Alden and Harlow

June 24th, 2014 by Richard Chudy

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Hey there, Alden and Harlow, no pressure or anything. Many folks (both local and national) have been anointing the Secret Burger one of the best burgers in the country, never mind locally. I’m always wary of such proclamations, for obvious reasons, and try to avoid the hype machine as best I can before heading into a place. How good could it really be? I’ve eaten my way through a great (and uncomfortable) amount of burgers over the last few years. Many have wowed me, some have disappointed, and most have been just fine and dandy. I dined at Alden and Harlow on a busy Thursday night, knowing full well that a burger would be in my future. They mention on the menu that there is only a limited number of burgers available on a nightly basis (rumor has it about three dozen, with a few withheld for late-night service) although I have yet to hear of many, if any people getting rejected because they had run out. To me it feels like a cooler Craigie on Main approach: the burger is there for the taking but clearly there are a bunch of other fine dishes the chef would rather have you enjoy; it’s not hidden even if it is limited. I certainly wouldn’t complain if Alden just turned into a full-blown burger joint, but something tells me chef Scelfo wants to flex his culinary muscles a little more than just serving up our most beloved sandwich.

Let’s cut to chase here: this might be the best burger I’ve had in the Boston area and maybe anywhere. It is among (counting Craigie, Back Bay Social Club and Beacon Hill Bistro) the beefiest and straight-up most satisfying bun and beef combinations out there, without question. After eating the burger and dropping off a friend, I immediately had to go back that same night. The burger haunted me, even though we’re only talking a 45 minute window here, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. I had to know for sure. Was it as good as as I thought? The beef blend (brisket, short rib and beef plate) is unique, robust and expertly mastered like a fine steak. It tastes like nothing else out there in many ways, skipping the bells and whistles of some of the other top tiered patties and instead just focusing on the meat and the meat itself, and it is that good. Both burgers that night were cooked a perfect medium-rare, and the seasoning was nothing short of flawless. The burger is also very, very smokey. Something you’d often see with bacon, but not here, at least they won’t tell you if that is the case. The smoked element is top secret, but it doesn’t read very porky in my mind. My best guess (and a complete guess at that) is that they are incorporating smoked suet into the burger at some point, giving it even more fat and the smoke that really makes this burger stand out. It is as juicy as it ought to be and I literally have no complaints about it. A house-made bun, influenced by a Parker House roll, is very buttery (almost to the point of saturated) and flaky, yet sturdy enough to hold it all in place. It’s a total game changer from all the crappy buns out there and left me scratching my head wondering why more places don’t make their own buns. Probably a time, space and volume issue in most cases, but still, I wish it were more common.

Joining the burger are a salted onions (salted so they take off some of the raw bite) and little gem lettuce combo that offers crunch like it wouldn’t seem possible. This burger is crunchy, but surprisingly not from the the Cabot cheese tuile ( I liken it more to a frico). What should be a salty, crispy bomb of flavor ends up being chewy and more of a distraction than anything. I can’t tell what’s bringing it down, since I like the concept of a piece of crispy cheese, but it’s the one element that is a slight miss. The flavor is still there, and I almost wonder if it would work better if it was placed right below the bun, as opposed to nestled under a pile of onions, lettuce and creamy sauce which I’m sure attributed to the sogginess, but then again, what the hell do I know. The creamy sauce is basically a Caesar meets Thousand Island kind of blend with aioli, ketchup, anchovy and pecorino among the players and it is straight-forward, well seasoned and a nice complement. Literally four thinly sliced pickles are on the side of the plate and I wish there was more of them. They are sharp and tasty but with so few I hardly see the point. On the first burger there are no pickles inside of the sandwich, but on round two there are one or two random pickle slices floating around. Chips in lieu of fries join the burger and they are warm, nicely seasoned and crispy. I always long for fries but these are worthy of the extraordinary burger.

The burger at Alden and Harlow (shockingly only $14) is divine. It is all about the beef in most cases, and while the beef blend is fatty and luscious and possibly the best I’ve ever had, the accent of the role players here is almost as important. A house-made bun, onions, lettuce and a well-rounded sauce are terrific complements to what is now my new favorite burger in town. With a limited number available each night (and on the new brunch menu) one can safely assume the demand will always be there. For me, it was love at first bite and it shouldn’t be taken lightly that I returned for a second burger on the same night, something that I’ve never done before. While they sometimes offer a real secret burger (totally off-menu, just ask) that changes every couple of weeks or so, the main attraction is and forever should be, the house burger.

Overall Score: 96

5 Responses

  1. Rob says:

    That cheese cracker is worth more than a 4 point deduction. It’s a great burger, but everyone complains about that thing. Why do they keep it?

    • It’s a minor flaw but I think the flavor is just fine, it’s really a textural downfall that in no way should lower the score that much because everything else is just so great.

  2. Jason says:

    I actually enjoyed the cheese cracker… But in fairness, you speculated that it might be better directly under the bun and that’s where mine was. Perhaps they heeded your suggestion. I went last night and they even missed my temperature ever so slightly and it was still the best burger I’ve had. I’d have even gone 98 in the rating. I prefer Curley’s to Craigie. Craigie crossed over a little too much to steak side for me. But this blows away both. Love the chips on the side. I find that good fries never really add to the burger experience for me, but bad fries do take away from it. The chips were safe and delicious. Aioli is very much hit or miss for me… That aioli was fantastic! The other thing is that the whole meal was very satisfying, but oddly light. I felt like I could’ve eaten much more but I was wonderfully full. I didn’t feel saturated the way I do with some of these burgers.

  3. Derek says:

    What does “limited availability” mean? Is the burger available every night, you just have to order one before, say, 7pm?

    • I think they have something like 30+ available per night, so they could run out early. But my understanding is that they reserve a few burgers for the late night crowd too.