DONE-ovan’s? Revamped Donovan’s Pub of Bayside tarnishes top-Burger rep

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Though it was always the Woodside branch of Donovan’s Pub that garnered Top Burger in NYC Ranks from Time Out New York, I lived closer to the Bayside branch, which prior to this past summer, served an equally delicious Bacon Cheeseburger with fried onions.

I returned to the re-opened Bayside branch with low expectations even after our waitress assured us the burger recipe had remained unchanged. But deep down I knew, just from the look of the new place, that it would never be the same and boy was I right…

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Bacon Cheeseburger ($9.95)


Donovan’s Pub is gone. What now exists is Donovan’s Grill & Tavern, a place where ambiance and setting are valued over a top-notch burger.

Before I get all nostalgic, here’s my one complaint that pretty much kills the burger for me:

Despite the new owners claim that the burger recipe remained the same, the one thing that did not was the fried onions. The change resulted in frizzled onion strings with a taste reminiscent of Outback’s Bloomin’ Onion. Here are the new Donovan’s onions:

donovans-grill-tavern-fried-onions.jpg

We also ordered some sauteed onions which were long, flimsy strands of Vidalia onion spiced with salt and a little black pepper. It didn’t hurt the burger but it didn’t add the deliciousness of the old onions.

A word on the formerly perfect onions (you can sort of see them here): The old onions were finely chopped, fried until the edges were dark brown and caramelized, yet crispy and oniony in the middle. Delicious enough to eat on their own when you’re burger was finished. The onions were cooked in a way that you could mush them all together into a wad of fried onion if you wanted to. The best part was probably the post-meal burp which stuck with you for a few hours; oniony, meaty, bacony, fire-grilled beefy, french fry-ee (got carried away) and overall, you guessed it, delicious.

Back to the present day burger:

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Joe Donovan owned the Bayside Branch for 28 years before selling it this past summer. His burgers were comprised of a custom blend of meats (possibly sirloin and brisket) procured from local butchers. When cooked on the broiler to a perfect medium rare and combined with bacon, cheese, and fried chopped onion, it was pretty much heaven on earth. All the flavors melding together in a heavenly confluence of bacony, oniony, flame-broiled goodness.

The present burger remains meaty, but it’s an overpowering meat flavor. Gone is aforementioned heavenly confluence of flavor. The bacon, formerly hearty, crisp, and deep fried in the spirit of Corner Bistro, now seems merely griddled and kind of brittle.

One thing they did do right was cook it to order, medium rare all the way baby. Look at the juice on the bottom of the bun.

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The fries were solid. Puffy and potatoey yet still crispy, just like I had asked for.

donovans-grill-tavern-fries-blog.jpg

Overall I would not recommend going out of your way for this burger. If you live near Bayside and you used to go to pre-renovation Donovan’s, you’re going to be disappointed with the burger. The waitress also pitched the French Onion Soup, which was also awesome at old-Donovan’s but I couldn’t vouch for the new one. I was told some of the kitchen staff stayed on but apparently not the right burger personnel. It seems like the new Donovan’s is aiming for style and ambiance over a quality burger, a casualty that’s blatantly obvious just by looking at the name change: Donovan’s Pub (Tim Allen “Tool Time” Grunt) is now Donovan’s Grill and Tavern (dainty sigh).

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44 Responses to “DONE-ovan’s? Revamped Donovan’s Pub of Bayside tarnishes top-Burger rep”

  1. A. Reynolds Says:

    I agree with you when you said, “I knew, just from the look of the new place, that it would never be the same and boy was I right.” But that’s where the agreement ends. The new and improved Donovan’s did NOT disappoint. The burgers were just as good (as pre-renovation) and the new atmosphere IMPROVED the dining experience. Onions don’t make a burger, and these burgers are great and can stand on their own! Highly recommended, worth the trip, but be prepared to wait.

  2. AL Segal Says:

    I have to agree with A. Reynold post renovation this burger is as good if not better. Onions were great, place is beautiful and would recommend over woodside

  3. Steve Regan Says:

    The food guy is wrong this time about the new Donovans Grill & Tavern. I think the burger is by far the best i have ever had, better than Peter Lugers. The Food Guy is normally very good, but this time you are way way off.

