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5 Napkin Burger: not up for review

Lobster sliders and a mountain of pickles

Lobster sliders and a mountain of pickles

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.

67 comments Add your comment


September 27th, 2011
11:44 am

You can’t charge NY prices in Atlanta. This isn’t Manhatten. There’s no Wall Street in Midtown Atlanta. People don’t make enough here, especially in a bad economy, to justify spending 100 bucks for dinner. Ain’t gonna happen, no matter how good or bad the food is. As it is, this city is already way too saturated with burger places. Smashburger in Buckhead works out just fine as does Grindhouse, at 1/3 or 1/2 the cost of 5 Napkin.


September 27th, 2011
11:48 am

Haven’t been. However, I’m leery of places that “hide” meats/fish in sauces/condiments/cheese. Makes me wonder what kind of poor quality product they are hiding (also why I avoid places like Chili’s, Applebees, etc). Parking is weak there on that corner as well. Much rather go to Grindhouse from the sounds of your review.


September 27th, 2011
12:24 pm

How many idiots are there really willing to cough up $15 bucks for a damn burger? Theres a sucker born every minute i guess…


September 27th, 2011
12:29 pm

I agree with John. Atlanta is NOT Manhattan as much as some folks like to think it is. It’s shameful when NYC businesses try to make it in the Atlanta market and think they can charge the same prices. $12-$13 for a veggie burger is outrageous!! Honestly speaking I haven’t eaten at 5 Napkin Burger just yet but the prices are further and further deterring any consideration from checking it out. I’d much rather go to Grindhouse or Yeah Burger for something that will not break the bank!


September 27th, 2011
2:12 pm

Those pickles with the lobster roll garnish look ridiculous.

And $15 for a burger? That will not sit well in this town with a burger joint on every corner — especially when some of them have amassed cult-like followings.

Thanks for the warning John. I’ll pass.


September 27th, 2011
3:00 pm

Haven’t tried it, so I cannot comment on the quality. But based on the largely negative reception to 5 Napkin in Atlanta, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve *finally* reached the tipping point for burger “joints” in this city. Or at least the limits of what we’re willing to accept.

I wonder if other cities have embraced their respective 5 Napkins due to a dearth of burger places there. Atlanta, however? I don’t think it’s out of line to say that our market is supersaturated with them.

Mind you, I’m not against burgers, and I love some of these places as much as anybody. But Grasshopper’s observation goes right to my point. It may be about more than price–it’s about the total package. Perhaps we’ve reached our limits, and if you can’t deliver that total package, well, you just aren’t going to make it.


September 27th, 2011
3:05 pm

LOL. Best non review from you ever. About time.


September 27th, 2011
3:08 pm

The taste of the burger aside, they don’t seem to do anything right. Food is poorly cooked, presented and priced. I won’t be returning and hopefully the boys from around the block won’t either and we can send these carpetbagers packing.

C from Marietta

September 27th, 2011
4:04 pm

NY city. Get a rope! Seriously, Votex baby. That’s where I eat burgers out, but nothing compares to my Weber Grill at home. That way I get drunk and not worry about driving.

C from Marietta

September 27th, 2011
4:05 pm

Nathan. You hit the nail on the head. TOO MANY BURGER JOINTS!


September 27th, 2011
4:11 pm

I haven’t been and probably won’t. But business seems to be good so far. Can they sustain it? Who knows but Atlantans have been known to overpay for style over substance.


September 27th, 2011
4:25 pm

I ate there with three others. Not one person liked their meal. Burgers were overcooked with absolutely no taste. Menu has too much variety, so no ability to actually excel at anything. Finally, way too expensive. I will not go back and in fact encourage everyone to skip this burger joint and eat at one of the other delicious burger venues we offer in this city.

The Murph

September 27th, 2011
4:30 pm

Smash Burger is the best. Double size their burger, fries, and a drink for $10. You will be satisfied. Don’t think I’m going to 5 napkin. Grindhouse is overrated.


September 27th, 2011
4:35 pm

I live about 1.5 miles from the Decatur Farm Burger, 4 miles from George’s in Va Highlands, and about the same distance from Five Guys. What more could I want? I’m in the middle of burger heaven.


September 27th, 2011
4:38 pm

I met someone there after they had eaten. After glancing at the menu prices, i decided not to grab a bite.

I am getting more and more reluctant to eat out at any price. W/O Scoutmob or Groupon, I’m likely not eating at the restaurant at all anymore. $15 burgers, $2.75 for a tea! then you pay tip on top of that! Just hard to justify, particularly when most of these meals are nothing you can’t do well or nearly as well and quickly at home.

Instead, go to H Mart, last wk sale 10lbs of Leg quarters for $4.99. This was 8 HUGE chicken leg quarters. I grilled 4 of them, froze 4 and made 1.5 gallons of chicken stock/soup from all the ribs cut from the leg quarters.

