I don’t remember exactly when the place opened, but for the past few months the 5 Napkin Burger restaurant has been full of people almost every time I’ve gone by. The smells of cooking hamburgers wafting out of the restaurant onto 14th Street made it hard to walk by without getting hungry. So, it wasn’t much of a surprise when my mom asked me and my wife to take her there for her birthday dinner.
The holiday decorations inside the restaurant are nice. It felt festive. My wife pointed this out to me later, but it looks like the restaurant has a biology lab decor underneath the Christmas decorations. I don’t really get it. Is the implication supposed to be that they’ve used science to perfect their burger recipes? It feels like a bit of a mental stretch and personally I don’t want to think about biology labs or what might be festering in Petri dishes while eating.
My mom and I opted for the signature 5 Napkin Burger. I figured I might as well get what should be their best dish. My wife opted for the steak and eggs. I was tempted to join her. We’ve been watching King of the Hill on Netflix and the night before we’d seen an episode about Hank, his propane and propane accessories and grilling steaks.
The 5N burger costs about 15 bucks. That’s steep, but they do give you a very, very large portion of food. I cleared the plate but my mom took half of her burger home for dinner. I should have done the same because later I wound up with a stomach ache that left me incapacitated on the couch for about two hours. The burger sat in my stomach like a lead weight for most of the day and then just sort of knocked me down for a while late in the evening. Luckily, everything cleared up the next day. If you know what I mean.
Anyway, the food quality is decent. According to the missus, the steak and eggs were good, but she’s had better. She said the portion was a good size, but it wasn’t extraordinary and the quality wasn’t comparable to the price. The 5N burger itself was tasty, but the portion was so big it was hard to hold it all together, especially when the juices from the meat started to run out onto my hand. Not that I’m advocating dry burgers, but I think the whole thing would come together better if the portion was just a more… normal size. The heavy garlic butter stuff (I forget the fancy name) along with the extra juiciness (grease?) and the lack of vegetables in the burger caused it to have a very unbalanced taste, and it might also be what led to my discomfort later in the day.
The worst part of the meal was this holiday cocktail that was supposed to be a mix of champagne, some essence of elder flower, mulled ginger and some other essence of something that came in a tiny glass (that I got charged 10 bucks for…) and tasted like flat champagne. The only bubbles in the glass were coming from the interaction between the ‘champagne’ and the translucent slice of ginger in the bottom of the glass, which didn’t seem to help the taste of the drink at all. I can’t figure out why it cost so much, either. Do essences of stuff that add no flavor to a drink cost a lot? It certainly wasn’t costly because of the size of the drink. We mentioned the lack of taste to what I assume was a manager, since I think I remember him wearing a suit, and he said he appreciated the suggestion.
The best part of the meal was the onion rings. I’d go back for the onion rings. The chunks of onion are big and they’re not buried in batter. When I bit into them I could taste the onion and the batter instead of heavy oil. The other good thing about the meal was the service, up until the end when we were getting ready to leave. Some server had added an extra table to the booth across from where we were sitting that took up more than half of the walking space, so when we were trying to get out and leave, waiters and waitresses kept asking us to move out of their way. It was slightly annoying.
Thinking about the meal as a whole, we didn’t dislike it at the time. We didn’t have a ‘bad’ experience. I mean, no one left the restaurant upset, angry or disappointed. But, I don’t know that I’d want to go back and get what might be another mediocre steak and eggs or heavy (flavor-wise) burger, or flat champagne cocktail, all of which are highly (over) priced, just to get good onion rings. With three entrees, three sodas, one cocktail and two extra sides of onion rings, plus a tip, our bill wound up being 98 dollars. We could probably have been just as happy for half of the cost at any number of other burger places. So, while I think 5 Napkin is a decent meal, it’s not a decent meal that’s worth the price and I don’t think we’ll going back.