Tuesday, November 18, 2008

For George's Sake (Petey's Burger, 30-17 30th Avenue)

If this were Nevada, Petey's Burger's conscious mimicry of In-N-Out Burger might seem a cheesy rip-off. But the nearest In-N-Out is time zones away, leaving New York open to quality-burger-chain colonization. D.C.'s Five Guys has taken its stand in the city (including Queens -- College Point), and despite our determination to go local, we'd probably have welcomed a Five Guys outpost in Astoria. Our neighborhood has a handful of good burgers (Sparrow, Blackbird's, Cronin & Phelan, even Sanford's) but nowhere that specializes only in quality burgers, presented without the fuss and formality (and extra expense) of waiter service.

The brother-owners of Petey's Burger (George, who was there on the night we went, and Petey himself) are native Astorians, but this is their first venture in the hood. The cartoon-font logo and ketchup-and-mustard-colored walls give Petey's an easily extensible trademark look, ripe for franchising, but in designing their brand the owners also gave a quiet nod to this particular location -- the only decor on the walls is a comic-style illustration of a skateboarder, just generic-looking enough to be any of the scruffy skateboarding boys just across the street in Athens Square Park.

Petey's entrees are priced reasonably for said crowd -- starting at $4 for a basic cheeseburger and going up to $13 for a triple cheeseburger combo -- but also offer top-notch ingredients appreciated by the professional crowd (well, us). The frying oil was a cut above standard fast food; the beef, while simply promoted as "USDA beef" (that doesn't mean much), was flavorful without being too fatty; we even spotted bottles of Fox's U-Bet syrup behind the counter, which came into play in our black-and-white $4 milk shake. The burgers, presented in little paper bags, are an actual serving size -- satisfying but not monstrous -- and the Petey's Melt is served on a buttery toast round. The "sauce" mentioned on the menu is nothing secret or proprietary -- right now, as the cashier freely admits, it's Russian dressing.

The atmosphere at Petey's manages to speak to the teenage and thirtysomething set: Exposed brick, New York Times copies with duct-tape proprietary "PETEY'S" labels, and incandescent lighting don't prod the diner out the door after wolfing down a meal. It's fast food, to be sure -- your number is called out from the counter; the menu offers nothing but burger variations, fries, shakes, and the like; the staffers wear red T-shirts bearing a big "P" logo. But it's slower than it could be -- in the right way.

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