>> Friday, June 3, 2016

Twist N Smash'd is closed.
71-49 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 275-2273

71-26 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 928-3234

72-06 Austin Street
Forest Hills, NY 11375
(718) 261-4527

Hamburgers. Like pizza, they're easy to find and it's rare that they stand out. So it is with great joy that we now have three acclaimed hamburger spots here on Austin Street. Bareburger, Shake Shack, and Twist & Smash'd. They've all had great press, they're all delicious, and they're all within a block of one another. For science, I went to all three in three days and ordered their regular, no-frills cheeseburger, and compared the differences between the three restaurants. Which one is right for you? Read on. 

FYI: I ordered cheeseburgers because a hamburger without cheese is just ridiculous.


Cost of burger: $9.95
Time to arrive: 7 minutes.
Size of burger: Large.
Bareburger is the most mature of the three. It's a sit down restaurant with a full liquor menu. In keeping with its organic, grass fed, wild game burger menu (elk, bison, etc) the interior is designed to be reminiscent of an Oregon log cabin. Bareburger sells cocktails, wine, craft beer, shakes, salads, serves brunch, has a kids menu, and they cook the meat to order. Because they have table service, you don't place your order and then go hunting for a table while your food gets cold. I ordered the Standard Burger, which comes with pickles, onion, and a tangy sauce, but no lettuce and tomato. My diet root beer came with free refills. At $10 for the burger, this was the priciest of the three places, and once you factor in tax and tip, it's $13. On the upside, despite what the Metrocard comparison implies, the Bareburger burger is about double the size of the others. They use a full sized brioche bun and the patty is a solid inch thick. The Bareburger burger is a meal, not a snack.

Shake Shack

Cost of burger: $5.29
Time to arrive: 10 minutes.
Size of burger: Medium.
Shake Shack is the most recent addition to the block, and the most famous, being started by restaurant mogul, Danny Meyer. (I guess we lose Danny Brown, and get Danny Meyer?) The interior is modern, sleek, and minimalist, but heavy on reclaimed wood. Utilizing the old Strawberries store space, there is a lot of indoor seating in the back and on the second floor. This was still nowhere near enough however, with lines opening weekend stretching out the door and down the block. I was told that 45 minutes to an hour was the norm. Then you can seat hunt. Shake Shack is fast food for grown ups. Hormone-free meat, hot dogs, shakes, chicken sandwiches, the typical fast food menu. But they also serve beer and wine. Still, you order from the board and seat yourself. And not for nothing, the ten minute wait, which was when they were not full to bursting, was slower than Bareburger.

Twist & Smash'd

Cost of burger: $6
Time to arrive: 10 minutes.
Size of Burger: Small.
Twist & Smash'd started here in Forest Hills, got good press, and expanded into Astoria. While this location is (very) small and has a limited menu, the Astoria one is massive, is a sports bar with bocce,  beer pong tournaments, beer for drinking, an expanded menu, and brunch. The burgers at Twist & Smash'd, made from Angus beef and served on a potato roll, are fantastic with a but. But: they're a bit greasy, they're very small, and they fall apart. From a construction perspective, the rib of the lettuce and the cap of the tomato should never be used. The Twist & Smash'd physical space is, as I mentioned, small but it does have a rear patio area that is nice in good weather and has some games if you have little kids who want to play. I wish that the interior was brighter and had better air conditioning. The vibrant orange paint is light-absorbing and oppressive. If it was a nice light blue or light grey and bright, the orange tables would be a happy contrast, and it wouldn't feel like the ceiling was caving in on you. Twist & Smash'd is the least crowded of the three despite its amazing burgers, and I'm willing to bet that this is why. Having nothing to drink other than iced tea and lemonade doesn't help much, either.

