Burnside Biscuits (Astoria, Queens, NY)

I’m doing an unusual one, I’m skipping the queue a bit since there’s a bit of a timeliness issue with this review (I’ll be returning to my Réunion reviews shortly).
Last weekend, we managed to score a screamingly-good deal on hotel tickets to the NoMad Hotel in Manhattan through Jetsetter.com, so we decided to make a three-day weekend of checking out various eateries, museums (in particular, the new Whitney Museum and the Tenement Museum), and other sites that had been on our to-do lists for a while, while enjoying a nice hotel (and it’s associated cocktail bar, which we also rather like). Interestingly, however, in the two weeks leading up to our visit, several different sources all pointed me to an interesting new place opening to a bit of buzz in Astoria: Burnside Biscuits. These ranged from a NY Times article, something got posted to my twitter feed, and two NY-area contacts mentioned it to me on Facebook, and the various online reviews were very positive. So we decided to check it out.

What I hadn’t realized is that Burnside Biscuits hadn’t even had their grand opening yet. I was a bit surprised how quiet Burnside was for a dinner on Friday, and our server said, “Oh, that’s because we are still doing our soft open.” Well, whatever various social media work they’ve been doing is working, since I certainly got the word, and I’m not that high up on the New York City food blog food chain. And it got us a nice little, quieter-than-normal intro to a place.

In any case, Burnside Biscuits starts off nicely right out of the gate. Located in a fairly large triangular building on 30th in Astoria, just east of the 30th Ave station of the BMT-Astoria Line (N/Q). It used to be a place called Athens Cafe, but it’s been pretty extensively redone in “Southern” style, but nothing excessive: some nice tables and chairs, some pleasant wallpaper, a nice bar with plenty of taps, and a nice, semi-open dining room looking in on the wood-fired oven used for many of the dishes. Despite no reservations or anything, we were greeted promptly and immediately taken to a table by the kitchen.

The menu at Burnside Biscuits is very straightforward: it’s basically “biscuits”, “chicken”, and “sides”. Oh, there are a few variations on that (in particular, they’ve got an array of biscuit sandwiches, and get bonus points for knowing the difference between “city ham” and “country ham”), and a few intriguing options (like to-order rotisserie chicken), but that’s the basic deal: get some chicken, some biscuits, and some sides.

But first, it was time for some libations… The craft beer and mixology movements have hit New York City straight on, so like most newer places in the city, Burnside has a pretty decent tap list, and a short but thoughtful list of house cocktails. I opted for a fairly local beer option: Black Duck Porter from Greenpoint, while Carol opted for a peanut-infused Old Fashioned, which was a particularly pleasing variation on that standard.

But foodwise, while we quickly settled on a half chicken with biscuits and pickles, a bit more thought went into some of the appetizers and sides. It’s not often that “try the broccoli, no really, try the broccoli” is one of the recommendation I got both from other reviewers and our server, but indeed, the fire-roasted broccoli, dry-rubbed with curry, topped with cheddar, and served with a nice vinegar dipping sauce, was indeed a star to our meal: it was roasted perfectly to pointing of being just barely fork-tender, the curry flavor infusing nicely, the dipping sauce giving a nice tang, and the cheddar tying it all together. I’ve got a similar “curried cauliflower” recipe I like to make at home, and this really took that concept to another level. I’ll be getting this again.

Next up, the chicken and biscuits, with sides of “geechie grits” and “luck and money” (a spicy mix of collard greens and black-eyed peas). Let’s start with the namesake: the biscuit. Biscuits have been taking over the NYC dining scene for a while, so my expectations of this biscuit were pretty high, while simultaneously tempered by my dread of some of the horrible, leaden, biscuits I’ve had to suffer through in the North (particularly in New England). But my fears were misplaced: the very ample biscuits of Burnside are also very delicious: pillowy, flaky, and crispy buttermilk biscuits just oozing in flavor and begging to sop up your butter, juice from the greens, and anything else on your place. This was, in short, a great biscuit.

The fried chicken was also a pretty good showing. A few years ago Carol and I found the Thomas Keller Ad Hoc Fried Chicken recipe, which is a particularly complex brine rich in thyme and lemon, and the brine of Burnside Biscuits is pretty similar, adding black tea to the mix. The result is a very juicy and flavorful chicken with a nice herbal note, that takes the crisp breading quite well. I’d call this chicken near-perfect, except that they’ve got to dial in the frying just a bit: two of our four pieces of chicken had slightly doughy breading at the thicker spots. Still, the overall chicken was cooked through and pleasant enough.

The sides? A mixed bag. The luck and money was a hit, a nice, tangy combination of greens and beans done well, and one of the things I look for in a good “Southern” place? The grits? Not so much. A good cheesy grits can be hard to do right, and these didn’t quite make the cut, being more bland than flavorful. The “pickles”? Well, our combo’s “2 pickles” turned out to be just a single pickle, a fairly measly (but nicely done at that) okra pickle. So some room for improvement here.

The dessert, however, brought things back around. The menu is quite limited, being primarily ice cream and moon pies (house-made), but our ice cream was very, very good: one scoop of Mississippi Mud just oozing in dark, muddy chocolate flaovrs, and one scoop of smoked cinnamon that was surprisingly strong, but pleasant, with the smoke. These were definitely some good ice cream.

Overall? A lot of hits, and just a few misses, and this was still for a place that’s still doing a soft open. In the end, we rather enjoyed Burnside Biscuits, and hope that a few tweaks, and some more experience, can make for an even greater experience. Hopefully one that’s not soon buried in long lines and hype, like so many other NYC places opening up these days.

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