Are we a tough crowd in Atlanta?
Consider the case of 5 Napkin Burger, which has done well enough in its original location in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen that it took the show on the road — first to other New York locations then to Boston, Miami and the former Nickiemoto’s on the corner of 10th and Piedmont in our fair burger haven.
But the one here is, to say the least, a perplexing restaurant. After having a meal that left me gasping at the bill and scratching my head, I poked around online and found that my impressions were pretty well in keeping with those of Cliff Bostock at Creative Loafing and many commenters on Yelp.
It’s certainly a nice-looking place. Checkered black-and-white floor and deep booths reference a 1950’s soda shop. But the furnishings have a much higher level of finish, and the full bar in the back of the room puts things a little more in neighborhood bistro mode. A fine selection of bottled beers seem to be the highlight here.
The menu keeps its burgers (purportedly so big and juicy you need five napkins to keep from having the meat-soaked face of a hyena after a kill) front and center. Yet it makes room for steaks, seafood, full-meal salads and sushi rolls.
Our meals starts off inauspiciously with these lobster roll sliders ($19.50, above) — three to the order and sided by a good 100 bread-and-butter pickle slices. The lobster had the stringy texture and papery flavor of shellfish that had been cooked, frozen and thawed. The wash of drippy mayo didn’t help.
Deep-fried pickles and pastrami ($7.50) brings soft, battered bundles nestled on sauerkraut. If you appreciate the wit of a deli sandwich reimagined as a foofy appetizer, you’ll appreciate this dish.
I can also see why some people might dig the signature original five napkin burger ($14.95), a 10-ounce behemoth lavished with the soft-on-soft richness of gruyère cheese, rosemary aïoli and caramelized onions. I can also see how some might hate its damp, soaked bun and perpetual plop-plop-plopping of condiment goo.
I don’t see how anyone could consider the inside out burger ($14.95) served between lettuce leaves with hard tomato slices and an enormous puddle of Russian dressing 5N sauce an actual burger. I was 10 napkins in before I give up. I don’t even want to extract the meat from its pink bath of sauce.
A 12-ounce strip steak ($21.50), flat and wan with no char and no redness to its color, makes us only crave good steak.
We did love our salted caramel milkshake ($5.50), which fed three for dessert amply. We didn’t love our fries, which were salted to a fare-thee-well.
I’d love to hear from anyone who really likes this restaurant to explain why. Seriously, anyone: Fans, publicists posing as fans, corporate investors, folks who get 5 bucks a pop to review restaurants they’ve never visited on social media sites, automated bots in Indonesia trying to sell Toshiba laptops, it doesn’t matter.
Are we just a tough crowd? People elsewhere really like this place.