The biggest shock was that Shake Shack wasn't the clear winner. I mean, a year ago when I did my Fast Food Burger Smackdown, Shake Shack got the gold. Having tried all three within hours of each other, the Shack was actually the least flavorful. Perhaps this was a one time thing, perhaps we've succumbed to the hype, or perhaps when you compare it to Wendy's and Checkers it's not really a contest. This isn't to say it wasn't delicious. It was. I ate two of them and I'll eat more if the wait time isn't 45 minutes. I imagine that this will subside as the novelty becomes the norm.

Twist & Smash'd was the clear loser for interior design. Forget their lack of having a soda fountain. It's almost like they don't want anyone sitting and spending time there. Unlike Shake Shack, which has vast windows and tons of light, Twist & Smash'd is dark and uncomfortable. But the burger was amazing. In fact, the burger would have maybe even won if only it didn't dissolve into mush like a sugar cube in the rain and wasn't so small. It's basically an oversized slider. 

Bareburger gets the win. The burger is pricey, but it's big, you're guaranteed to have a seat while you eat it, the space is inviting, the meat is cooked to order, you can have a beer or a cocktail, it's kid friendly, and the burger is, of course, delicious (or it would have joined Cheeburger... not in this article). The downside is of course that you need to commit real time to eat here. Even though the time to get the food was actually shorter than either Shake Shack or Twist & Smash'd, given that it's a full-on restaurant, you can't just rush in and rush out.

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Feel free to leave polite comments!


Susan June 6, 2016 at 9:31 AM  

Good review, as always, Jon.

Here's my thing about burgers. For a burger to truly be good, there has to be an excellent side of fries to go along with it. IMO, that's where Shack Shake really falls short and makes Bareburger to clear winner (and yeah, the Bareburger burgers ARE simply better, IMO).

Never bothered to eat at Twist and Smash'd. There is absolutely nothing appealing about that store front and early reviews were that the twisted fries were soggy. And yeah, you're not the first to mention the size of the burger or the fact that they crumble into a mess.

As a true burger lover, here's the big question in terms of our neighborhood burger options -

Bareburger vs Dirty Pierre's? I'm defaulting to Dirty Pierre's although I haven't done a true side-by-side comparison (where I've eaten one of each in close proximity to one another).

Jon Parker June 6, 2016 at 8:23 PM  

Ah, the Dirty Pierre burger. It's been a while, honestly. I usually get the mussels nowadays.

From diners to Michelin starred spots, every restaurant has a hamburger of some sort. I had to narrow it down or I'd never get through them all. I chose these three because I saw them as the closest direct competitors. Burgers are their main product, they have more than one location each, they all have media recognition, organic/grass fed/fair-trade/free-range/non-GMO/hippy-approved meat is part of their pitch, they're all within spitting distance of each other.

God willing, Five Napkin will open up here and I will never have to consider eating ground beef anywhere else.

Anonymous,  June 6, 2016 at 10:02 PM  

Dirty Pierres was, is & always will be the best burger in FH

Anonymous,  June 6, 2016 at 10:28 PM  

Dirty Pierres truly is the best burger ... had one just last night. No fancy butcher blend (that I know of), the English Muffin and fresh onion/tomato/arugala, melted pepper jack, and the very thin shoestring fries are perfectly salted and surprisingly great. I don't know how they do it in such a small kitchen!

Susan June 6, 2016 at 10:35 PM  

Jon, totally understand your reasoning in regards to the restaurant selection for this particular review. I was just curious :)

I've always been a fan of Dirty Pierre's Burgers (going back to the Lucien's days). Glad to see others are as well.

When Station House first opened they has a burger called the Austin Burger (no longer on the menu), which was quite delicious. It has since been removed from the menu.

Another EXCELLENT burger would of course be Donovan's, in Woodside. Unfortunately, they go the thick cut french fry route, so the overall burger experience is simply lacking for me.

As for Five Napkin, yeah, it's pretty darn good. I don't seen them attempting to compete in this neighborhood. My guess is, Twist and Smash'd doesn't make it thru the end of this year.

Big B June 6, 2016 at 11:15 PM  

Respectfully disagree.

Bareburger is pretty bad. I have had the privilege of living near three locations over the years and they gave gone from bad to worse.