So for $4.99 and an hour of work, you get 8 entrees, about 15 bowls of soup (which can be thai, ckn, egg drop…w/ a few additions).

It’s hard to justify going out, the $20 for just a 10oz burger/drink at 5 Napkins (or elsewhere) could be 40lbs of leg quarters! :-)

Atlanta Native

September 27th, 2011
4:38 pm

A few months ago someone at the ajc asked if the burger craze was over. I believe the comments here, and John’s review, answer that question.

MMMMMMmmm. Foood

September 27th, 2011
4:38 pm

My family went to the one in Boston in August (didn’t know about the ATL location to open) and it was good. My Original was good, though overcooked. For the $ of the burger I did request a replacement. It quickly came and was cooked perfectly. I wouldn’t say it was the best (or in the top 10). I did not need dinner after such a big lunch!!

We chose it based on the reviews for the Boston area. The footnote for this ramble…5 Guys was relatively new to the area and their ratings were just as high, if not higher! I have to agree. Unless it is Sublime, you can’t charge NYC prices for a burger.


September 27th, 2011
4:41 pm

My one and only visit was crowded, LOUD and stupidly expensive. 15 bucks for a burger–give me a break! I have no interest in going back.

Tool Box

September 27th, 2011
4:45 pm

Smashburger rox

Brookhaven Bob

September 27th, 2011
4:45 pm

I’ve been to the original restaurant in Hells Kitchen many times (5-6?). Each time I got the original burger because it was so good and worth the $15 bucks. The place had a lot of energy and was always hopping.

I was looking forward to 5 napkin coming to Atlanta. Having tried it I can say that the burger is similar, but not the same. Still its a good burger and the fries were okay.

I agree that it is over priced for Atlanta. Consider the rent required in midtown Manhattan compared to Midtown Atlanta. Most likely the cost of doing business in NYC is about 3-4X what it is here. Granted there is more restaurant traffic there, but pricing this the same as a Manhattan restaurant is just plain stupid.

They had a contest on their website to design an Atlanta burger. I wrote that the Atlanta burger would be exactly the same as the original except at $10.95.

I still like the place and will go back, hopefully before they go out of business…


September 27th, 2011
4:53 pm

Unfortunately nothing was said about the burger itself. What was it? Chuck? Round? Sirloin? WHAT! And there was no mention of how it was prepared. Well done? Medium rare? Rare? I don’t even consider ordering a burger if they only cook it one way – OVERDONE! That’s why I avoid 5 Guys. It’s still just fast food on an assembly line!


September 27th, 2011
4:57 pm

We’ve got the Vortex in Atlanta. That is good burger stuff. If you are ever in Buford try the FATBOY Burger at Red Sky. GREAT!!!


September 27th, 2011
4:57 pm

What is up with all the trolls today? Sheesh … get a life, people.

I guess I’m fortunate in that I really wouldn’t blink twice about paying 15.00 for a burger – with the expectation that it would be fantastic. Being single and childless makes that a little easier than for some. ;)

But from what I gather, 5N’s are purported to be, yet don’t live up to it. I’ll go, give it a try (if anything the salted caramel milkshake is a draw) and hope for the best.

I do disagree, however, with the random comments that the “burger craze” is over and how people are over it, as well. I say we can’t have enough “good” burger joints around. They’re kinda like snowflakes – all really the same thing, but each one a little different. (awww … wasn’t that sweet).

jeff gordon

September 27th, 2011
4:57 pm

ron burgundy you are a idiot and classless. Move


September 27th, 2011
5:00 pm

@ Old Cowboy – couldn’t agree more. Vortex has fantastic burgers. They’re just a good, plain, old fashioned hamburger. That’s why I like having the “special” places too – sometimes, I don’t want plain, old fashioned. Then again, sometimes, that’s ALL I want. I like having all the options to meet my cravings!


September 27th, 2011
5:02 pm

My sentiments. The place is loud, overpriced, and my burger ordered med came out nearly raw. The fries were awful. So $15 for a raw burger and bland frozen fries??? Ridiculous. Do NOT waste your time here.


September 27th, 2011
5:24 pm

Didn’t like it in NY,,, and most definitely won’t be wasting my money on it here is ATL. Reputation only goes so far,, especially on something as basic as a hamburger. Didn’t think anyone could really ruin such an easy staple,,,but to bury it in an unknown “sauce” and charge $15 for it ? Fool me once ,,,,,,


September 27th, 2011
5:38 pm

Like everything else, the burger craze got here late…so now we have a burger place on nearly
every corner, and the craze will be gone within a year. And then the cycle of places going out of business begins again, and Atlanta will, as always, chase the tail of the next trend. With regards to 5 Napkin — with Flip (if you want something really different) and the Vortex and Georges (and Grindhouse from what I hear, tho I’ve not been yet) why in the hell does anyone need to spend 15 bucks on a crappy burger?

