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Sep 15, 2005 11:50 AM

Bartley's burgers -- currently in 2nd place

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As a hound and a meat lover, I'm a little embarrassed to say I'd not been to Bartley's Burger cottage before yesterday but the stars aligned and so I was able to check it out. Executive summary: I liked it well enough but it didn't fog my glasses or anything. Sullivan's in Somerville still wins my vote for Best Burger in the Boston area.

I got the Laura Bush (bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato) and it was perfectly medium rare, as ordered. My friend got the Condaleezza Rice and it was basically the same but with jack cheese and some red onion. We each opted for onion rings over fries. He had a lime rickey (delicious) and I got iced tea, basically instant Lipton, not brewed. I liked the burger and the quality of the meat seems superior to Sullivan's. But only the merest bit, and after the upgrade to o-rings and drinks it ended up being a $15 lunch. The rings were good, but not worth a $1.75 upgrade or the extra calories.

So, for now I think I'll stick with the Sullivan's "price point" when I need a burger fix which is about once a year. On the other hand, with the reopening of Tim's I could do a horizontal (literally!) test while it's fresh on my mind. And Charlie's looks good too. I need to revisit.

And by the way, the bearnaise burger doesn't exist anymore and hasn't for quite some time so the person who recently talked about that option must have been there a while ago.

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  1. I've heard good things about Sullivans' burgers. What makes them so great? I'll definitely have to go check one out.

    24 Replies
    1. re: Prav

      Prav, I think it depends on what camp you are in, burger wise. Sullivan's burgers are humongous, taking close to 30 minutes to cook. Some people would say they are too big, but I am not one of them. The toppings are good and varied, and they are cheap. Plus, you can get beer and watch the scary bar-fly regular who draped herself over the next table the last time I was there.

      1. re: yumyum
        Howie Stelzer

        re: Mr.Bartley's... I love those burgers, though the Republican propaganda has started to bother me. I do give the Bartley's folks credit for being proudly right-wing in the middle of Cambridge, MA. I'm sure I'm not the only Massachusetts liberal who sheepishly tunes out aspects of the decor and sandwich names in order to enjoy the food. The smell of those burgers still calls to me whenever I walk by Harvard Square....

        re: Sullivan's... my friend is a huge fan of thier burgers. To me, they're very good, but not amazing. The onion rings and fries, on the other hand, are fantastic at Sullivan's.

        I remember hearing about some burger place that's supposed to me good in Watertown...? Anyone know what that could be?

        1. re: Howie Stelzer

          I assume everyone is talking about O'Sullivan's, not Sullivan's, which is at Castle Island in Southie and has decent burgers in their own right (though not as good as Mr. Bartley's or O'Sullivan's),

          Yup, these are two of the best burger places in the Boston area, though others may say Tim's Tavern in the South End beats them both.

          Personally, my favorite is Mr. Bartley's by just a little bit, but I go to O'Sullivan's much more often, mainly because parking is easier, the people who work there are truly great folks, and they have other items that are excellent, including the steak and cheese and the chicken BLT sandwich.

          Oh, and yes, there are some regulars at O'Sullivan's who are true characters. After all, this used to be a real local hangout before Somerville became trendy!

          1. re: hiddenboston

            Yikes, I would not even BEGIN to compare a Sullivan's (on Castle Island) burger with Tims, Bartley's et al. In fact, I just tried one of these morsels last night, and while it was a cute little burger it's more in the McDonald's/BK league than the Tim's one. Don't get me wrong, it was a great little experience walking around Castle Island along the water and then stopping at Sullivan's for a cheeseburger, piping hot fries, and small soda (all for under $5)...I sat on the grass and looked over the water, enjoyed the salty air and the sea breeze and all in all I really enjoyed my little treat. But certainly not a destination-spot for a prime burger....

            1. re: twentyoystahs

              Totally agree. No one is confused about Sullivan's and O'Sullivans. I thought hiddenboston was joking. Maybe not.

              1. re: yumyum

                Uh, at first I was joking, then I saw how EVERYONE was calling it Sullivan's and I started to get really worried that I had entered the twilight zone and everyone was indeed talking about the burger joint in Southie. :-)

                Although I do like going out to Castle Island and ordering a burger to eat out on the rotunda on a hot summer day...