  4. shermann oaks Says:

    I have eaten at the new Donovans and found the burgers tasted

    the same as it was with the former owner.

    We were a party of six, and everyone said how good it was.

    The place look great , the service was just fine

    I suggest that the food guy goes back.

    He must off had a bad day .

  5. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    To Sherman Oaks, Mr. Regan, Mr. Segal, and A. Reynolds,

    With all due respect, I have to disagree with all of your comments based on one factor: The onions.

    The fried onions from the pre-renovation Donovan’s were the key to my burger ignition, the bread to my burger butter, the ink to my burger pen, the paint to my burger palate. Do you see where I’m going with this?

    The onions made the burger for me and with their absence so goes my transcendent experience.

    To burger purists, valuing nothing over the quality and flavor of the beef, I’m sorry to disappoint. I’m a big picture kind of guy and the combo of the burger, onions, cheese, and deep fried bacon at the pre-renovation Donovan’s is gone and in its place is my new opinion: Not worth the trip.

    Thanks to everyone for your feedback, keep it coming.

    To anyone with other burger recommendations, let’s hear them.

  6. William Simon Says:

    Food guy – I know burgers & onions and i don’t understand what you are talking about, you are so wrong. The fried onions at donovans are a slice of heaven. I think you are well-DONE !

  7. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Mr. Simon,

    With all due respect, if you’re referring to the onions that I have pictured above, then you are well-DONE! To avoid any confusion, I’m writing specifically about the BAYSIDE branch of Donovan’s. As far as I know, the Woodside branch remains unchanged. Since the renovation of the Bayside branch, however, changes were made to the onions, resulting in what you see above, and further resulting in my unhappiness. I’m curious to hear if you’ve had the onions pre-renovation and how you feel they compare to the present day ones at the Bayside branch only. Thanks for the comment.

    NYC Food Guy

  8. William Simon Says:

    Dear Food Guy,

    I am talking about post – renovation at the Bayside Branch. The onions that you have a photo of are not the donovans onions that i have at least twice a week for lunch. As our friend shermann oaks says, I suggest that the food guy goes back. – I love the woodside branch but, the bayside branch by far is the best burger i have ever had. Thank you.

  9. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Mr. Simon-

    Thanks for responding. If you’re speaking of the sauteed onions, then yes, I failed to photograph them but I did eat them upon last visit. Is this what you’re referring to? Sliced white or yellow onion spiced with salt and pepper and sauteed? Look forward to hearing back.

    NYC Food Guy

  10. Jerry Cohen Says:

    Have to agree with you William, place is wonderful.

  11. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Jerry and William –

    I would love to dispute your claims but maybe you’re both right, maybe I do need to go back to Donovan’s of Bayside and see if they’ve still got it.

    Keep an eye out for the new review…

    NYC Food Guy

  12. GarlicandGaelic Says:

    I think this all a mute arguement anyway. The Donovan’s with the best burger is the one in Woodside (off the 7 train). I have eaten at both, and while I do like the Bayside restaurant in terms of ambiance, and especially space, the Woodside Donovan’s has the best burgers in Queens and possibly in all 5 boroughs.

    Also, the food guy was critical of the food the waitress reccomended, but anyone who works in the food industry know better than to listen to the wait staff. They are influenced by the cooks who are trying to push the food that is about to go bad so they tell the wait staff to ‘reccomend’ a dish or a special (also food that has to go) so they don’t lose money on their purchase.

    Never order fish on Monday, or you will understand what I mean.

  13. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Garlic and Gaelic,

    Apparently you’ve also read Tony Bourdain’s “Kitchel Confidential”. If you haven’t check it out, you’ll love it.

    Believe it or not I’ve never been to the Woodside branch. The Bayside one was so close to my old house and so good I never strayed. Then Bayside was renovated and they got rid of the old fried onions, a big point of contention as you can read above. This destroyed the burger for me, a concept some people can’t seem to wrap their mind around.

    I will get to the Woodside branch and hopefully back up your statements.

