Editor's Note: Please welcome our newest AHT reviewer, Meredith Smith! Meredith is a Boston-based food writer who splits her time between scouting out the best burgers, pizzas, and libations in the area. She's an advocate for the right of all burgers to receive a fair trial and champions the betterment of burgers everywhere. If there's a burger in Boston you want her to eat, leave her a comment!
636 Beacon St., Boston MA (map); 617-536-0448; uburgerboston.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Old-fashioned, medium-well burgers done medium well.
Want Fries With That? Hand-cut sticks of potato fried to a golden crisp? Yes, please!
Price: UCheeseburger, $4.50; w/bacon, + 50¢
Prior to 2006 you'd be hard pressed to find a quality, hamburger stand style burger (the thin patty, loosely packed kind that crowd griddles all over the west coast) in Boston. That's exactly the hole the owners of Uburger were looking to fill when they introduced their U(ber) burger to the Hub. To make burgers worthy of their "Above All Burgers" motto, they pat their quarter pound rounds from fresh, never frozen meat, ground on the premises daily, and aim to turn out all-American favorites without pretension. The success of their flagship location in Kenmore, situated in the prime burgerphile territory of BU campus and Fenway Park, is marked by the addition of two outposts at Commonwealth Avenue and Park Street.
The classic Uburger anatomy divides shredded lettuce, tomato, and house spread (mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard) on one side of the patty, onions and pickles on the underside. Clever stacking like theirs makes good burger sense. It avoids burger bulk, resulting in topping-slide, and it means raw onions and pickles aren't cooled down by the salad stuff or shielded from direct patty contact, so their more assertive flavors get steamed right into the meat. Uburger dresses their burgers with a notable pickle chip. Their thick, crinkle-cut slices manage to taste like cucumber, but not at the expense of losing their vinegary smack. If you are a pickle fan, ask for extra. Buns here are buttered and lightly griddled, allowing the fluffy bread to absorb the essence of browned burger.
As for the meat of the matter, Uburger states that they grind their beef daily. However, their burgers are uncharacteristically compact for the freshly ground variety, and daily grinding doesn't mean all the meat is ground on premises. In fact, we have it on authority from their meat suppliers that as of three years ago, at least a portion of their meat is delivered pre-ground, but that it subsequently gets mixed with cuts that are ground in-house. These claims were neither confirmed nor denied by anyone working for UBurger (UPDATE: We've since heard from owner Nick Kesaris regarding their beef. Please see note at bottom of post). As for their in-house grinding, they do it at their Commonwealth Avenue location, mixing sirloin and chuck, and use a refrigerated truck to deliver it to the Kenmore and Park Street outlets.
Their burgers are all cooked to medium well and sport a well-browned crust. However, the griddle's sear doesn't make up for the lack of a juicy, pink interior. That's not to say they are juice-less, just a little too lean and tidy for my taste. But whether or not they actually grind their own meat or rigidly adhere to less than optimal doneness guidelines, the most notable shortcoming is the lack of salt. The minimalist approach to seasoning is fine by me, but just so long as the seasonings used aren't used too sparingly.
The addition of bacon gives the UCheeseburger a salty boost for 50¢ extra. However, adding bacon is a pretty tame option in the build-a-burger ingredient line-up at Uburger. Vegetable options come in the pickled, fried, grilled, and raw varieties. In addition, there are six cheeses and eleven sauces to choose from, including guacamole, tiger sauce (a horseradish-mayo blend), and chipotle.
One burger addition not to be missed at Uburger is a side of fries (and they have malt vinegar for dousing them with). The skinny fries are the ideal thickness for achieving ends fried to a hollow crisp, and the scant traces of skin preserve some of the potato's earthiness without interfering with the texture of the fluffy interior.
Despite being a little overdone and under-seasoned, balanced construction and great toppings distinguish Uburger in Boston's fast food burger landscape. Uburger makes it possible to get a burger at fast food prices while avoiding fast food pitfalls.
UPDATE: We were recently contact by Nick Kesaris, the owner of UBurger, who says that the intel we got on their grinding process was false. We'd like to print his side of the story to avoid any confusion:
I just wanted to clarify this point, because this is something that UBURGER takes great pride in. All our meat is trimmed, ground, seasoned, and hand-packed at our Commonwealth location. At no point in our 5+ years of business did we ever buy pre-ground beef or mix pre-ground beef with other beef. I usually don't respond to any articles, blogs or reviews, positive or negative, because people are entitled to their own opinions. However, this is not a matter of opinion but a matter of fact, a fact that we base our brand on. We would never falsely advertise or lead our customers to believe something that isn't true.
Thanks for the clarification, Nick, and good luck!