                1. re: hiddenboston

                  I have been reading from L.A. and I have never been to Sullivan's or O'Sullivan's. I have been to Bartley's. Now if it is true that Bartley's is #2 then is it O'Sullivan's that is claimed to be #1 or Sullivan's? I would like to visit myself but am unable to find either on the web. Can anyone help with a address? Finally, I am bringing my 10 yr. old graddaughter to Boston in April. Is this an OK place for her? My concern is the, "scary bar-fly regular." My Thanks, PA

                  1. re: Like-Go-Eat?

                    Burger #1 would be from R.F. O'Sullivan's in Somerville. And I think your granddaughter will be fine there.


                    1. re: Linda W.

                      Reading these posts about burgers got me, somehow, craving a burger. But i live in Jamaica Plain. so i decided to check out a bar/restaurant on Centre St that i hadn't been to before, and... WOW it was good! Costello's, which is just across the street from the also dependably good Galway House, had a TERRIFIC burger and really great fries. Plus, when I asked for medium rare, I actually got medium rare! Many places will second-guess you and cook it medium... but no BS here. Terrific food, I was impressed.

                      1. re: Howie

                        Yes, Costello's is a great little hole-in-the wall, and as far as I'm concerned, has one of the top 5 burgers in the city. I've mentioned that before on this board. Definitely worth checking it out. It's also very "Tim's-like" in atmosphere; one of the last old-time neighborhood bars still standing in JP.

                        ps. the other 4? tim's; audobon (tho the no fries thing kills me); o' sullivans; bartley's.

                        1. re: twentyoystahs

                          Super suprised about costello's it was a great burger. No one has mentioned Eagle's deli. I have to say that all gimicks aside, they do have a really good burger, sandwiches too. It may be lacking in the "high end " toppings but the flavor is there.


                          1. re: brad brown

                            I'll second the Eagles suggestion. It appears that Eagles has recently begun using very fresh meat (I think it was usually or always frozen in the past) and is producing a really good burger. The caveat: if you want rare, make sure to demand that it's really rare, and remind the cook during the cooking process that you want your burger pink and bloody in the middle. They do tend to overcook if you don't ask.

                          2. re: twentyoystahs

                            Super suprised about costello's it was a great burger. No one has mentioned Eagle's deli. I have to say that all gimicks aside, they do have a really good burger, sandwiches too. It may be lacking in the "high end " toppings but the flavor is there.


                        2. re: Like-Go-Eat?

                          O'Sullivan's is at 282 Beacon Street in Somerville. Beacon Street is the road between Porter Square and Inman Square that straddles the line between Somerville and Cambridge. Star Market is across the street from it.

                          And no need to worry about the barfly guy. He's not so bad, and definitely harmless. Although I'm not crazy about his choice of music when he goes to the jukebox. :-)

                          1. re: Like-Go-Eat?

                            Thanks for the help.

                            R.F. O'Sullivan & Sons, Pub and Grille (Best Burgers in Boston)
                            282 Beacon Street
                            Somerville, MA 02431
                            (617) 492-7773
                            11:am to 1:am
                            Beacon Street is the road between Porter Square and Inman Square that straddles the line between Somerville and Cambridge. Star Market is across the street from it.

                            Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage (Second Best Burgers
                            )1246 Massachusetts Ave
                            Cambridge, MA 02138-3820
                            (617) 354-6559

                            1. re: Like-Go-Eat?

                              I will offer an opposing voice... I went to O'Sullivans once and never thought about returning. Bartley's is a grease burger.

                              Flat Patties is my choice and one the Globe rated as Best Burger in Boston. Uburger is also good for the McDonald's style burger. Bouchee on Newbury St. makes a great burger with fries too - more upscale.

                            2. re: Like-Go-Eat?

                              O'Sullivan's will be perfectly fine for her. My parents have taken my family there for years. But just remember the burgers are huge and when I was young I always had to split one with my mom

                    2. re: Howie Stelzer

                      Maybe Donohue's on Bigelow. Their burgers are huge.


