Grabbing A Burger with Mr. Bartleby
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage is a conundrum. The premise is simple, and 90 percent of patrons will never stray from a burger and a frappe into the menu’s bolder items, such as their chilled gazpacho, tabbouleh, or fishcakes. Yet they have worked out a flawlessly complex system that allows them to maximize the quantity of dinners served while providing each and every person with an unforgettable experience in terms of atmosphere and taste.
There is always a line wrapped around the corner of the building, but that shouldn’t deter the hungry because the greeters who hand you a menu and take your order from the street (the first way they expedite the feeding process at Bartley’s) are very accurate with estimating wait time. It might seem unbelievable that a 15 person line will take only 10 minutes to disappear, but Mrs. Bartley—who still runs the floor and seating arrangements herself—is never wrong after 48 years of experience at their Harvard location. In that time, Bartley’s has won a litter of awards, from perennially being named a “Best of Boston” by The Boston Globe, The Improper Bostonian, and Boston Magazine, to more far-flung fame and praise from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Esquire, and The Food Network.
The reason for this widespread acclaim is simple: creativity. Beyond their innovative ordering system—which combines the fast-food system of ordering before you’re seated with Southern-style family tables and formal restaurant quality—the burgers themselves beg the question how anyone can just slap some cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes on a pile of hamburger and call it a meal.
Their menu boasts a constantly rotating list of impressively designed burgers with hilarious names. If you so please, you can dine with Scott Brown, Tom Brady (with the tagline “Ladies, make a pass at this”), and Oprah in one evening—that is, if you would like burgers topped with bacon, American cheese, grilled onions, and jalapenos; cheddar, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and red onions; and BBQ sauce, bacon, grilled onions, and baked beans, respectively. Bartley’s constantly updates their names and offerings to play off of current events, and now feature the iPhone (“Siri”ously delicious, ask her) and The Joe Kennedy III (a liberal amount of burger).
Many of the celebrity burgers get their names from actual past patrons, such as Johnny Cash, Jacqueline Onassis, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Bill Belichick, Al Pacino, Adam Sandler, Tom Werner, and Katie Couric.
The aesthetic alone is enough to make every meal at Bartley’s feel like dinner theater. However, to ignore the total mastery of their niche is to neglect the best part of Bartley’s. Every single burger on their menu is crafted to explode with flavor, many combinations of which might be unusual or skepticism-worthy at first glance, but ultimately prove mind numbing. The only problem in such a high-volume, high-energy place is that although waiters will always ask how you like your burger cooked, the likelihood that there will be anything much different from medium is slim. But that’s a small price to pay for the geniuses who can work pepper jack, chili, salsa, and sour cream all onto a burger that still looks (and tastes) like a masterpiece. Note of caution: they make no promises on the burger staying pristine after you take the first bite—napkins and Purell are recommended