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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.