Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Best Massachusetts Burgers - Part 2

Shake Shack (430 Calories per cheeseburger)

Shake Shack is brand new to Boston; or more specifically the Chestnut Hill Mall area in Newton. This chain comes directly to Mass from New York and preaches great things about their food including, 100% all-natural Angus beef, vegetarian fed, humanely raised and no added hormones and antibiotics. These things are important to my generation health eaters who want to splurge on a good burger every once in a while. In addition to their high quality food source, Shake Shack also boasts 100% of the electricity used is offset through window and renewable energy, waste is properly recycled, most structures inside each location has been constructed from recycled material (table tops are repurposed from old bowling alley lanes), food properly composted and 5% of sales are donated to charitable organizations (think Costco). It’s clear, Shake Shack makes a point to go out of their way to differentiate not just by their food offerings, but by their presence in the community. Ok Shake Shack, you have my attention.
                 These burgers are fantastic. Probably the best tasting burgers I’ve ever-- well they are good! Perfectly cooked, juicy, with the perfect melted cheese to patty ratio. When you take a bite, it’s exactly how you would want a cheeseburger to taste.  You do not need to order a double cheeseburger here! A single patty burger will suffice.  Sure you can order a double, but there is little advantage in doing so. If you are worried about the amount of food you’ll receive, order two single cheeseburgers. The double patty is just big enough to be annoying to eat, especially when it comes directly off the grill. Your first bite will throw hot scorching juices to the back of your month, destroying your tongue in the process. Of course, the alternative is just waiting a few more minutes for your burger to cool, but when you’ve been waiting for 30 minutes for your food, there’s little patience left.

Fries are awful (as awful as fries can be… does that make sense?). They are tolerable fries because there’s nothing really special about them (especially when put up against the rest of the fries on this page) and it reminds me of the fries I used to get in middle school. Feels like they took the fries out of the freezer and threw them in the oven for 10 minutes and served them. In fact, I would go as far to say they reminded me of the old Burger King fries before BK started copying McDonald’s fries. But let’s face it; you don’t come here for the fries. 

Another big differentiating factor that Shake Shack has from other “burger places” is the hotdogs and frozen custard and shakes. All three are delicious menu options that allow Shake Shack to appeal more to families with different tastes in food and deserts. And I mean all members of the family. Want to bring your dog to hang out at the outside patio? Shake Shack offers “treats with those with four feet”, several different types of dog biscuits. The Dapper Dog, an all-beef hotdog with American Cheese and shallots will leave your taste buds drooling while the Concretes and Shakes are the perfect pallet cleanse to finish off a meal. Not a desert lover? Then Shake Shack can offer a verity of beers to wash down your burger and fries. Beer with burgers was once only dreamed of when watching Pulp Fiction. Everything on the menu should be experienced at least once.

I’m not going to say I was “let down” by Shake Shack…the food was definitely good… but when you walk up to the Newton establishment and see a line out the door for a restaurant that you need to order by a counter, it kinda takes the wind out of your sale. So that’s standing in line for 20 minutes, ordering, then finding table to wait for 10 more minutes. Would I drive all the way out to Rt 9 for their food? Not with my other options like 5 Guys and Bobby’s (Review soon to come). If I was passing by would I stop in for their food? Not if I saw the line out the door… like it is EVERYDAY. Your move Shake Shack

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Best Massachusetts Burgers - Part 1

I’m proud of my generation, making a stand against the fast food restaurants that have dominated the region for decades. McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s were the only quick burger options in Massachusetts. But because of this refusal to eat processed meats and the desire for more options than just “would you like fries with that?” the result is dozens of premium burger places popping up around New England and hopefully staying for good. We saw how quickly food fads die when Krispy Kreme came to Medford back in 2003 and promptly left in 2005. Are these burger joints here to stay? I hope so. I also hope their presence makes In-And-Out, Whataburger and Sonic think twice about expanding in the Bay State. These options do not hold a candle to the burning inferno that is the new burger places talked about on this page.
I’ve sampled a few of the new burger places and graded them on the three things I like to see in burgers. Quality of the beef, price, time to wait for a burger and a bonus grade of how good their fries are. Each grade is out of a 5 star system and each cheeseburger was sampled without any toppings or condiments to not skew the reviews. Because let’s face it, if you’re ordering a hamburger over a cheeseburger you have bigger problems than “what do I put on my burger?”

DISCLAIMER: What I am not talking about here are the specialty Boston Burger joints that have been around for a couple years now. That goes for most of the Boston/Cambridge and Somervile Burger places like Park Restaurant, Grass fed, The Gallows, and Charlie’s Kitchen. This write up is for the new chains that will hopefully push out the places listed in the first paragraph.