    My question to you, is this the best burger you’ve EVER had?

    Also, how do you order it when you go to Donnies? Bacon? Cheese? Onions?

    Look forward to your answer.

  14. Ann Says:

    Yes, Bayside’s Donovans is the best burger i ever had!

  15. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Ann-

    When was the last time you ate at the Bayside Donovans?

  16. Ann Says:

    Last Friday 2/14/08 Valentine Day

  17. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Ann-

    Romantic. Well I’m glad you enjoyed the burger. I’m going to have to give it another shot, but like Garlic and Gaelic said above, the Woodside burger is still the “real” Donovan’s Burger. How did you have yours prepared and what toppings, if any, did you get?

  18. Ann Says:

    Rare with fried onions, bacon and cheese. A small slice of heaven. Heaven gates located in bayside, not woodside.

  19. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Ann-

    I’m going to give Donovan’s in Bayside another shot based on your recommendation. Did your fried onions look like the ones I have above? With crunchy coated outsides? Or were the fried onions just actual pieces of onion?

  20. Ann Says:

    The onions didn’t look anything like the photo above, they were pieces of onions.

  21. Revamped Donovan’s Pub of Bayside Still Can’t Match Pre-Renovation Burger « NYC Food Guy Says:

    […] Read on for more greasy burger pics or check out my first review here… […]

  22. Ann Says:

    Ketchup are you kidding. Photo’s of ketchup are you nuts. You are out of your mind.

  23. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Ann,

    Thanks ha. King of Ketchup, a friend of mine who posts on here, is very serious about the ketchup situation at any restaurant he eats. I respect that because when you’re going out for a burger and fries, bad ketchup could ruin the meal. Either way, I think it’s important for people to know they’re not walking into the ideal ketchup situation. And yes, I am out of my mind. I take pictures of food and write about it and do not get paid. It’s great isn’t it? Thanks for the feedback Ann.

    While we’re on the topic what are your feelings on Hunts vs Heinz ketchup?

  24. M_P Says:

    I work there, and well it’s not the old chef’s fault, the owner’s decision making is easily influened by the customers, even if its only one person.

  25. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    M_P

    Interesting though I don’t know what to make of your comment. The owner has changed course based on customers recommendations? What recommendations exactly?

  26. Ann Says:

    If you were ever a waitress you would know how nasty it is to use ketchup bottles – The silver cups are a nice touch & you know the person before you who used the ketchup didn’t spit in it……..ketchup in a bottle sits around too

  27. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Interesting, I never really considered it from that angle. You are correct the ketchup in the bottle sits around all the same. I guess it’s just the feeling of pouring a fresh bottle of Heinz and hitting that 57.

    So Ann, what is your favorite burger? Where do you live, any recommendations from your area for burgers and any other kind of food? pizza? Asian cuisine? Italian? Sandwiches?

  28. DDR Says:

    FoodGuy – The first few posters sound suspiciously similar to me. Any chance they posted from the same computer?

  29. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    DDR-

    Nope. All different and all alarmingly ignorant to the fact that Donovan’s Burgers in Bayside will never be the same since the renovation.

  30. DDR Says:

    Ouch! OK, I take it back.

  31. Ann Says:

    Live in Whitestone. The best coal oven thin crust pizza is Salvatore’s in Port Washington on Shore Road. Beware no credit cards also.

  32. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Wait so Ann, do you go to the Bayside Donovan’s or the Woodside? Ive never been to the Woodside one, I hear it’s great, better than Bayside.

    Salvatore’s interesting. I’m going to have to check that out. I’m going out to the island this weekend and it is on the list. Look out for the review. Thanks fo the recommendation.

    How about some sandwich recommendations?

  33. Don Berger Says:

    Where have you been? How can you overlook Harriets Kitchen @84th and Amsterdam. They have (as advertised) “The best effing Burger in New York” Hands down. It is a thing of staggering beauty and taste.

  34. DDR Says:

    Don Burger – I’ve walked by that Harriet’s sign in the window many a time and I’ve never tried it either. Thanks for reminding me. Now I’ll do a mitzvah by eating it during Passover.

