Some places are hyped up and can’t live up to it, other places are praised and have stood the test of time for good reason; Mr. Bartley’s is certainly that of the latter. Right in the middle-of-it-all on Mass. Ave in Harvard Square, this family run business has been serving up Boston’s best burgers for almost fifty years, and they’re not afraid to show it. Bombarded by “Best of” signs from any publication possible and Boston memorabilia scattered throughout, Bartley’s has no shame in showing it’s the tops and that it’s all Boston all the time. But do they live up to it? Well, yes, mostly.
Listing over thirty burgers on the big board, there’s something for everyone, not to mention house made Raspberry Lime Rickey’s (superb) and frappes (also superb). For around ten dollars you get a burger with fries or onion rings and a pickle. The burgers aren’t huge, weighing in at 7 oz., but honestly, I can’t say that I need much more than that these days anyway. One of us receives a very generous portion of onion rings while I seem to be lacking on the french fry end. The fries are good, solid, if unspectacular. The onion rings, however, are beyond awful. Limp, mealy and downright offensive, they have to be among the worst I’ve had in some time. The burgers, ground daily from choice beef, are nice, they come served on a delightful toasted sesame bun and my burger (the Tom Werner) comes with bacon and cheddar cheese.
The first thing I notice is the cheese, as it oozes its way from all sides of the patty into melted cheese heaven; there is a perfect symphony of bread, meat and cheese in the first few bites. After that, however, I feel a little dryness, not in the burger itself, which is juicy, just not overly-so, but without condiments included in the sandwich, I feel the need to add some ketchup. (thankfully we’re not at Louis Lunch) Ketchup could go either way for me, if I need it so be it, but it’s not a make or break situation, in this case I do need something, and I’m okay with that. My last few bites are all bread unfortunately, a big pet peeve of mine, and the meat was good, nice flavor, but not the best I’ve had. I will compliment them in that they are the first place to actually cook my burger properly. ( in this case a nice and red medium-rare) The waitress also offers a follow-up inquiry upon first bite to make sure it is cooked to my liking, so a huge compliment for that.
Maybe it’s not the best burger we’ve had yet, but it’s up there, and there is something about this place you can’t help but love. Maybe it’s the history, the fact that it’s still a family run establishment and all the sites, smells and sounds of a great burger place are all prevalent. Worth all the press and accolades? I’d say so, but still not burger perfection.