21 Temple Place, Boston MA 02111 (map); 617-338-5333; jmcurleyboston.com
Cooking Method: Griddled (small burger) or grilled (large burger)
Short Order: Excellent meat, classic preparation, spot-on-execution, just a couple of great burgers all around
Want Fries With That? Fine skinny fries, but unexceptional
Price: small burger $7.50, large burger w/ fries $14, side of fries $2.50
"Dangit, I knew I should have bought two pairs of extra pants," I thought to myself as I watched a glistening droplet of beef juice drip, slow motion, onto my leg. I'd only arrived in Boston 15 minutes ago and I had a rib festival to judge. Fortunately the type of folks who spend an afternoon tasting a dozen different ribs aren't the type to begrudge a bit of extra fat around the pant-leg area. I powered through the liquid assault and emerged on the other side barely scathed, having just vanquished one of the best new burgers Boston has to offer.
Though it may have some gastro tendencies—arugula and octopus, ironic house-made Cracker Jacks, minimalist decor, a Twitter account that they actually respond to!—at its heart, JM Curley's is a pub's pub. Unpretentious vibe, good beer on tap, and that perfect combo of gruff-but-attentive thing that seems to be the domain of Massachusetts's pub owners.
Actually, I take it back. The cheffiness of the menu, which was created and executed by Sam Mansour and Mark O'Leary (you may know him from the insanely popular Guchi's Midnight Ramen pop-up) does pop up when the food hits your mouth. Deviled eggs ($5) arrive at the table looking just like deviled eggs, but I suspect your auntie never topped hers with briny house-made tasso, or pickled her whites, or folded a hint of horseradish into her filling.
I'm a sucker for fried pickles ($5), and JM Curley's were spot-on: house-cured dill chips with just a hint of sweetness, crisply fried with a side of creole mayo to dip into. I placed an order expecting to eat one or two while I nursed a beer and waited for a friend to arrive. He never got to try them. (Don't worry, we ordered another dish).
And ok, fine—those oh-so-cute-and-clever house-made Cracker Jacks are crazy good too. What separates Curley's Cracka Jacks from the real deal? Bacon. That's what.
The dinner menu also features a number of seasonal specials (clams, squash hush puppies, braised beef cheek gorditas), soups and salads, and standards (pork chop, steak, fried chicken), but I was so enamored with the burger that I didn't bother ordering any of them.
Actually, I was so enamored of the burger that I ordered a second one.
The first was the smaller five-ounce, griddled burger ($7.50), which is only on the lunch menu, but ask nicely and they'll make it for you any time of day (as a random Twitter friend let me know). As someone who prefers their burgers on the thin-and-griddled side, this is a good deal, particularly because you can choose to order the french fries ($2.50) à la carte (they come automatically with the larger dinner-time-only burger)—a good thing, as the fries are not particularly compelling.
My first thought when the burger hit the table resting on top of a buttery toasted bun, its crusty brown edges peeking out from a form-fitting blanket of cheese: Hey, they like their toppings like I like my toppings! Lettuce and tomatoes may be pretty, but I'm a pickles, onions, and special sauce kind of guy through and through.
Despite its small form factor, the burger does an admirable job of maintaining a nice rosy pink center and plenty of juice. The Angus beef comes from Kinnealey—one of the better chopped beef suppliers in the area—and has a great rich, beefy flavor.
Did I just say that I like my burgers thin and griddled? Because this happened to be one of those rare cases when I actually preferred the larger nine-ounce, grilled burger ($14) off the dinner menu. It comes with the same griddled onions and pickles, Russian dressing, cheddar, and a side of fries.
Grilled burgers can be a tough beast to crack—more often than not they suffer from a combination of singed exteriors or a dry leathery shell around a medium rare center. The burgers at JM Curley come perfectly medium rare from edge to edge, well-seasoned, with just a hint of smoky char from the grill.
JM Curley's may have just edged their way into my five favorite burgers in Boston.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.