Saturday we went to Mr Bartley's for burgers, in Harvard Square. The place has always been famous, but even moreso since being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, and at 1pm on a slightly chilly day with intermittent rain, the line was down the block. But the wait wasn't nearly as long as it could be - staff handed out menus, and then carried folding chairs up and down the line, took a seat, and took everybody's orders, so that once you got OUT of the line, you had your meal in 2-3 minutes. And man, they pack everyone they can into the place - we got jumped ahead in line because everybody ahead of us was a larger party, and they put us on a two-top next to the ATM machine, which we could only get to by other people getting up from their seats so we could get around them.
Not everybody bothers getting a system like that going when they face regular crowds - I've been in shorter lines outside Applebee's after church that took a lot longer to get through, followed by long waits for service once you're inside. The line probably dissuaded a lot of people who might well have gotten their food faster if they'd stayed and braved the line instead of trying their luck someplace else.
This barely hints at how crowded it was - wall to wall people, many of them at the large communal table.
Here's the important thing and why we'll go back: it was probably the best burger I've ever had in a restaurant.
It's certainly the best burger I've had in sixteen years. Sixteen years ago the Blue Flame closed in Northampton, Massachusetts - my favorite burger up to that point, and it's been long enough that I can't compare the two.
The menu goes on and on with burgers named after politicians and Boston athletes, though inside another menu lists burgers simply according to (single) topping, so ultimately you can order a burger with any combination of toppings you like and they'll figure out the price.
I got a Scott Brown - grilled onions, jalapenos, bacon, American cheese, and at my request an addition of cheddar cheese.
Caitlin got the People's Republic of Cambridge - coleslaw and Russian dressing, with added cheese.
The patty itself is the star here - ground chuck, which has more flavor than round or sirloin. 7 ounces, which is just about right. I don't like burgers that are too big. An ounce shy of half a pound, at 85% lean, is on the big side by my reckoning, but on the other hand, with too small a patty the toppings would overwhelm the burger. It's just right. I mean, I had bacon, jalapenos, and onions, and I could easily taste the beef. The patty had a well-defined crust even though I ordered (and received) mine rare.
The onions are worth mentioning, because - and I never thought this would stand out enough for me to make this pick - they're the best grilled onions on a burger I've ever had. Not caramelized. Not just sauteed. Cooked on a flat-top, I'm guessing, on high heat so that they're charred in places but still have a firm texture. A burger with nothing but these onions and a bun would still be an amazing hamburger. Assuming they come out that way every time, I'll order the onions on every burger I get here.