How often do we judge a burger before we take that first bite? We assume it’s going to taste one way based on expectations or the decor of the restaurant; burgers served in a pub should probably taste one way versus a white tablecloth setting which should yield different results. But is that fair? Or is the Boston restaurant scene that predictable? Rarely do we get a proper aioli when we’re anticipating Dijonnaise, or we expect a unique beef blend but instead get treated to a frozen patty. Magoun’s Saloon in Somerville is a beautiful blend of a classic pub with a familiar but slightly different burger; sort of the old meets the new but there is a burger for every taste on the menu. It feels like the anti-RFO’s, and if you know me that’s a very good thing. The extensive burger list boasts the normal (cheddar, bacon, Swiss) toppings and the not-so-normal (pulled pork, kielbasa, mac and cheese, foie gras butter) and unlike their burger rival down the road, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles are all free.
I opted for the Hillbilly, a well proportioned burger topped with pulled pork, coleslaw, American Cheese and a red pepper vinegar sauce on the side. Normally I’m skeptical of burgers loaded with too many toppings, and flavor aside, the pulled pork and coleslaw are accents to the properly sized burger, topped just generously enough to make it work and not taking away from the patty which is often the case. The beef is familiar in that steak-y, beefy burger way that defines a great pub bugrer. It’s cooked nicely, the pink interior is especially evident due to the dimly lit dining room and there is a solid amount of juiciness. The bun is cold, but shiny in a Brioche sort of way and buttery, soft the perfect size and fit for the fully loaded burger. The house-made pulled pork has a nice, subtle smokey flavor but that’s about all. It’s tender but bland, on the one hand I’m glad it doesn’t distract from more important things (ie the beef) but I wish there was more to it. Same goes for the coleslaw, which I’m glad isn’t a mayonaisse induced mess, but it offers little more than texture on this burger. However, I did discover that by dipping my burger in the side of red pepper vinegar sauce, au jus style, it gives the overall burger package just the right kick in the face, taking it from good to very good, although I would say it benefits the pork and the coleslaw more than the burger, bumping up the flavors of the toppings and sort of losing a little something with the beef portion of the show. But it’s a fine line and a very difficult balance to master; overall the burger and bun combination is so wonderful, the rest of it almost doesn’t matter. The steak fries are okay, like most fries, they are enjoyable but not thrilling and need a touch of salt.
The burgers at Magoun’s are great for what they are: an upgrade over the expected grub at a place like this, which can be as normal or as different as you want it to be. They start at a very reasonable $9.25 (the Hillbilly rings in at $10.95) and there is very good value in a very solid plate of the classic burgers and fries.
Overall Score: 85