                      1. re: Howie Stelzer

                        Maybe it's Wild Willy Burgers you are thinking about in Watertown? Been once, decent burger, but nothing special. Sort of a Fudrucker's type place, but I'd give the nod to Fud's over Willy.

                    3. re: Prav

                      The burgers at Sully's are 1/2 lb vertical burgers, meaning they're very tall - and I mean VERY at about 2.5 inches or so high - but they're not very wide and do not hit the edge of the bun. My main problem is that since they're so tall, when I order medium rare, the outer layer gets charred while the inside remains very bloody and spongy. Underdone spongy.

                      The 3/4 burgers are Tim's are only about and inch or so tall but nearly overlap the edges of the gargantuan buns (which are too big IMO). 90% of the time, my medium rare burger was spot on and when they are on, they are on like no other burger I have ever tried. Fries and o-rings can't hold a candle to those at Sully's. Beer selection is also weaker at Tim's but I don't care.

                      I have never actually been to Bartley's because I think beer and burgers go together like peanut butter and chocolate and I like both together (not peanut butter/chocolate with beer and burgers). However, for the sake of science, I will try them soon.

                      Burgers at Audubon Circle and Anam Cara are distant second places finishers to the Tims/Sullys first place duo (with Tim's getting the edge IMO).

                      Charlies burgers are ok but nothing special. Same with Thornton's in the Fenway.


                      1. re: Dax


                        Agree with Dax on all counts, esp the beer & burger combo. And I also prefer a Tim's burger over an O'Sullivans....

                        1. re: twentyoystahs

                          I had the same "wow that's rare" reaction to my medium-rare burger at O'Sullivan's. Plus, their fries suck. I'll have to order my next one medium and ask for onion rings on the side.

                          Personally, I still like Bartley's better. Slightly smaller burgers, pretty good fries, great rings, and damn good frappes.


                          1. re: BK


                            The only burger I've had from O'Sullivans was medium and ended up purple in the middle(pretty unappetizing, i.e raw).

                            If you want the best burger, Bartley's is the quality - been there over twenty times and never had a raw burger or needed to send anything back. The milkshakes and onion rings are outstanding.

                            If you really need booze with your food, then go to O'Sullivans.

                            Bartley's now has the Arnold Schwarzenegger, two burgers with swiss. Terminated

                    4. Well, I'm not surprised the bearnaise burger no longer exists. With a pile of onion strings (a great sponge for the bearnaise sauce) you're talking about a true heart attack on a plate.

                      But damn was that a good meal!

                      1. I haven't been to Bartley's or Sullivan's, so I can't make a proper comparison, but a friend recently took me to the Blues Cafe in Melrose. Had a surprisingly tasty burger there...perfectly cooked, just the right size, and served with homemade potato chips right out of the fryer. Certainly one of the best burgers I've ever had. Anyone been to the Blues Cafe who can compare the burgers to Bartley's or Sullivan's?

                        1. Just had a bacon burger at audobahn circle and it was definately top two in the city, although ive never had tims and refuse to go to bartleys

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: chris

                            Why do you refuse to go to Bartley's?

                            1. re: Linda W.

                              we don't go there because 1)it's usually too crowded and 2) they don't have beer or wine. . .

                              1. re: Linda W.

                                Are there burgers fried? Plus i like more of a pub seen beer and burger

                              2. re: chris

                                Not to be argumentative but to compare burgers is hard if Bartley's and Tim's are off the table. I personally like Bartley's. Been going there for about 35 years. I like it for the variety of toppings. My favorite is extra blue cheese. And also great sides including the cole slaw and rasberry-lime rickey. They do some nice non-burger dishes also like the turkey plate and the meatloaf sandwich. Great place to take kids and it is definitely a unique place. Tim's also is a unique Boston place, but I've never really taken to their burgers. Great combo plate of rings and fries though.

                              3. Another burger for the rankings: Atasca

                                It's a good sized, hand formed patty with Portugese cheese. It's not one of those monsters from O'sullivans and not as crumbly as Bartleys. Everytime I go it's perfectly juicy and tasty. Plus, it comes with their awesome fried potatoes.

                                It's in my top 3. When i want interesting toppings, I go to sully's. #2/#3 is a toss up between bartley's and Atasca. Although, I usually end up at Atasca to avoid the crowds at bartley's.