Atlanta mom

September 27th, 2011
5:39 pm

LOL, I remember when the $10 burger was obscene.
Give me George’s any day.


September 27th, 2011
5:40 pm

I went there for the first time last week and loved the original 5 Napkin Burger. Yea the place is pricey but I honestly think that was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Also had sweet potato fries with that which were pretty solid. I love eating out in town and don’t see how their prices differ from Flip Burger or other places like that… honestly 5 Napkin Burger gives you more food then the other gourmet burger joints! Hopefully they don’t go out of business because I’d defiantly go back.


September 27th, 2011
5:51 pm

it was not great at all… 99 cent double cheese burgers at mc donalds is better…. should have gone to vortex


September 27th, 2011
6:13 pm

Sorry, but a $15 burger won’t get me in the door unless I’ve heard people absolutely rave about it. And I haven’t.

Love Grindhouse. Farmburger is fine if eating a local cow is important to you. It isn’t to me. Haven’t been to Smashburger yet. Not into Five Guys at all. Fudrucker’s does burgers better than Five Guys – much better.


September 27th, 2011
6:13 pm

And Vortex is great for atmosphere, but to me the burgers are nothing special at all. Maybe in line with Five Guys.


September 27th, 2011
6:16 pm

$15 for a BURGER??? Seriously?

I love food and I will pay for it when it’s worth it. But nothing can make a $15 burger worth it!

Could be better

September 27th, 2011
6:29 pm

@The Murph I have been to Smashburger twice, and was mostly disappointed both times. The first time, I had the Atlanta burger. The jalapenos on it which were supposed to be grilled were practically raw: they were all I could taste, so I picked them off. The spicy Wicked Pimina cheese still completely overwhelmed any other flavor the burger might have had: I couldn’t taste the meat, the bun, the peach BBQ sauce, or the slaw. Worse, I have no option on how my burger is cooked — it’s well done, period. The sides were much better than the entree: the fried pickles and the sweet potato fries were both good.

On my second visit, I had the BBQ, bacon and cheddar burger. Even these milder flavors overwhelmed a rather mediocre, bland burger. The side was underwhelming this time, too: the veggie frites were a very small portion for $2.99, and there was no breading — just vegetables that were flash-fried (though they tasted sauteed). Not much crisp or crunch to them. The only good thing about my second Smashburger experience was the chocolate peanut butter malt. That was very satisfying. Not Flip quality, but quite good.

To be honest, I feel like they’re concealing rather flavorless beef under a plethora of toppings. For a burger I can’t get cooked medium rare at that price point, I’d rather go to Five Guys.


September 27th, 2011
6:43 pm

This is neither a case of a craze gone south, let’s face it burgers are part of Americana and we will always want them… nor is this a case of dollars… we will always pay if we like what they’re serving. This is a bit of second sister… in fact, maybe even step-sister… New York is the BIG APPLE… Chicago is another MEGA food town… Atlanta? Meh! Don’t get me wrong, I think Atlanta can hold its own in any food category but I think there are lots of folks here who lack that confidence and think that just because it’s origin is NEW YORK CITY… it must be better… This is a town that is still unsure of its classiness, oft feels unworthy and thinks it has to look elsewhere for its sense of style… IMHO that couldn’t be farther from the truth…

Jim W.

September 27th, 2011
6:43 pm

My wife and I ate at 5 Napkin Burger two weeks ago. We had a reservation and were ushered right to our booth upon arrival (even though there was a quite a wait for walk up seats). The vibe was nice and the service was good. My burger was large and pretty good. My wife’s food was also good. We had a couple beers, and sides on top of the burger and burger salad. The bill was $85 after tip. I do not recommend 5-Napkin at the current prices. Wait till they go under and someone leases the space and opens a burger joint where you can get good burgers and beer for half the price. Until then go to Ted’s or Five Guys.


September 27th, 2011
6:44 pm

Funny, I debated going here before Music Midtown, but after looking at their menu and laughing(at the prices) we decided against it.

Rent must be insane on that corner, Zocalo is overpriced as well!

Jason L. Greene

September 27th, 2011
7:45 pm

Went to a special opening at Five Napkins. The drinks were great, and they were free. The Original Burger was great, but served with frozen FF. I thought they would be fresh and hand-cut. At least they are at Five Guys! Don’t think the neighborhood will go for it, or the boys up at Blake’s. Much too expensive, for what you get. Tourists-yes! A safe place to visit in Midtown, sit in the window, and watch the foot traffic! They will love it. My personal faves are Five Guys, Vortex, and even the Varsity. Sorry guys, I grew up in Atlanta, and anything from the Varsity, is scared to me!

Now What?

