The new restaurant occupies a space formerly home to a gyro restaurant and hookah bar in a strip mall on the northeast corner of 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard, in the neighborhood where head chef Tom D'Ambrosio and his business partners grew up.
For D'Ambrosio and Kyle Hollenbeck, who handles the communications side of the enterprise, it's about giving back to their old stomping grounds.
"I think we're going to become a staple of the neighborhood," D'Ambrosio says.
He points to a wave of millions of dollars of investments and new developments pouring into the neighborhoods surrounding North 32nd Street as part of the city's North 32nd Policy Plan — and sees Aioli Burger and other neighborhood hotspots like 32 Shea and Indian restaurant Marigold Maison riding that wave into future prosperity.
But he has a sense of altruism, too. The new restaurant offers discounts for students of the Aioli trio's alma mater, Shadow Mountain High School, and sometimes feeds its football team before games.
The main draw of the restaurant, however, is not the developmental context — it's the food.
Like the Aioli food trucks, the restaurant offers a "New American" menu and comfortable atmosphere. Fancified takes on diner classics, as well as some more sophisticated burgers, abound. Cool colors, white furniture, and gray floors greet incoming burger lovers, and burger-themed paintings dot the walls.
Fans of the trucks will recognize favorites like the Aioli Burger, made with cheddar, bacon-onion jam, tomato, and garlic aioli, as well as the Italiano Burger, with mozzarella, tomato, balsamic reduction, pancetta, and basil-garlic aioli. The latter won best dish at the 2014 Devoured Culinary Classic.
When they go up to the counter to order, diners will also notice some novelties, including fried mac-and-cheese bites — which D'Ambrosio added a day before the October 18 grand opening — a flight of different french fry variations, and even a charcuterie board with a rotating selection of meats, cheeses, fruit chutneys, and cornichon pickles. To wash down the array of carbs and proteins, a variety of frosty shakes and floats are available as well.
On Hollenbeck's suggestion, we tried the mac-and-cheese bites, Italiano burger, sweet potato fries, and the extremely, excessively, and extraordinarily decadent chocolate lovers' shake.
The bites and the shake came out first. We have no complaints about the mac and cheese — ooey, gooey and with a satisfyingly crunchy outside, they were a great example of a mainstay in American cuisine. The shake, however, was downright excellent — double-chocolate ice cream, Heath bars, brownie bits, and a chocolate drizzle all blended together was almost too much to handle.
The burger and fries, while not new to the Aioli menu, were also great. The burger came in at a perfectly plush medium rare, and the fries were a sleeper hit, with some of the best balancing between crunchy and mushy we've seen in a sweet potato fry.