How much does ambiance truly factor into our burger satisfaction? I’ve been known to be not so kind to a slightly snobby atmosphere because it just doesn’t pair so well with a hamburger. Most would argue that the quintessential burger should probably be consumed in a setting where either a visible grill is present (ie a backyard) or at the very least, the aromas of char and beef smack you in the face from the get-go. Clearly this is something that the fancy pants places cannot emulate, and yet despite an onslaught of “higher end” places that are wildly successful, don’t we all just want something cheap and quick at the end of the day?
Sullivan’s is located on Castle Island, essentially in South Boston and is the only food option if you find yourself walking around the tiny island during the summer months (although they actually are open late February through November). Operating since 1951 it’s about as old school as it gets with a very simple and basic menu that ranges from clam strips to burgers. The iconic places are often tricky to summarize; much like Casey’s in Natick or White Hut in West Springfield, part of the success is attributed to the charm and the simplicity. No question that the product is good, but I find it to be more of a case of good for what it is versus good in the grand scheme of things. A double cheeseburger “deluxe style” (meaning mustard, ketchup, relish, onion, tomato, lettuce and mayo) will set you back all of $3.60. Fries are $1.95 for a small and are a suitable size for one. The burger is exactly what you want it to be: a thin, griddled patty has the faintest touch of char, all barely bound together by a squishy grocery store bun and a ton of condiments and toppings. The star ends up being the American cheese of all things, which melts to the point of fondue consistency, suffocating the beef in all its glory with a creaminess that is hard to mimic otherwise. A summer tomato is just fine, even if it is practically larger than the patty itself, and the ketchup and mayo are probably more prominent than I might prefer. Still, the beef is juicy without being overly greasy, although predictably could use more seasoning. The bun holds up well, thankfully it’s all nestled into a parchment envelope, which fully holds up all the juices and melty cheese bits that inevitably make the burger. The relish is no afterthought and gives the right tang to a burger that is very top-heavy with fat and is a welcome addition. The fries are a bore, however, and are totally absent of any salt on the interior of each fry or on the surface. They have a light crunch and are crinkly but really offer little to no benefit. I’d say go for a second burger if nothing else in lieu of these fries.
Sullivan’s can’t compete with the cleverness of the Craigie burger or the beefiness of the JM Curley burger, but it offers something that the big boys cant: an ocean-side view and a little piece of nostalgia. And for under $6 it’s impossible to argue with the price, and the quality does outweigh the value. This burger won’t ever win in any “best of” categories, but that certainly doesn’t take away from any of its enjoyment.
Overall Score: 84