Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to Bushwick for artificial grass and burgers.
Normally, and for a variety of reasons involving age and sobriety, it wouldn't occur to me to enter The Johnsons, a rowdy pseudo-dive bar on Troutman Street in the heart of Jefftown. Granted, the Bushwick outpost is less deliberately dumpy than the Rivington Street original, but still, I'm long past spending my nights chugging and shouting and falling down.
Ah, but the lure of a potentially good burger—especially one the promises a "sichuan twist"—is impossible to resist, so on consecutive nights last week I planted myself among the two-dollar-beer drinkers of The Johnsons for a taste of Strange Flavor Burger, a literal shack that opened in the front yard of the drinking establishment.
You order your food at the shack's window, and grab a seat in the bar proper or on the lawn, which is technically outdoors but almost entirely enclosed. Seating options out here include a pair of hanging pod chairs, a picnic-type table, a square wooden deck and, presumably when it gets more crowded, anywhere on the "grass." If you do go inside for air conditioning expect to yell over loud Led Zeppelin.
You will see almost no one over the age of 26.
The Strange Flavor menu, while short, is surprisingly ambitious considering the tiny space in which your friendly chefs toil. And these are not slapdash sandwiches and sides; thought and attention go into each of the ingredients, from the sourcing and preparation to the cooking itself.
The place to start here is with a burger, and they have two very good ones. The Pops Burger is your basic Big-Mac-song concoction but made fresh to order and with excellent ingredients. The two patties are firm and flavorful, the pickles pack a vinegary punch, the special sauce is creamy with a bit of fire, and the bun is completely covered in sesame seeds.
The sichuan element of Strange Flavor comes fully into play with the Chop Burger, which features a spicy, tingly Mala glaze on the pair of beef patties, as well as crunchy ground peanuts and charred cabbage slaw. Or you can get that Mala-delivered peppercorn numbness with the Bang Bang Wings, which are drenched in the stuff. You don't need the accompanying ranch with these big, sticky monsters, but dip away anyway, just to add to your unabashed mess of a meal.
The Fried Chicken Sandwich is bright red with a Frank's-like hot sauce (and, thus, totally delicious), and the Dusty Dog corn dog is a standout snack, with moist and sweet batter surrounding a crisp dog, mustard and spicy mayo drizzled on top, the "dust" a seven-spice Japanese seasoning called togarashi.
It's difficult to say what the House Cut Fries taste like, because in the Animal Style version, which we ordered, the potatoes are drowning in swamp of gloppy, cheesy sauce. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, but not exactly a crisp and simple counterpoint to your burger. In opposite news, you can get a couple of menu items Vegan Style, including the bright and lively Longbean Tempura, lightly fried and served with spicy mayo and a layer of that togarashi mix.
Even if you don't drink (or don't drink two-buck cans of Lions Head), Strange Flavor Burger could easily become a neighborhood quick-bite favorite. The sandwiches in particular are terrific, the chefs over-talented, and if you sit in the lawn area you can have a civilized conversation. If you're into that sort of thing.
Strange Flavor Burger Shack is located at the entrance of The Johnsons at 369 Troutman Street between Wyckoff and Irving, and is open daily from 3:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. (862-268-6213; strangeflavorbk.com)