September 27th, 2011
7:59 pm

Well, now what. Will they survive? Will they adapt? Or will they just be…..


September 27th, 2011
9:41 pm

I went to 5 Napkin for lunch. I love a good burger and no, I don’t think there are too many places selling them. It isn’t like burger joints are forcing other places to leave or close. I had high expectations for 5N and they were not met, not even close. I ordered the 5N burger, with fries, a side of onion rings, and a Coke. The fries and onion rings had a distinct “fishy” taste, as if the oil they were cooked in had also been used for seafood. I asked the waiter about this because I have a severe allergy to shellfish, he went to the kitchen and returned with the manager who informed me that the oil is used to fry the fish for the fish sandwich but no shellfish is fried in it. Still, that’s a restaurant no-no, in my book. You just don’t fry fish in the same oil as other items. My fries and onion rings went uneaten. The burger was tasty, cooked as I wanted, but it wasn’t exceptional, especially compared to offerings from Farmburger or Grindhouse. My Coke was refilled repeatedly without prompting, so the service was at least good, though after my complaint of the fishy tasting fries and onion rings and the obvious fact I did not then eat them should have been a clue to the waiter or manager to remove those from my bill. But, for my burger lunch, with a modest 18% tip, a bill of $26 is a bit hard to stomach. I just don’t see this working in Atlanta. When I can get a comparable (or better) burger and MUCH better sides at another place for considerably less money, 5N just does not measure up.


September 28th, 2011
6:31 am

I live a block away. I went with friends and actually liked the food. I got the tuna burger and was impressed with the quality. However, we’ve not been back simply because the noise level was painful. If locals won’t go back for a second time, that’s not a good strategy. Make it more attuned to the local crowd while keeping the vibe and the restaurant might be successful. The location is perfect. I think the “non-review” was harsh and shows bias rather than objectivity — and this from a reader who isn’t really a fan of the restaurant.


September 28th, 2011
7:55 am

Hamburer Hamlet tried this game about 15 years ago. They built a building on Piedmont Road, and charged $ 12.50 for a burger ala carte. They lasted a little over a year. They aslo pushed valet parking for a burger joint. This is not RODEO Drive….


September 28th, 2011
8:44 am

Finally, people are waking up to how ridiculous it is to charge these prices for a stupid hamburger instead of defending the delicate, grassfed beef and microgreens tenderly prepared by Oompa Loompas on a remote mountain in Tibet.
$85 for two at a burger place? I don’t care how good it is, that is laughable. You won’t see me darkening the door there. 5 Guys is fine. Not stellar, but fine. The Vortex is decent and reasonably priced. Heck, Gibney’s downtown USED to flatten balls of meat on a flat top and crisp it nicely, and had a little bar for toppings at no extra cost – $6.95 for a cheeseburger (I hope the manager is reading this – please bring them back and stop precooking the patties!). $15 is highway robbery.

Maria S.

September 28th, 2011
9:18 am

I actually had a great experience at 5 Napkin burger. The prices are on the steep side, but a friend and I enjoyed the signature burger, fries, and the fish tacos. Two bourbons, and a couple glasses of wine, and the bill with tip was close to $100. (Oh, and we had the French onion soup – way salty, but my friend enjoyed it – and a side salad.)

I liked the energy, the music, the interior design, and our server Liz was amazing. I originally wanted to try the lobster sliders, but she steered me to the fish tacos. Based on your comments, John, it looks like she did me right.


September 28th, 2011
9:23 am

I was turned off as soon as I heard that a burger place had sushi.

I haven’t tried it, and I won’t, since I’d rather go to Vortex a few blocks away, or Flip — and not pay those prices. Heck, 5 Guys, too…


September 28th, 2011
10:51 am

Ridiculous. Form over function. You really should give Village Burger in Dunwoody Village a shot. Some people will bitch because they don’t seem to spend all day agonizing over bun-to-burger ratios, etc., but they make a damn fine burger on the flat top (the way it should be cooked).

John Kessler

September 28th, 2011
11:40 am

Used to go to Hamburger Hamlet when I was a kid in DC. Just had a flashback to my dad gasping at the prices the first time we went. But my mom loved it, so it went into rotation. As I recall, that was one of the places where I had the enforced kids’ menu.


September 28th, 2011
11:45 am

I’m less concerned with the $15 burger and more so with the $19.50 for three lobster sliders and a butt-load of B&B pickles.
Glad to know my AJC subscription fees go toward paying for this crap … but if it allows JK to warn us, it’s worth it.


September 28th, 2011
12:27 pm

I ate at 5 Napkin Burger last Saturday and i really enjoyed my burger. I do recognize that $15 seems hefty for a hamburger and agree, however no one is recognizing that it actually comes with a side! so the full meal is $15! I went with a friend and the total bill for dinner was 60 for s shared app, two burgers and two beers…