Family-friendly service and quality ingredients make this Whitehall eatery an oasis
Wrapping up a meal that began with a free soup sampler, my charming young server smiled, presented the check along with a clamshell box and proudly announced, “Gabby has left you a special message.”
Before scanning the words atop the Styrofoam container enclosing my leftovers, I noticed that Gabby, who appeared to be about 9 years old, was beaming a few feet away as she waited for me to read: “Thank you!! Have a nice day!!”
If these were the only good things about Flavor 91 Burger Bistro, they would've been reason enough to drive out to Whitehall that night. But with its tidy and inviting space, enthusiasm for local sourcing and feel-good food starring grass-fed beef burgers, hand-cut fries, plus homemade soups and pub-style appetizers, Flavor 91 has much more to offer.
No wonder the place, co-owned by Moses Hayelom and his mother, Winnie Alemayoh — Moses is that aforementioned server, and Gabby is his cousin — has been embraced by locals. Clearly, customers appreciate that Flavor 91 is a family-run oasis of fresh ingredients and scratch-cooking in a landscape teeming with chain eateries.
Once settled into a roomy black booth in the upbeat, green-and-white environs detailed with corrugated aluminum — or at one of the simple wooden tables or the spacious bar — order a $4 draft of not-hopped-to-death IPA or crisp Uncle Joe's Irish Red ale ($4), each produced by Whitehall's own 2 Tones Brewing Company. Soak in the good beer and the pleasant songs usually playing in the key of Drake, and then order the Ethiopian dry-rubbed House Wings (10 for $10).
The killer chicken snacks arrive uncommonly crisp, not one bit greasy and bearing an addictive hot-spice blend that celebrates the restaurant-owning family's Ethiopian heritage. If seeking a meatless sting, it's hard to beat the Stuffed Jalapenos ($6) — crackly battered, plump, way-above-average versions of the cream cheese-packed barroom favorites.
Tangy molten cheese likewise enhances the colorful Z Salad ($10) — an entree-sized ensemble of romaine lettuce, mashed avocado, grilled and chopped portobello mushrooms and red peppers crowned with two scene-stealing, golden-brown globes of fried goat cheese. If you enjoy a fruity dressing, the unusual house vinaigrette tastes like a savory, garlic-spiked strawberry smoothie.
As my sampler proved, Flavor 91's soups ($5) can occasionally be a little salty, but they're generally a good bet — especially the zesty and meaty chili. Other soups that might be offered include a rich and soothing cream of mushroom and a light and lively, veggie-bolsted chicken-quinoa.
Soup or good-tasting hefty fries — which on one occasion were terrific, on another occasion undercooked — or crisp sweet potato shoestring fries unnecessarily sprinkled with sugar, can be the side that accompanies sandwiches such as the Ace Burger ($11).
Characteristic for this place, the Ace stars a seared, juicy and flavorful — if rather tightly hand-packed — medium-sized patty on a glossy and puffy, toasted roll. Add-ons include cheddar cheese, greens, onion, tomato and a barbecue sauce advertised as “chipotle” that's more sweet than spicy or smoky.
Unlike what's frequently served in other restaurants, the hearty Turkey Burger ($10) doesn't sacrifice freshness or flavor for fewer calories. The Black Bean Burger ($10) is similarly distinguished — it's house-made, speckled with corn, scented with oregano and holds together better than most.
For a major flavor burst, try the accurately named Lamb Good Burger ($12). Goat cheese adds to the patty's earthy character; a bit of mint and oregano plus red peppers and caramelized onions complete the delicious sandwich. Sure, its ingredients mean it's a season-appropriate meal, but I recommend you order this winner here any time of the year. And when you do, tell Moses and Gabby that G.A. says, “Hi!!”