    Gay impersonation flurry begin!

  35. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    DON BERGER-

    Im embarrassed to say I haven’t been to Harriet’s I live right near there. Keep an eye out, I’ll make it happen. What makes it so good?

  36. Seth Says:

    NOT THE BEST BUT VERY SATISFYING

    NYC Food Guy,

    I was in the mood for a tasty burger and I didn’t know where to go in my area (Bayside). I read your review of Donovan’s in my neighborhood and heeded your warning (I’ve been consistently disappointed eating in Bayside so I figured your review was probably on the mark). I decided to take my crew for a drive to the original in Woodside.

    This pub is beautiful. Old world Irish with wooden stools at the bar, wood panel everywhere, dim lighting, and tons of seating. We got there Sunday at about 4 in the afternoon so there was no waiting.

    The three of us ordered burgers 3 different ways. I’ll tell you about mine – I had a bacon cheeseburger (cheddar) with fried onion cooked medium. I got exactly what I had in mind. A hefty burger, very juicy and well seasoned, meat was tender and cooked to my order (all of ours were cooked to order perfectly and my sister in law is VERY particular about the done-ness of her meat orders). Bacon was plentiful and crisp, cheese was just right. But the best part of this burger…what tied it all together, was the pile of fried (sautéed) onions that added that perfect mild onion flavor while adding a little sweetness to the burger.

    The waitress brought extra napkins with our order, thank goodness. These burgers made a delicious mess of my hands as the bun couldn’t absorb all the juice and fat from the burger, cheese, bacon and onions.

    The fries were good – I’m more of a Belgian frites fan but these nubby potato nuggets complimented our burgers just fine. Ketchup was in a traditional Heinz bottle, just like it ought to be (you have to tap that 57, scooping ketchup from a ramekin isn’t the same).

    I don’t think that Donovan’s has the BEST burger in NY, but I can say that this is the burger I would have made for myself at home if it hadn’t been so damn hot this weekend. This is a burger I can recommend to friends that know I don’t suggest anything that isn’t up to par. This burger satisfied me and my friends that were with me on Sunday, and for 3 burgers and 4 pints of beer at less than $75 with tax and tip, it was a very, very good meal. If it’s not too out of the way for you, it’s worth the trip for a burger fix.–Seth, Bayside Queens

  37. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Seth,

    Very thorough review of Donovan’s in Woodside. Great job. Glad to hear that it was up to par. I haven’t actually had the burger at the Woodside branch but the memories of the Bayside branch (pre-renovation) still buoy my burger dreams.

    Its funny you mention the onions because earlier today I was telling someone about Donovan’s and how the new Bayside branch owners ditched the old style onions thereby destroying the Bayside Donovan’s burger. I’m very happy to hear that onions are alive and well at the Woodside Branch.

    What are some of your other favorite burgers? Have you been to Erawan Thai on Bell Boulevard? It’s pretty serious. I’ve only been once but was please. Also, Mythos, the greek place a little further down Northern past Bell Boulevard is also excellent.

    Thanks for stopping by, keep up the solid comments.

  38. donnie dankness Says:

    donnie’s in woodside has a real dank burger…service isn’t phenomenal, but the burger is real good

  39. Seth Says:

    “Ahhh, Meee-thos. Good Greek food, very good Greek meat…”

    Thanks for the comment NYC Food Guy. There are a few places in Bayside that I like. I happen to like that place (Mythos) a lot for sit down Mediterranian food, and Erawan is on my list of places to go to when I can’t think of anywhere to go eat.

    To answer your question, burgers that I think give Donovan’s a run for it’s money include the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park – a walk up burger stand that will actually make a rare burger if you ask for it! And the Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridian in Midtown (56th and 6th) – order it with the works but hold the mustard, it’s a little too overpowering.

