Saturday, April 07, 2012
Number 8: Get a burger at Mr. Bartley's
...and be disappointed.
Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage in Harvard Square is widely known as "the best burger in Boston", probably due to the abundance of acclaim in both local (Boston Globe, Improper Bostonian, etc...) and national (Esquire, New York Times, Gourmet) press. I made the mistake of reading a number of reviews on Yelp, where Bartley's has only a 3.5 star rating, and I may have been biased from reading them before I visited.
The place is packed, all of the time. They are also closed on Sundays (and often on holidays as well) and for a few weeks at a time for vacations, which used to be posted on their website but don't appear to be anymore. These two things are the sole reason that I haven't had a burger here before - it wasn't for lack of trying. In the past I've either rocked up on President's/Columbus/some holiday Day and learned that they were closed, or the line has been halfway down the block and I was too hungry to wait. This time I learned the key to avoiding the line: eat alone (or in my case, in the company of the very funny Mindy Kalig, via Kindle). Eating alone (and possibly in a pair) means you can sit at the four person bar, and the seats there turnover much faster than the tables. They are just as crowded as the tables, though, so don't think that this approach will earn you any more personal space while you eat.
It turns out that the appeal of this place is the variety on the menu, not the quality of the food. There are dozens of topping combinations available, with amusing names and tag lines for each, although who knows why those toppings earned that name. I got the Joe Kennedy III - topped with grilled mushroom and cheddar cheese. The grilled mushrooms were charred, which pretty much ruined the entire burger (which was a true medium, but tasted charred because of the mushrooms). The fries are reminiscent of the fries that BK put out in the lat 90's - remember when they were all "our new crispier fries!" and it wasn't really that the fries were fried crispier, they just had some weird coating on them that made the exterior crispy while the inside of the fry was just as mushy? That's what these fries were like. The bun was nothing special.
I guess what I'm saying is that it's not worth it to stand in line here. You're better off walking the two and a half blocks to Flat Patties if you find yourself in Harvard Square and wanting a burger...even if there isn't a line at Mr. Bartley's.
Is it weird that I was sad to have been so disappointed?