Dubbed as having one of the best burgers in the country, Boston's Craigie on Main had high expectations.
There's something about the burger that makes it so quintessential American. It can be found in its most basic, homestyle form at backyard BBQs, or you can find it in a fine restaurant topped with foie gras. It's versatile and iconic. So, when I have the opportunity to try a new take on this classic, I'm all in.
Craigie on Main is a high-end French restaurant serving duck rillettes, sweetbreads and the like. But Chef Tony Maws - a James Beard award winning chef known for his snout-to-tail approach to cooking - decided to begrudgingly add a burger to his bar menu because it's a crowd favorite. But he wanted to make something tasty and inspired by his own burger preferences - since everyone has their own opinion on what makes a good burger.
He spent six months perfecting this burger. Each component is made with care. The bun is a housemade milk-style bun - soft, but also firm to support the weight of the burger - buttered and griddled on plancha. The 8 oz. grass-fed beef patty is ground with shoulder, short rib, sirloin tips, bone marrow and suet. It's not a super finely ground - he says sausage is compact. Hamburger shouldn't be totally smooth. It's cooked in a CVap oven and finished on the plancha to get a good crust. The cheese is Shelburne Farm cheddar which has been aged for two years. It's topped with a mace ketchup - because a bottle of Heinz wouldn't be keeping with the spirit of the restaurant. And, the burger is topped with lettuce and onion and "burger vinaigrette," which is basically the burger juices. When they're in season, he adds sliced tomato. On the side are some extra ketchup, red wine vinegar pickles and celery root slaw.
Did I mention this burger has also made it on Eater's list of 12 Most Elusive Burgers?
They only make 18 of these burgers a night - because that's the amount of the beef blend that they can get at a high quality per day. And, they are really, really popular. Even overhyped, Maws says. It's clear Maws has a bit of an ego and doesn't see why this burger became so popular. It's just a burger, afterall. But, that only adds to its intrigue.
I made reservations for 5:30 p.m. in the bar area (the only place it's sold), and we lined up at about 5 p.m. outside. There was already a line before the restaurant opened. But the last thing I wanted was 18 other people to have reservations right at opening and order the burger. So, there were about six people in front of us when we got inside. The burger is not on the menu, but the servers pretty much know what people racing to get in the door at 5:30 p.m. want.
We were served small gifts from the chef to begin with - liver & celery and pickled herring on a cracker. The herring was better than the liver, but both were decent.
Then, we had some rolls which I wasn't super excited about. They weren't warm, and neither was the butter. So, those two together don't mesh. But, I was ready for the burger. After what seemed like forever, we were finally rewarded.
The burger was really quite good. It is a substantial burger - moist, flavorful, not too greasy, perfectly spiced. I know that some may say I ruined it by using the extra ketchup, but I loved it and used every last bit. I think it needed that extra sauce. But you won't find a better quality burger. The meat itself is just beyond. There's definitely a hint of umami flavor there that I couldn't get enough of.
So, yes, it's a pretty damn burger. Definitely within the top 5. If you're in the area, be sure to get your hands on one just for the pure fact of knowing what a burger patty should taste like. Hint: it's this.
It also came with house-cut steak fries that are baked and fried and seasoned. These were thicker cut, but delicious. If you need me, I'll be over here re-living this moment and letting my mouth water in anticipation of getting a taste of this again.