Boston I: Fine Burgers of Beantown

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Burger the First: An above-average room service burger.

For the most part my travels are foodcentric, if not completely food-related. Before undertaking any journey, my most extensive travel research is on good restaurants, local specialties and street food, often to the detriment of other necessary pieces of knowledge like language (except for food-related terms) and currency (except the prices of common food items). When I travel to a place I’ve been before – I lived in Cambridge and Boston for several years in grad school – I like a mix of old favorites and new experiences. Since they use dollars and speak English* in Boston, I was free to focus entirely on the food.

*One must, of course, point out the unique variety of English that is the Boston accent. Also, it may be convincingly argued that many Cantabrigians (yes, it’s what they’re called and yes, it’s irritating) speak a unique form of English called Critical Neo-Academese.

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Above average room service soup.

We arrived at the swanktastic Nine Zero Hotel, which is ideally located a block from Boston Common and even more ideally had rooms on clearance at lastminutetravel.com, on Wednesday evening. I’d spent the day in Cambridge representing my place of employment at a career fair for Masters’ students in Divinity and Theological Studies, and was exhausted after a long day of lying about all the practical and lucrative jobs one can obtain with those degrees. (There is only one such job, and I currently hold it. Also, it is not so much with the lucrative.)

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Above average but confusing room service bread pudding.

Anyway, the constant small talk and projection of false hope had worn me out, so we decided to simultaneously test the mettle of the Nine Zero and obliterate the discount we’d obtained on the room by ordering in: Lobster bisque, a medium-rare burger and chocolate bread pudding with pistachio for the lady, and a Caesar salad and chicken Milanese with spaetzle and baby spinach for the gentleman.

All of the food was pleasantly above average. My burger was actually medium-rare with crisp and well-salted fries, and the bisque came in a little pitcher to be poured into a bowl containing some chive-flecked cream and herb oil. The bread pudding was more flourless chocolate cake than bread pudding, but I’m not one to quibble with a slab of warm dark chocolate sitting in a pool of custard. The Caesar was tasty if overdressed (not a problem unique to the Nine Zero), and the highly authentic spaetzle gave the chicken a pleasantly schnitzle-y vibe.

It was all much improved by the fact that I ate it while sitting on a feather-topped bed made up in Frette linens, which greatly increased my comfort level and decreased the normal dinner-to-prone position lag time that plagues me at home. Even more luckily, it was the mere baseline from which all other meals would launch, spiraling ever upward.

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The dead tell no tales. Nor do they raid the mini-bar for $7 Milano cookies at 1am.

The next day, we took a brisk walk through a Colonial cemetery to whet our appetites. We paid homage to the final resting place of Mother Goose and briefly joined a tour group to listen to a poor history graduate student in desperate need of an increased stipend yell about various minor events in American history while dressed in historically-accurate pantaloons.

Somewhat depressed about the hardships facing our Ph.D candidates in the humanities and social sciences but appetites duly whetted, we hopped a train back to Cambridge to procure the best burger east of the great Mississip’ for lunch: The burger at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage.

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Behold! And tremble.

Seven ounces of high-quality ground beef, perfectly broiled to order, charred outside but impossibly moist inside, and served up on a bun with just the right amount of give to soak up all the burgery juices without falling to pieces. On the side, a pile of fresh, thin, crisp onion rings; or, if you order the deluxe – as I did – onion rings and wonderfully crisp french fries. You have several choices of beverage: many go for the excellent thick frappes (Massachusetts for “milkshake”), but I prefer something more refreshing and less viscous and opt for the freshly-made cherry-lime rickey.

I wanted to take a picture of the inside of this monster thing of beauty, really I did. But after the first bite you’re (1) engrossed in the sheer perfection of this slab of meat on a bun and (2) covered in burger juice from fingertip to elbow and it’s difficult to go for a camera.

The burger pictured above is Brian’s Mitt Romney, covered in swiss cheese and grilled onions. My less photogenic but, I contend, more tasty burger, was smothered in bacon and blue cheese in an amount bordering but not crossing into the obscene. No other accents are needed – no mustard, no ketchup, no mayo. There are ketchup and mustard bottles on the tables, but I’ve never seen anyone use them for anything other than the french fries. (There are also non-burger menu items, but I’ve never seen anyone order or eat one, ever.)

If you visit Boston and do not seek this burger out, angels will cry. Jesus wants you to have this burger, he told me so himself.
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The pugilistic hamburger does not lie.

Normally I am not a tourist t-shirt purchasing type, especially when visiting a location I’ve been to a hundred times before, but I felt strongly that Brian should own this excellent version worn by the staff at Mr. Bartley’s. I don’t know if it’s the boxing gloves, the shoes, or the dramatically out-of-proportion arms, but something about this image just strikes a chord in me.

Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage
1246 Massachusetts Avenue (T: Harvard Square)
Cambridge, MA 02138
617.354.6559
M-Sa, 11am-9pm (closed Su)

COMING NEXT, Boston II: I eat veal intestine and like it.

0 thoughts on “Boston I: Fine Burgers of Beantown

  1. >I lived in Cambridge and Boston for several years in grad school<
    Aha!

    Anyone who knows the joys of Bartley’s is ok in my book, especially anyone who gets down with those totally rad Lime Rickey’s. However, I’m Shocked and Appalled ™ that you may not have enjoyed the french fries w/gravy there, or the the franks&beans or….,all of which are actually *almost* as good as the burgers. There are *reasons* Jesus tells people to go to Bartleys.

    I’m hoping we’re gonna get to hear about Mary Chungs, or the best ice cream in the world from Toscanini’s or some of the other shrines ex-Cantabrigian pseudo-intellectuals like myself make pilgramages to.

  2. us non-intellectuals, that got our little insignificant undergraduate from hunter college – in english – and ummm, went on to not help the greater good… or capitalize for that manner -

    we like burgers too
    yes we do
    just like you
    because damnit, we are people too.

    do not alienate the little people. we will turn against you and it won’t be pretty.

  3. Ho-lee shit. Those onion rings made my panties wet. In the event they had a similar effect on your knickers, it appears that you were sitting across from a Man of Action. Good on you.

  4. Oh how I miss Bartley’s! My most memorable meal there was outside on Mass. Ave, when a friend ate an entire bowl of their chili sans utensils. The comments between her and the various wise ass passerbys were unforgettable.

    Also the burgers rock, I remember the Harvard Burger which was a double, yup, 14 ounces of beef, about 8 fucking inches tall, and a complete mess to eat, god i loved it.

  5. Duly noted… we spend time near Boston in the summers and take the occasional trip into the city. This burger looks worthy of blowing a diet over.

    The husband lived in Boston many years- went to NorthEastern and then did some real estate for a while, so he has his faves. I’ll see if he knows about this one.

  6. I used to go to Bartley’s in high school for the blue cheese burger; my friend lived just outside the square. It was like church back then. I nearly soiled my historically inaccurate pantaloons reminiscing (though it looks like Heather actually did) and it makes me regret not going when I was in Cambridge last Wednesday, since I can see that they still approach the divine, even when one is no longer a stoned, starving student. Wicked pissa.

  7. Okay, I lived and worked in Boston for 7 years and I NEVER got to eat stuff like that. One trip to Bartley’s in all those years (great burger, blind date proved psychopathic), no Frette linens, no spaetzle, just lots of Kraft mac & cheese and scrambled eggs with toast made from day-old bread. You make a good case for going back now that I can afford real food.

  8. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!

    I don’t know what I’m craving more right now: Chocolate or a giant juicy burger (with cheese other than blue thanks). Damn it! I have a swimsuit vacation in July and my 20-year high school reunion in October. I DO NOT NEED THIS!!!! (Oh but I so want it…)

  9. forkful: jesus don’t need no fricking license.

    fuzzy: i have enjoyed the gravy fries, but i continue to maintain that it is a WASTE to go to bartley’s and eat beans.

    we didn’t get frappes because we were planning on toscanini, and then it was GONE. hopefully it’s just remodeling, and it’ll be back. we ended up going to herrell’s; chocolate pudding ice cream, yum.

    claudia: don’t take your inferiority complex out on me, or on the burger.

    courtney: yeah, you do.

    christie: oh, pish posh. sometimes you want a burger, and you just gotta eat that fucking burger.

    geggie: you should. and take me back with you.

    heather: i’m grateful on a daily basis to be married to a man of action. it solves a lot of problems.

    britt: i’ve never attempted the double. kudos!

    recipegirl: it is, oh yes, it is.

    peter: i have to say, i don’t think i’ve ever gone back to visit boston without going to bartley’s. my only regret from this past trip is that i did not return for a peppermint patty frappe.

    annie: the frette linens were new for me, too. but only one trip to bartley’s? for shame! i lived on rice, beans and weekly bartley burgers.

    rachel: get it without the bun, and say you’re going south beach diet. and onions are a vegetable.

  10. Critical Neo-Academese can be heard in other parts of the country as well. I like to refer to it as “Fuck You, I Hate Philosophy* Majors.”
    *can be aplied to your most-hated major of choice

  11. You should also check out Eagle’s Deli in Brighton. Huge, delicious burgers, and a challenge burger that is this fucking big. They have a whole wall dedicated to people who tried and failed to eat it, aptly named the Wall of Shame.

    When we went, it was 2-for-1 Godzilla Burgers.

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