Our latest Quick Bites report comes from Astoria, where the Bareburger owner has set up a biscuit-centric restaurant called Burnside.
Burnside Biscuit is a bit of a mess. First of all, this is a southern food restaurant in Queens named after a Civil War general (first name Ambrose) who fought for the North, and whose signature facial hair styling is mostly associated these days with Brooklyn. Sure Burnside fought in the South, but other than its alliterative appeal, the connection between the bewhiskered Union warrior and southern-style comfort food seems tenuous.
The restaurant's interior is a puzzle as well. There are at least four distinct areas, not counting the DJ booth, within the awkward, triangular-shaped space, including a lounge decked out in yard-sale antiques and random furniture like a light-blue puffy couch. There are tiles (and vinyl) on the floors, neon signage outside, an open kitchen with a wood-burning stove, grandmotherly wallpaper and subway tiles, echos of the Greek diner that came before (formica, those classic floor-to-ceiling windows), and a vintage glassware vase on every table, holding a single fresh flower.
The servers are young, friendly and likable, if slightly confused by some of the logic of the menu and its pricing. And in these early, "soft-opening" days, the locals are packing the place. At 7 p.m. last Thursday the wait for a table was "at least 45 minutes" (and they can seat 135!) and that stretched to 70 minutes by 9 p.m., when they were actually discouraging people from putting their names on the list. And soon, late night revelry is coming (hence the DJ station), presumably centered on the nondescript bar and aforementioned lounge up front.
All of the above would be more charming if the food was stellar at Burnside, but that is not the case. Yes, it's brand new, and maybe the kitchen is still learning the equipment and recipes, or maybe those recipes are still being tinkered with (by, among others, Sam Crocker, lately of Il Buco Alimentari), but still, my meal the other night was just straight-up bad.
Fried Chicken gets center stage on the Burnside Biscuit menu, so of course I ordered a quarter bird, going all dark meat to reduce my chances of too-dry disappointment. This turned out to a solid strategy, juiciness-wise (the woman next to me sent her plate back because there was barely any meat on the breast and what was there, was parched), but, sadly, the poor bird died for nothing, emanating such an unpleasant sharpness—from the black tea brine?—that I couldn't even finish the fairly insubstantial offering. The accompanying biscuit was huge, larger than the chicken, but that also went mostly uneaten, as even my requested honey couldn't make it anything but a slog.
Also left on the plate? My (tiny) side of collards. Like everything on Burnside's exquisitely-written menu, the dish sounded great ("Luck and Money: smokey collard greens, black-eyed peas, mustard-horseradish pot likker"), but in reality this was a soggy, sour mess. Note too, that twice during dinner I thought I had a cracked a tooth while hitting something hard in the both my greens and my chicken. The chicken incident was forgiveable—you can encounter some weird shit when biting into animals—but you shouldn't have to chew your way gingerly through collards and peas.
Another terrific read at Burnside was this line on the menu, "Pimento Crack Mac and Cheese", OMG YUM RITE???? But really, there's nothing too exciting here, just some soupy pasta with charred cornbread crumbs providing the "crack" (I guess?), and red flecks giving the color, if not really the flavor, of pimentos. Basically, it's a dish that asks the "pile of scallions" on top to do way too much of the work.
The best thing I had at Burnside Biscuits was the sweet, smoky Local City Ham, served on a herb biscuit with "pepper jack, mustard mayo, pickled cherry peppers", but which I just ate by itself because the meat was getting buried in the flavorless sandwich. Two other weird/bad things about this dish: the pickled okra on the plate was so raw and fibrous that my teeth couldn't even make a dent; and the accompanying Red Eye Gravy, which costs an extra $2 (on a $9 sandwich!), was just gross, and should be avoided.
And I'm not the only one who felt this way! In addition to my table-neighbor returning her bird, I watched the excitement dim at party after party when dinner arrived and the main purpose of the night—the actual eating—began.
Burnside Biscuits is owned by Euripides Pelekanos, chief executive of the Bareburger empire, who likely smells franchise for this fried chicken concept, too. The initial large crowds and long waits seem to indicate that his market research and PR strategy are sound, but I wish the food had been even half as successful as the advertising.
Burnside Biscuits is located at 32-07 30th Avenue in Astoria, a block or so from N/Q Station. "Soft Opening" hours are 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily, but the plan is to turn this into an all-day, late night establishment as well. (917-832-7822; burnsidebiscuit.com)