Abundant, fresh topping mask a horrible burger patty. Overground flavorless meat with some sort of odd seasoning form a funky tasting hockey puck. And before anyone chimes in, I have eaten probably about 100 of their burgers over the years. The quality of the fries has gone down the most over time. Soggy with a short shelf life. Forget walking home 4 blocks with them or getting delivery.

I think people go to Bareburger for two reasons. Because it is the best burger in the neighborhood (was...) or because they wrongfully think their elk burger with sweet potatoe fries is healthy. It's not, it's probably still 1000 calories and 30 grams of fat. I think bareburger is going to take a big hit from that first group of people.

I think Twist and Smash can pack it in. I was so excited for them to open after the first street fair where they introduced their delicious smash burgers. Then they opened. I went a dozen different times and had a dozen different experiences. Extremely inconsistent. Most of the time the sometimes delicious burgers were horribly overcooked. Sometimes I got bad service. Can't be successful doing that in a small neighborhood like this.

Shake Shack. So consistent, always great. Meat that actually has real flavor, along with fresh toppings and awesome shakes and concrete. Sure, the fries are mediocre. But actually travel better than Bareburger's soggy ones. And I respect the fact that they scrapped their fresh cut fries experiment because they couldn't make them consistently good. I will be stopping by the Shack once per week, now, and the other places never again.

Yes, Dirty Pierre has a great burger, but it's a pub burger. You can't really compare a pub burger to a restaurant burger (LOVE Jack and Nellie's) to a fast food burger any more than you can compare a Gloria's slice to a Patty's brick oven pizza to a Motorino neapolitan.

Susan June 7, 2016 at 9:21 AM  

Big B, funny how people can have different experiences at the same place, but it happens.

I too consider myself a burger connoisseur. Hands down, my favorite meal is a Burger and Fries.

While there was a time where I may have agreed that in no way can a Pub burger/restaurant burger to a chain burger, it's pretty much the norm these days to see Shake Shack or In-N-Out Burger on 'Best Burger' lists.

Curious as to some of your favorite Burgers in the city? I'll start with my current top 3 (in no specific order) -

- Houseman's burger
- Upland
- Brindle Room

(It's really difficult to stop at 3, because there are some fine, older establishments too that still serve an EXCELLENT burger, eg. , Fanelli's, J.G. Melon, Corner Bistro).

Anonymous,  June 7, 2016 at 12:37 PM  

Well yes, Donovan's is a great burger, but we're talking FH, not Woodside (though not difficult to get to. Any any Woodside discussion has to include Ottomanelli's). But here in FH, let's not forget Irish Cottage, also a very excellent burger, though fries are nothing special.

Anonymous,  June 7, 2016 at 2:48 PM  

Dirty Pierre's wins. They have the best burger, the biggest drinks, and the best staff in FH. Hands down.

Anonymous,  June 13, 2016 at 10:58 AM  

Good article. I just had to add that Twist & Smashed fries are stunningly and inexplicably horrendous. For such a unique type of french fry you would think that they would at least figure out how to make them, but they are always bone dry or completely under cooked.

Jordan June 13, 2016 at 4:24 PM  

What about Cheeburger Cheeburger. It's right around the corner from the other places, it has other locations, and its primarily a burger place. It should definitely be in the discussion. I had low expectations about the place, but I eventually checked it out and it was great. I'm not sure where it stacks up with the other ones you mentioned, but I can see it taking 2nd place, perhaps, or even first if it gets a fair shake (no pun intended).

Anonymous,  July 10, 2016 at 5:13 PM  

Twist and Smash'd closed down as of yesterday!

Jon Parker July 10, 2016 at 5:58 PM  

I noticed. Actually, a few weeks back, just after this post, they closed for, according to the note in the window, renovations. Perhaps the note was being diplomatic.

Anonymous,  September 4, 2016 at 1:56 PM  

There never really was a contest - Dirty Pierre's wins without even entering! Yes, it's tiny, but the burgers (and the mussels too) make it a must.

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