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Flat Patties has gotten it right (long, mildly philosophical)

I haven't been into Flat Patties for a couple months, because I'm rarely hungry when I'm in Harvard Square. But this afternoon was so freakishly nice that I kept walking after running my bank and post office errands and found myself in Harvard Square and famished.

But first, the backstory: by both birth and family roots, I am a Texan. Texans are born with a certain set of core beliefs, and most of them have to do with food. (One important non-food one is that no one born in New Haven, Connecticut who went to Philips Andover and Yale can pass as a Texan, no matter how much brush he clears.) Foremost among these beliefs is what constitutes a hamburger, and the Platonic Ideal for Texans is different from the Platonic Ideal for New Englanders. (In my own case, the PI would be the cheeseburger at the late, lamented Navajo Inn in Menard, Texas.) The burger patty itself must be wide in diameter and, crucially, flat: flat enough we find the ongoing Boston Board debate about whether this restaurant or that will serve a rare burger is ludicrous. This is a burger that's going to be cooked medium no matter what. So, obviously, Flat Patties has been on the right track from the very beginning.

The bun, like the burger, must be a minimum of five inches in diameter. It should also look like a hamburger bun. (And frankly, here is where FP's primary competition for my burger ideal, Grille Zone, falls short: that's a sandwich roll, not a hamburger bun.) Crucially, the bun must be toasted, preferably on the same griddle the burgers are cooked on. (Yes, griddle. Grills are fine, but the most ideal burgers are griddled.) The condiment is basic yellow mustard. No ketchup, mayo or secret sauce. The vegetables are lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles, preferably in that order of application. The cheese is *maybe* a mild cheddar, but ideally a basic deli-style American, and it is melted onto the top of the burger after its final flip.

The resulting burger is subtly but crucially different from the Boston standard, and as a result, I hadn't had a truly transcendent burger since moving here about five and half years ago. Several have come very close, but until this afternoon, not one has had the Proust's Madeleine effect. But today's cheeseburger, ordered with mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles, was just exactly it. From the first bite, it was exactly the burger I've been missing all this time.

I feel a certain pride of ownership on this point, because at my last visit to Flat Patties minus one, sometime last spring, I had a long conversation with the guy who runs both FP and Felipe's (which, eh, but that's another story), and we talked at some length about my Platonic Ideal of burgerdom, and how he could help bring that to fruition, and on my last visit, I was happy to see that some of my suggestions had been implemented. This visit, after an absence of at least three months, shows tremendous further improvement, and it has taken Flat Patties from a good burger with strong potential to, so far, the single best burger I have yet had in New England. Naturally, other folks have different conceptions of the Burger Ideal, but this place has successfully filled a desperately necessary niche in the local market.

Now to convince someone to open a New Mexican restaurant and an okonomi-yaki house...

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  1. I too think it's really good and while I like a flat patty, feel that this one is just a little too flat. Have yet to have double burger, but would like the single to have a little more oomph.

    1. There is a place in Bridgeport, CT that serves what I would consider to be the closest to your ideal - griddle cooked, thin patties, cooked well but still juicy, the fixings you listed and as you said, a toasted bun from the same griddle...

      Tomlinson's - http://www.hotdog1.com/

      Standard disclaimer - I have not been there in a while, and I hear that the hot dogs that made them famous aren't quite the same, but maybe the new griddles have finally been seasoned. Also, the burgers just barely meet your 5" diameter rule, but otherwise, I bet you'd like em.

      (Side note: OMG, they have a website - I knew that they had upgraded significantly to have seating, but it used to be just a hut in a parking lot, with seating on the curb or your car.)

      2 Replies
      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        Mangia Mangia is what I tend to think of when I want a burger along this lines. The bun is larger than a supermarket hamburger bun, but it is a hamburger bun and grilled. Inexpensive, griddled to order, etc. And if you can't stand O'Sullivans, then head to Sully's in Southie (better for their dogs, but it seems poetic). In New England I think a lot of flat patties were turned into "cheeseburger subs" maybe in Greek grinder shops, which there are some decent ones around, but it fails your bun test (some roast beef places have taste cheeseburger subs) and toasting means a few minutes in the pizza oven. Pretty close to Allston/Brighton you have Celebrity on Mt Auburn which has such a burger, although I can't remember if they griddle the bun. Believe it or not, but some tony Yacht clubs serve up decent thin burgers. I enjoy thick burgers, possibly more, but a round patty was never exclusive in this area.

        1. re: itaunas

          Your cheeseburger sub comment reminded me of the little place near the train station in downtown Waltham that does up cheeseburgers, etc. Can't remember the name...I think it's still open....

      2. I haven't tried Flat Patties, and I don't have a strong position one way or the other on flat versus fat burgers (I prefer fat, but have enjoyed some great flats in my time, too). However I do have a strong reaction to your position on yellow mustard. I strongly believe that the ideal burger condiment is Heinz ketchup. I will defend to the death your right to favor yellow mustard. However, It's just hard for me to get wrapped around the yellow mustard thing. My goodness, Texas is different.

        3 Replies
        1. re: FoonFan

          I'm a midwestern girl, and I fully agree with the yellow mustard position. The combination of American cheese, mustard and pickles makes for a perfect flavor combination. (With cheddar, I'd agree that ketchup is better, but then I generally try to avoid cheddar on my burgers...) I'm also a big fan of Flat Patties' special sauce though.

          BFP, you make a lot of good observations about the burger culture here in New England. Maybe that's why I rarely end up ordering burgers here, but whenever I go back home the first thing I do is run to Steak & Shake...

          1. re: cambridgejen

            Like FoonFan or cambridgejen, I'm also not a fan of yellow mustard unless that's all they've got. I'll choose brown mustard every time, be it Gulden's, Grey Poupon, or something else. Also not a fan of American cheese as it doesn't taste like anything to me. Also prefer a thicker burger, so it can potentially be cooked less than medium. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

            1. re: bachslunch

              Although to be fair, I think cambridgejen was coming out in favor of yellow mustard. I have nothing against brown mustards -- and actually prefer them for most other applications -- but on burgers I'm a bit of a purist.

        2. Ah, that explains why my husband, who is from Texas, has to hit Whataburger (double meat w/jalapenos) the minute we land when we visit family.

          I think he'll like Flat Patties - thanks for the suggestion!

          1 Reply
          1. re: Rubee

            I have been known to do the same: I'd argue that there's been a slight decline in quality there over the last ten years or so, and I've found that locations that are in-state generally are more reliable than those in other states (closer to the home office and on a tighter rein, maybe?), but Whataburger is the only fast-food chain I've found that consistently delivers what I'm looking for in a hamburger.

          2. No rare = not a burger. More like elementary school cafeteria food.