I was grumpy last night, not for any particular reason, more of a looking to complain about something kind of a night. But those who know me, well, it was pretty much business as usual, no surprises here. My dining companions feared that I hated the burger before I even tried it, but just to prove them wrong, I loved it. Let’s be clear, I loved the burger, but nothing else on that plate was enjoyable. Highland Kitchen, slightly out my comfort zone in Somerville, has a very similar vibe to Trina’s Starlite Lounge, another Somerville establishment. Both are eerily identical in terms of style, substance, and ambiance, attracting local hipsters and bitter chefs from Watertown. I was turned off by poor customer service over the phone, (no reservations for parties less than six?) a twenty-minute wait on a Thursday night, and a menu that just couldn’t seem to make up it’s mind. (are you Southern or not? I don’t get it) Honestly, I couldn’t wait to dislike the food, because it would have been oh-so-fun to review, but that burger was just too damn good.When I say the burger is simple I mean exactly that, lettuce and tomato don’t even make the sandwich, you get a bun, cheese, meat, and that’s it. Caramelized red onions, pickles and fries come on the side, but the real star is that burger, and for $9.95 you get 8oz of pure Angus pleasure. This place really could have gone either way; ranging from a nice neighborhood joint with simple honest food, or an over-hyped, snobby, locals-only place where the food looks good on paper but never delivers. Fortunately it’s the former, as they focus on local, homemade products and you can sense the passion and the dedication all over the place. Our server was engaging, despite being less than attentive, never refilling my water glass during the meal, but you could tell he loved working at Highland Kitchen, and believed in the product.
The burger is no frills, no sauce or insane toppings, to cover anything up. They say 8oz, but that’s got to be pre-cooking weight, because it felt more like 6oz, tops. But no matter, the bun, which I couldn’t quite figure out, was an absolute pleasure, buttered, toasted just right and had the perfect mix of softness and crunch that it needed, despite being a touch soggy from the moisture. It’s a tricky thing that juice, too much bread and it’s absorbed, too little bread and it drips right through, but this was as close to a perfect bun as I’ve had. The burger is seasoned just right, the salty, crunchy exterior shining through and really adding a layer of flavor throughout. The burger has a grilled cheese, patty-melt kind of feel, most of which comes from the aforementioned buttered bun, it was cooked a spot-on medium rare, although it could have been a touch more juicy. Overall, it was intensely satisfying and as simple and straightforward as you can get, but that’s what I loved about it. I just wish the rest of the ingredients held their own, the caramelized red onions on the side were watery and bitter (they never caramelize well) and the house-made pickles were a bit too sweet and not enough sour for this burger lover. The fries were a miss, fried only once, they were mushy and under-seasoned. Overall, a top-notch burger gives Highland Kitchen high marks, but to win elite status, you really need the entire package, and for all those who think fries are irrelevant, think again. I want the package deal, the perfect burger, fries, atmosphere, and service. The value, vibe and burger is all here, and that’s ultimately what I’ll remember the most.