Boardwalk Fresh Burgers & Fries
5975 Roswell Road Suite 107, Sandy Springs GA 30328 (map); 404-851-9228; locations in 13 states, view list at
The Schtick: "Surf shack" burger stand expanding beyond the shoreline
The Burger: Build-your-own or Specialty single or double patties that stand up to any fast-casual chain out there
Want Fries With That? Yes, it's what launched the chain. Portions are huge and should be eaten quickly
Setting: Pretty sparse strip mall decor, but bright colors and patio umbrellas help
Price: Single w/cheese, $3.99; Double Bacon Bleu Burger, $5.89; fries, $2.39/3.39/4.59
"The Boardwalk" may conjure up romantic recollections for anyone who either grew up within reach of the beach or vacationed regularly on the ocean shore. As a landlocked Midwesterner who then moved to the Deep South, though, it's never been anything more to me than the high-rent square on a Monopoly board. But the cheeseburger and the coast are unquestionably and inextricably linked in our culture, so as a concept, Boardwalk Fresh Burgers & Fries makes perfect sense. With fewer than two dozen locations spread across 13 states, Boardwalk isn't quite a major player in the burger game...yet. Based on what I tried there recently, however, the tide may be changing.
Burgers come in two sizes here: a single 3.5-ounce patty of fresh, never-frozen Georgia grass-fed beef that's pattied in house daily, or a double. (Some—but not all—in-store signage referred to them as the Surf and the Boardwalk, respectively.) Add a cheese or bacon for a 50¢ upcharge, and then go off the deep end with a long list of free unlimited toppings and sauces. If you're not feeling creative, you can go with one of three Signature Burgers: the Mushroom Swiss, the BBQ Bacon Cheddar, or the Bacon Bleu.
That's what I chose for my first Boardwalk bite, and while it didn't much resemble its PR photo, there were some things to get plenty stoked about. For just seven ounces of beef, this burger looked and felt way more substantial. Yes, the lettuce situation was a little out of control. No, I couldn't quite see much of that bleu cheese or bacon peeking out. Once I found it, though, the bacon itself was meaty, curled, and crisp. And while I might have preferred a touch more of that bleu cheese and thought the smashing required on this tall burg did a nasty breakup number on my sesame-seeded white bun, these were minor knocks on a burger I'd happily order again. Mine even showed quite a bit of pink inside, and whether that's "the Boardwalk way" or just "the way mine turned out" off the flat-top, it was a welcome change from the uniformly-grey meat discs that most fast-casual chains are content to crank out.
I also test-drove a single with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo to try to match their publicity pic. (At the risk of not getting a perfect clone, I purposely omitted pickles from mine, knowing I'd just pick them off. Don't judge me.) Not a great match anyway. The reality version is pretty damn sexy if you ask me, maybe even more so than the overly-staged-and-stacked model burg. If you were to ask me my ideal burger size, 3.5 ounces wouldn't make my Top 10 answers, but I had no complaints here. Combined with a super-squishy bun and a proportionate layer of toppings, this undersized (by my standards) patty was thoroughly satisfying. I'd confidently put either of my Boardwalk burgers up against Five Guys or Smashburger or just about anybody else in the not-quite-fast-food category.
Plenty of chains in this tier take their fries seriously (Five Guys), and just as many seem to offer them solely because they're expected to (In-N-Out). Here, though, they are everything. Boardwalk started out as a fry shack that didn't even offer burgers; brothers Dave and Fran DiFerdinando originally launched Boardwalk Fries as an homage to the fresh-cut frites they'd remembered from their summers in Ocean City, Maryland. Fresh-cut every day, the spuds are cooked to order multiple times in pure peanut oil at differing temps, lightly salted, and served dangerously hot.
As you can see, mine weren't bursting out of the cup like the promo shot's explosion of tater sticks, but the chain sure tries to make up for that in quantity. My large order came in a cup that was 5.5 inches tall and 4.5 inches wide, damn near a bucket of fries. I'm not sure there's any need whatsoever for a two-pound (and $4.59) serving of french fries (a "regular" is still a half pound), but whatever size you order, eat 'em quick. Right out of the fryer, they're excellent—hot and crisp and quite potatoey, but like all fries, they go downhill in a hurry. All Boardwalk locations have a squeeze bottle of vinegar and a huge shaker of Old Bay seasoning at the counter so you can try yours in the traditional "Ocean City Style." Must be an acquired taste, though, 'cos that combination did nothing but give me the odd sensation of Easter eggs and crab cakes.
So I'll keep my fries simply salted and stick to a smaller size, and I'll feel great about whatever burger strikes my fancy next time I'm at Boardwalk Fresh Burgers & Fries. And there will be a next time. Just like those vacationers who make their regular pilgrimages to Ocean City, Santa Cruz, or the Jersey Shore, I'm already planning a return trip.
About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.