Building a better burger at 5 Napkin
Five Napkin Burger appeared in the Pru with a roar. Located across from Brasserie Jo, along a strip of Huntington Avenue that could use a great pre-symphony burger, the new spot has a smart but self-conscious look of an old butcher shop. Off-white subway tiles with black grouting line the walls. Several steel racks curve around the room with meat hooks and single light bulbs hanging from them. It’s a comfortable space with dark wood tables and soft black cushions on banquettes. The place seats 160 and the music is loud. Five Napkin Burger has other locations in New York; Miami and Atlanta are coming soon.
The restaurant was started by three partners. Two, Simon Oren and executive chef Andy D’Amico, own Nice Matin, the wonderful New York eatery on the Upper West Side. The burger that gives the new establishment its name was developed at Nice Matin, which is a French-style spot. As a result, the original 5 napkin burger ($10.95) is a handsome and delicious patty, made with ground chuck, set on a soft floury roll with rosemary aioli, carmelized onions, and Gruyere.
A lot of thought has gone into the menu. Ahi tuna burger ($12.95) on brioche comes with wasabi mayonnaise and tempura fried onions. It’s amazing! Turkey burger on a salad ($13.95) covers the Crayola box with green beans, bell peppers, endive, tomatoes, red onions, radishes, celery, and a pink mayo-based sauce. Lamb kofta burger ($10.95) with chopped salad and tahini sauce is a treasure, all the components of a Middle Eastern kebab. Veggie burger ($7.95) on a multigrain roll with bread and butter pickles, another delight, shows thoughtfulness all around.
Regular fries ($3.25) and sweet potato fries ($3.75) are exemplary. Get either instead of Tuscan fries ($3.75), sprinkled liberally with chopped garlic, unless the person you’re going home with ate them, too.
There is sushi here, oddly out of place. A theatrical stack of cornmeal-crusted onion rings ($6.75) looks grand, until the rings are gone and we’re left with the empty metal stacking device. Deep-fried pickles and pastrami ($7.50), little rolls of meat around pickles, taste luscious. Just as sweet are pork taquitos ($8.75), an array of savory two-bite morsels.
Pescatarians will find plenty on this menu, including grilled fish tacos ($12.75) with avocado, pineapple salsa, and sweet and sour onions. The poor fish is lost. Steak frites ($18.50) is a strip loin, perfectly cooked but lacking flavor.
Glorious desserts include espresso brownie sundae ($7), with a homemade confection, whipped cream, salted peanuts, and Edy’s ice cream. Shakes ($7) come in the classic, conical stainless steel cups they are made in. Get extra glasses for your mates. Vanilla malted tastes like a ’50s diner. Cookies ’n’ cream is like melted but cold ice cream.
Many things about 5 Napkin are wonderful. But friendly service is slightly inept. Two waiters appear one evening, prompting us to think we’re about to be well taken care of. When we want a couple of things, we have to hail a busboy. He assures us, without checking, that everything is on the way. And of course it isn’t. After dinner, the garage attendant informs us that our parking fee is $35. When we ask how on earth it reached that ridiculous amount, she explains that we should have had our ticket validated. No one — not the hostess who took our reservation, nor the one who seated us, nor the tag team of waiters — ever mentioned stamping our ticket.
A thunderously high tariff from the garage can put a damper on a fine night. Five Napkin needs to dot a few more i’s and cross a few more t’s to look after the experience from beginning to end. Beyond the great, classy burgers and marvelous shakes.
Sheryl Julian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.