My roommate Ana and I are enticed by the “Best in Boston” signs outside the door of Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers in Harvard Square and are immediately sold once we enter the one-room restaurant. The eclectic space is littered with posters and knick-knacks making it a cross between a dorm room and a 1960s diner. Along the front of the restaurant is a counter where servers yell burger orders to short order cooks. I feel like I’ve stepped back in time. I see that there are cards all around the eatery boasting famous clientele, including Jackie Onassis, Bob Dylan and Shaq.
The menu is completely overwhelming with over 30 different gourmet burger options. Each is seemingly more complex than the last. The burgers have catchy names that typically contain pop-culture references such as the “Next President: God Help Us” and the “Taxachu$ett$.” The beef can be substituted with a turkey, chicken, black bean or veggie patty. The remainder of the menu is chock-full of fattening appetizers like fried pickles, homemade onion rings and sweet potato fries, as well as sandwiches and wraps. The sandwiches are named after colleges in the Boston area (and YES, there is a Tufts which consists of grilled chicken, pineapple and teriyaki sauce!), and the wraps are all named after various celebrities who have dined at Mr. Bartley’s in the past. The back page is entirely dedicated to inventive frappes. If there are any other confused Midwesterners out there, it turns out a frappe is just a milkshake.
As soon as the friendly waitress comes around to collect our drink orders, I enthusiastically ask for a chocolate fudge brownie frappe with an added banana. After poring over the menu and struggling to decide what to get, we ordered two orders of sweet potato fries. I opt for “The Suffolk,” which is essentially a grilled cheese sandwich with a fried egg, while my roommate chooses “The Rio Olympics,” a burger with bacon and ghost pepper mac and cheese.
When the food comes, we dig in. The frappe honestly surpasses my expectations. The fudge brownie and banana flavors mix impeccably. My sandwich is good, but I am too focused on the incredible frappe and fries to finish it. When we stop to take a breath, I ask Ana if the burger lives up to the large “Best Burger in the USA” poster hanging over the counter. She is so entranced by the concept of mac and cheese on a burger, which she describes as “so extra … in a good way” that she is able to eat half of her burger before surrendering to the spice.
Mr. Bartley’s is only two T stops away, and it is absolutely worth the short trip. The frappes are mind-blowingly good, and the fries are a must-have. Though the menu is vast almost to the point of confusion, if you’re in the mood for a burger or a sandwich it’s a perfect stop, and the ambience inherently makes for a great experience. I felt transported back in time during my lunch.