Lettuce, Tomato, and Hip-Hop: Flattopps Has Astoria's Best New Burger
Sweet-salty harmony: Egg rolls inside a burger
Not one but two whole egg rolls balance precariously on Flattopps' Flying Guillotine burger. Even more alarming: They're there on purpose, and not the work of some deranged glutton who broke in to the kitchen and took the cooks hostage. The $10 sandwich is named after a lyric from "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing ta Fuck Wit" that itself references a decapitating martial-arts weapon popularized in several 1970s wuxia films. And though the end result won't "chop off your fucking head," as the song promises, this beefy ode to Americanized Chinese cuisine does wade into legitimately mind-bending places. The crisp egg rolls are filled with shrimp and shreds of duck, the whole thing slicked with a duck-sauce-esque orange glaze.
Perplexingly, the combination works — both in its sweet-salty harmony and as a fittingly outlandish tribute to the hip-hop legends. Restaurateur and self-taught chef Donnie D'Alessio, known for the gonzo Astoria greasy spoon Queens Comfort, remembers watching from his father's pet shop in 1993 as the group took over a Jamaica Avenue parking lot to promote their debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). As he tells the Voice, "I was thirteen and it was the coolest shit I ever saw."
That wide-eyed admiration drives the wacky, bun-bound anarchy at this neon-splashed, relentlessly Nineties-themed Ditmars Boulevard hangout. Its DJ turntable booth, arcade machines, wood-paneled walls, and nonstop pulsing soundtrack all work to make the place feel like a funky basement rec room. Queens native D'Alessio and his executive chef, Hernan Heras, source their beef from the nearby International Meat Market and griddle-smash their patties to form a nicely browned crust. The duo use Americana as a starting point from which to interpret the hamburger, through a garish prism of hip-hop and five-borough-inspired flavors.
Jewish delicatessens get their due via a special that piles together house-cured pastrami, cheddar, pickles, and peppery Chinese mustard. And the Schnook, a burger drenched in vodka sauce and capped with a puck of breaded pepperoni and mozzarella, winks at D'Alessio's own Italian-American family kitchen. Former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy inspires a chicken burger with a buffalo wings twist, via blue cheese and maple-syrup-sweetened hot sauce. And even though Flattopps isn't intended for burger purists, its archetypal "original" version — sporting caramelized onions, American cheese, and a properly squishy toasted potato bun — remains pleasantly uncompromised.
Then there are the almost parodic creations, like the Gucci Mane burger, which celebrates the infamous Atlanta rapper and exemplifies the pinnacle (and pitfalls) of Heras and D'Alessio's over-the-top philosophy. The kitchen eschews standard buns for floppy slabs of brioche french toast, then loads Cap'n Crunch–crusted bacon onto gruyère-covered beef. It's an unwieldy and overwhelming recipe that also layers on raspberry jam and powdered sugar.
Not everyone will appreciate Flattopps' raucous party vibe or the check's cheeky parting message to "Stay dope!" And the place has wisely done some self-editing, renaming items like "Ghetto Blasters," a fried-chicken patty appetizer now dubbed "the Nasty Boyz" on the menu. "Do they seriously have purple drank?" a young woman asked her tablemates disbelievingly one night after noticing the Purple Urkel, a vodka-and-grape slush that tastes great despite itself. At the boomerang-shaped bar, you can also sip hipster suds like ICONYC's cucumber saison and Harambe, a chocolatey stout from Glendale's Finback Brewery named for the late, great zoo animal.
Everything here seems geared toward immoderation and revelry. Small-plate specials like pulled-pork nuggets and "animal-style" beef empanadas can and should be shared, if only to spread the calories around. That house pastrami, which takes almost a week to cure, shows up in a duo of gluttonous appetizers, shaved over cheese fries or stuffed into jalapeño peppers. It's no surprise, then, that the lone dessert at Flattopps is a "Billionaires" ice cream cake, which finds disparate layers (vanilla, chocolate, and cookies-and-cream) interspersed with pound cake, hot fudge, and M&Ms. Luckily, it's not off-limits to non-one-percenters; finishing it should at least make you feel like a million bucks.
33-06 Ditmars Boulevard, Queens; 718-267-0400
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