Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Burgers & Dogs - A Quest for the Best

Flat Patties Two-Napkin Burger


I recently got on this kick to find the best burger in town. Not exactly the smartest task to take on considering it's bathing suit season. But what's a carnivorous girl to do?

I have always loved the burgers at the Miracle of Science Bar & Grill in Cambridge so I used that as my benchmark. They grill the buns and the burgers and they're always nice and juicy, the way a burger should be. But I was not convinced this was the very best burger in town so I began the search for burger supremacy. One of the first places I tried was Flat Patties, located in The Garage in Harvard Square. The phrase "quit while you're ahead" definitely comes into play here. Of all the burgers I tried after theirs, none would come close. I tried the pricey Sirloin Burger at the Four Season's Bristol Lounge after hearing the rave reviews from my friend, Brian. Nice, juicy but no Flat Patties. I went to Wild Willy's in Watertown basically because I like saying "Wild Willy's" and kicking a leg up. Don't ask me why. It just works for me. Anyway, while the place was kind of fun (it has a Wild West feel) and the burger was pretty darned tasty, again, it was no Flat Patties. I highly enjoyed the Crane's Beach burgers, cooked right at the beach on a huge grill. Not much tastes better than a burger at the beach. Still, Flat Patties reined supreme.

So what, may you ask, makes Flat Patties burgers my favorite? Well, first let me say that I was skeptical of how good a patty could be that wasn't at least an inch and a half thick. I always have thought of a big, thicky juicy burger as the best. Not the case. Flat Patties' burgers are thin (thicker than a McDonald's burger but much thinner than your average pub burger). It's amazing how juicy these burgers are. Definitely a two napkin affair. Apparently, they hand grind their quality beef daily which clearly makes a huge difference. And the bun - soft but with enough chutzpah to keep it from getting soggy. I highly recommend running to Flat Patties and ordering the double cheeseburger. So amazing. Flat Patties also carries Harpoon Rootbeer. Outstanding paired with the burger. The only thing I wish was a bit better (and I think this applies across the board to all the burger places I sampled) were the fries. People, fries should be hot and crispy! Not limp, cold and soggy. Is that so hard? Having said that, the less than perfect fries did not detract from the winning burger. Flat Patties rules.


Places that specialize in the art of the hot dog are few and far between. In a world where everyone is trying to be great at everything, it's nice to see places that still specialize and succeed. I have frequented a few hot dog establishments that stand out and one that I tried recently was truly top notch.

The winner in my book is called, appropriately, Top Dog. It's located in lovely, coastal, slightly kitschy and seafood saturated Rockport, Massachusetts. And it is so darned cute. The exterior fits right in with the neighbors it's nestled in with - a petite building with shingles weathered by the sea air. Inside, a bit more contemporary. An extensive menu of hotdog options (all under $4!!). It's a bit overwhelming at first. Aside from the basic choice of Steamed or Grilled and Meat, Turkey or Veggie, there are over a dozen hotdog combos to choose from. Should I go with Man's Best Friend (aka chili dog) or should I be adventurous and go for the Chihuahua with jalapeno peppers, salsa and cheese? Hmm. I decided to go classic and ordered the Purebred (meat option and grilled) which enabled me to go to the self-serve bar and mull over all the mustards, relishes and other various condiments. I doctored my dog with the dijon, the freshly made relish, a dash of ketchup and another dash of barbecue sauce. You might think that with all those toppings I wouldn't actually be able to taste the hotdog. Wrong. One bite and I was smitten. A nice snap when I bit into the hotdog and great intense beef flavor. Fantastic. Once again, the fries were decent but nothing to write home about. But those dogs. Fabulous.

pictured at left: Flo's Hot Dogs in York, Maine

Other hot dog joints definitely worth chowing down on are Flo's in Ogunquit, ME; Tex Barry's in Taunton, MA and the classic steamed dogs at Fenway Park.

Flo's is a throwback. Open for over 45 years, it's a little rickety shack along busy Route 1 in Wells on the way to the scenic coastal town of Ogunquit. You have to be prepared to turn off the road quickly and hope there's a parking spot to pull into. There's always a line at Flo's - probably for 2 reasons. One - the steamed dogs are very tasty (make sure to get it with their homemade relish and celery salt - not a seasoning you'd expect). Two - Flo's is only open 11 - 2 so there's not much time in the day to get your dog. Flo's hotdogs are on the list of Epicurious' Top Ten Hot Dogs. For good reason.

Tex Barry's is another throwback. It's located in downtown Taunton and I frequented that place many, many times when I was in high school and on summer breaks in college when I worked down the street. It's still there and still serving up delicious dogs Coney Island Style. The Chili dogs are the specialty and they rock.

In a world where everyone is trying to be great at everything, it's nice to see places that still specialize and succeed. Keep the dog alive.

Finally, I can't leave out the Fenway Frank. I know you can buy them at the supermarket but it's not the same. For the best Fenway Frank experience, you must buy one at the game and not from the guys walking around the park (God bless them lugging that stuff around in the heat). You must buy the hotdogs from the vendor stands so the hotdogs and buns are freshly steamed. My sister, though tiny, always insists on getting 2 dogs. It's a ritual. I highly enjoy watching her pack them away. I can only put down one because I have to leave room for the freshly roasted peanuts I buy outside the park (that's a review for another day though).

Flat Patties
The Garage, Harvard Square
81 Mt Auburn Street
Cambridge, MA

Top Dog
2 Doyles Cove Rd
Rockport, MA

Flo's Hotdogs
Route 1
York, Maine
No phone (part of the charm!)

Tex Barry's Hotdogs
15 Main Street
Taunton, MA