    Just two blocks west of Mythos on Northern Blvd. is GYRO WORLD, which consistently puts out some of the best traditional Greek gyros and souvlaki I’ve ever had. You’re probably familiar with the American gyro which consists of ground beef and lamb, but a Greek gyro is 100% sliced pork meat, seasoned with lemon and herbs and skewered rotating in the vertical rotisserie until the meat is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. They serve that up with fresh potato French fries that have been soaking in salt water until they’re ready to go into the fryer to give them a crispy exterior and pillowy soft interior. You can also opt for traditional lemon potatos, quartered potatos that were marinading in a lemon vinagrette and then roasted…but the french fries are really where it’s at. Layer a slice a pita with a handful of fries, put down a heaping spoonful of tzatziki sauce, throw some pork gyro on top of that, squeeze on some lemon juice and try not to lose consciousness when you hit your food high (or when your body shuts down when it realizes how much insulin it has to start producing).

  40. Seth Says:

    Donnie Darkness,

    Donnie’s in Woodside has a dank burger eh? I have to admit, the last time I heard someone use the word dank to describe something in a positive way was in college and the item in question was an herb, not a protein 🙂

    I haven’t heard of Donnie’s but I’ll try almost any place once.

    I don’t know if I should start a new string but this is burger related:

    Has anyone tried the food at Saints and Sinners in Woodside. I hear good things about that joint, can anyone confirm or deny? If you liked it what was good there?

  41. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Seth,

    To speak for Donnie, “Donnie’s” is short for Donovan’s.

    Id rather have an old school Donovan’s Burger than Burger Joint. Old School Bayside Donovan’s when it was on point, was the best burger I’ve ever had. Burger Joint is definitely up there, probably my present time 2nd favorite after BK Diner. Have you tried BK Diner Seth?

    As for Gyro Express, is that the spot at the intersection of Francis Lewis & Northern? You definitely make it sounds solid and I’m totally on board with the layering of fries, pork and tatziki. Is Gyro world the Roy Rogers looking place across from PC Richards or is that Fontana’s?

    I don’t know anything about Saints & Sinners. What have you heard is good? If I’m going to Woodside, I’m going to have to try Sripraphai Thai, have you been there?

  42. Seth Says:

    Thanks for the correction on Donnie’s…I’m laughing to myself for not getting that sooner.

    BK Diner, wow I haven’t been there in ages, certainly haven’t had the burger but that photo is a convincing argument. I’ll try it out this week if I can tear myself away from my desk. How are the wait times at lunch?

    Gyro World
    19423 Northern Boulevard
    Flushing, NY 11358
    (718) 428-3800

    This place is on the corner of 195th and Northern Blvd, definitely worth a stop when you want an authentic gyro experience.

    The place you’re thinking of is Fontana’s across from PC Richards on the corner of Nothern and Francis Lewis…which I don’t really care for much…one of those love it or hate it, nothing in between establishments.

    Saint’s and Sinners is known for thier Guinness – Which is all I really need to gague a pub by…most pubs that care enough to draw thier beer from manual pumps usually correlates to attention to detail in the kitchen. I haven’t been to this place so I can’t vouch for either, I just hear stories and that’s usually a good place to start a journey.

  43. Lil NYC Food Guy Says:

    Seth-

    No love for Fontanas? I’ve been there a few times I’m definitely one of the love it guys…but I haven’t had any of the other places so I can’t really compare…what do you think of VIP Pizza? I’ve had a few good slices there

    You sound like someone who would go to Cherry Valley too…its definitely gone downhill but I’m still good for a nice beast or bomb hero now and then

    When I went to the Woodside Donovan’s they actually didn’t get the onions fried enough and when we sent them back they wouldn’t get them more well done so we ate a bunch of undercooked not so tasty onions…definitely poor service

    Definitely give BK a shot again its easily my favorite burger too…and Joint is awesome

  44. The NYC Food Guy Says:

    Seth,

    Lunchtime wait at BK Diner is never bad, you can always sit at the counter.

    When I’m back in queens I’ll have to check out Gyro World & Fontana’s and compare.

    Lil NYC Food Guy,

    You said it about Cherry Valley, its just not as good as it used to be. Unfortunately, I don’t think the sandwiches were ever that great it was just novel in the beginning and the more you went the more you realized the quality of the sandwiches is pretty mediocre. Plus, they provide Hunt’s Ketchup not Heinz. Terrible.

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