Centre Street Cafe is the type of quaint and tight knit spot that we don’t nearly have enough of around these parts. On a recent Sunday brunch visit, the line was out the door and the dining room was buzzing; it instantly felt comfortable and familiar. Chef Brain Rae, formerly of Rialto, also happens to be serving a cute little number of a burger as well. Available for lunch and brunch only, the “Maine grind burger” is a $14 treat, and a judgment free zone if like me, this so happens to be your first meal of the day.
Nothing about this burger is perfect but it hardly matters. In this case, the sum of the parts is superior than the individual components. A homemade bun, with an extra virgin olive oil and brioche base, is light and sturdy with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. It has the slightest bit of give and it is neither impeccably fresh or anything close to stale. It works in a slightly different, slightly conventional way with the brioche-standard bun crossover. The beef, coarsely ground, is seasoned the way a burger ought to be, with plenty of salt and black pepper. It is in that softball shape in terms of burger contraction, puffing up in the center but the bun matches its girth with ease and integrity. The meat isn’t cooked with a perfect rose red interior, but so what. The beef has the right amount of salty and complex notes that not nailing a perfect medium-rare is actually forgivable. Parts of it are much more rare than others and the rest lands somewhere in the medium and up range. A massive amount of melted provolone is a nice change of pace for a burger, its sharpness making its own statement and also echoing the subtle Italian notes of the burger. A couple of scattered slices of pancetta (way underrated and superior to bacon in most cases in my opinion) are unfortunately a little chewy, with the fat not rendered whatsoever. But with such a limited amount on there, I didn’t notice it much one way or another. An herb aioli is smeared on half of a bun, which is basically a pesto in nature and tastes fresh and worthy on its own, but, through no fault, is covered up with a hefty dose of beef fat and juices along the way. I’ll take the beef fat over the herbs any day of the week, which is a shame because the aioli had the potential on its own. Fries, during brunch (regular fries appear during lunch service I’m told) are home fries and they are adequate. Sort of crispy and sort of seasoned, they are ok at best and really just make me wish I was eating the fries instead.
Overall, Centre Street Cafe makes a tasty combination of pretty good to great ingredients that add up to a very fine burger. The well seasoned and tender beef combined with the well selected cheese on a substantial homemade bun is more than enough to make it special. Slight misses are just that and not enough to bring down the party. The value is fitting and I have no qualms on the $14 front, but a dollar more and I might not be as thrilled. This is easily one of the better burgers I’ve had in Jamaica Plain, possibly the best, and definitely worth a trip for anyone in the Greater Boston area.
Overall Score: 88