Midnight
Saturday 11AM – Midnight
Sunday 11AM – 11PM

*This is 100% untrue.  I will eat almost any burger put in front of me.  I have issues.

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