Monday, October 24, 2011
Burger-Club now in soft opening
The Burger Club (32-02 30th Avenue, Astoria, NY 11102)
After much anticipation, the newest hamburger joint in the hood, The Burger Club, officially opened its doors last week, serving lunch and dinner. With a high bar set by Bareburger, 5 Napkin Burger, and a few other pretty incredible burgers in the area, The Burger Club has a lot of competition. Not to mention that on the ten-block stretch along 30th Ave. between the train and Steinway, recent and future openings include Sugar Freak, William Hallet, Antika Brick Oven Pizza, Via Trenta (formerly Greco), and Butcher Bar (official opening Nov. 1st), all of which join MexiQ and the Grand Ave. Greek standards, like Ovelia, Grand Cafe, Avenue Cafe, and Athens Cafe. Don't forget Seva and Sweet Afton. And just one block away, Pachanga Patterson, Brick, Il Bambino, Aroma 31 (formerly Eco Table), and Bareburger--a pocket of some pretty popular heavy-hitters.
People have criticized the resemblance to Bareburger because of the garage door openings, modern vibe, and menu. But quite honestly, Ovelia was the first in the neighborhood to own such a contemporary feel (and the first for the garage door). And while both places sell burgers, salads, sandwiches, and shakes, aren't these pretty standard for any burger joint?
Chef Robbie Cohen (formerly of City Crab) leads the kitchen. "We have a team of four-star cooks back there with me," he boasts, "with a few guys from great restaurants like Esca." And while the menu does offer pretty straightforward burger fare, there are a few jazzed up offerings, like the foie gras burger, or the mozzarella fritters with prosciutto and peppers.
My favorite thing I tried today was the braised short rib appetizer, although it is erroneously described on the menu as having poutine. Poutine are fresh cheese curds--not shredded cheddar. Ever since M. Wells, I have been dying to try poutine, so my face fell when I saw shredded orange cheese. But the braised short ribs and gravy are deliciously tender. The french fries are the size of chubby fingers, and pretty fantastic. So after a few bites, I let go of my disappointment.
The mac and cheese came in a large skillet, filled with cavatappi--sadly extremely overcooked--in a mind-boggling bland bechamel... again topped with that same shredded orange cheese. I took several bites to make sure, but I genuinely believe the flacid noodles are tossed in milk and flour. I couldn't detect even a pinch of salt or pepper (which I judiciously applied, before retiring my fork from this dish in pretty major disappointment).
I opted for the Burger Club Classic. They offer burgers topped with pulled pork, egg, or foie gras, and even veggie, turkey, and salmon burgers... but if you can't nail a classic, the other decorations can only mask so much... The burgers here are made with a blend of naturally fed meat by Pat LaFrieda (which is misspelled at the top of the menu). And the burger was really very good, although pretty pricey at $7.75 (the foie gras burger peaks at $11.75). Fries are $4.75, so a regular cheeseburger and fries are $12.50 (falling between the original Bareburger with fries at $11.60 and the 5 Napkin Burger with fries at $13.95). The menu reads that each burger also comes with "our homemade spreads"--which seemed to confuse my server when I inquired as to their whereabouts... though a chipotle ketchup and chipotle mayo arrived a few minutes later. The burgers are well-seasoned. I was not asked for a temperature, and it arrived very well-done, unfortunately denying it much juiciness. Definitely quality meat and fresh toppings, and a toasted buttery brioche that housed the package perfectly.
For dessert, I asked if anything was made in-house. My server explained the "ice cream burger" as an ice cream sandwich with two different cookies, but said I should forget that and definitely get the "Mud Cake" because it was from the Cheesecake Factory... she thought. While I was looking for something homemade, she wouldn't take no for an answer. Now I do occasionally love me some Cheesecake Factory, but their black-out cake is a little different (and usually has crushed walnuts on the edges, as well). Though a bite or two hit the sweet spot, I was again a little disappointed that nothing uniquely "Burger Club" was offered.
Service was extremely friendly at the table. Management is very lax, however. As I waited for my meal, I counted 8 staff members at one time sitting on cell phones and eating at guest tables throughout the restaurant, eating burgers or fries. I got to hear the tale of one of the girls passing takeout menus who had been hit on earlier in the day, the gripes about uniform requirements at another server's "other" job, along with general shop talk about "that one jerk" who was in earlier. It felt a little more like an employee cafeteria or locker room than a new restaurant trying to impress the neighborhood and build repeat clientele.
I'll be very curious to see what happens during this preview period... the place has a lot of potential, and a seemingly qualified team. Execution is still lacking, especially in a neighborhood exploding with great burgers. Right now it kind of feels like a young burger shop playing dress-up. As if they watched all the grown-ups around, observed what to wear, but just aren't quite sure or ready yet just how to pull it off with the same (or at least a different) finesse.
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