5 Guys - (840 Calories per cheeseburger)  

I first had 5 Guys back in 2006 down in South Carolina and I was blown away. We just don’t get this kind of burger back in Mass. Since then, there have been 15 establishments that have opened up within 50 miles of Boston and the burgers are just as good as I remembered them. 5 Guys prides their burgers on two facts: no freezers exist in their buildings and there are 250,000 ways to order a burger at a 5 Guys. So that translates to the beef is never frozen giving a fresher, juicier burger and even folks with food allergies can get in on the 5 Guys experience. When ordering a burger, employees will have no trouble cooking a bunless burger for those that have celiac disease and whom are gluten intolerant. They recognize that folks who love burger and do not want to deprive them of good beef. So that means as they are building the burger which you can watch from the counter, they will carry the patty to the tinfoil and pile on the lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles before wrapping it up for the customer. Customers can choose to bring their own glutenfree bread or carry out. There is a great selection of toppings to choose from including different sauces (personally I eat my cheeseburgers with ketchup on the side, dipping the edges of the burger as I choose) including Hot sauce, BBQ Sauce and A1 Sauce??

Cheeseburgers start around $6 but the cost can quickly escalate when you start adding fries and drinks. Don’t be surprised when an order for two order is in the upper $20s. Add Bacon to an “All the way” (meaning all the toppings) Cheeseburger (920 Calories) can cost up to $7.80.A large frie is $4.99 and believe me, a large is freakin huge. I’d recommend sharing even a regular order but boy are they good. Most 5 Guys have a white board on the wall depicting where their potatoes are from. Which doesn’t really add anything to the taste but it’s a nice nod to local produce (where available). The fries always catch me off guard because they are typically smokin’ hot when they are served to you. Crispy on the outside with soft innards. It really is the perfect frie. The other great thing about 5 Guys is the wait. Even when they are busy, standing for your order is not a tiring, aggravating event. There's definitely a reason why it's called "5 Guys Famous Burgers and Fries".

I started with 5 Guys because they have proven to be an all-around great experience in the four areas I mentioned above. Delicious trans-fat free burger, short wait, decent price and Fuxin fantastic fries. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

PAX East 2013 Day 3 - Last of Us Impressions

Last of Us Impressions – This may have been the hardest game to find time to play over the weekend. The Elder Scrolls Online line was LONGER, but since Sony set up shop in the middle of the showroom, the Enforcers were obligated to cap the line so it didn’t spill into the showroom lanes. 30 minutes of gameplay was a nice surprise. Everyone who plays gets a shirt (see swag photo - bottom left) and if you complete the demo, you get a "special prize" (a stress ball in the shape of a brick).

The beginning of the demo opens in a rundown city. Vegetation has taken over and buildings are crumbling. Right away players will get the sense of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, the first time Drake jogs through the jungle in search of El Dorado. The Last of Us also incorporates the same little treasure sound effect when the game wants you to look at something. As you play as Joel, a rugged Mad Max type, you are accompanied by the unplayable 14 year old Ellie and an unnamed older woman.  It is clear right away you and your group are heading for the State Capital (which in the distance resembles a lot like the Boston State Capital). There are rumors a lot of the game takes place in Boston as well as other cities on the eastern seaboard.

The first 5 minutes of the demo gets players in tune with the controls and exploring the map which consists of condemned building and a run down city. Players need to scour the area for supplies such as bandages, ammo, guns, and melee weapons such as pipes and wooden bats. The group stumbles across a dead “clicker” which is a person who has been infected by an outbreak of fungus that has apparently spread across the United States. The fungus turns people into flesh eating zombies; splits open a person’s head, disabling their vision and forces the monsters to make noises with their mouth... The enemies emit a “clicking” sound to use a sonar type navigation for hunting. Clickers are the most dangerous enemy in the game and kill players in 1 hit. The object is to avoid them at all costs. There are a second type of enemy in the demo which act the same way as clickers do, only they are in the early stages of the infection, can still see, and will not kill players in 1 hit.

This is Naughty Dog’s first M rated game and it appears they are pulling out all the stops when it comes to the gore. Watching my friends play the game when a Clicker gets a hold of you, it immediately bites your neck, pulling back strands of flesh off your body. (PS- I didn’t die during the demo :) )

The demo showcases two large areas of the game where players must strategically decide how to take out the enemies. Aggroing them all at the same time is a recipe for disaster. The first area contains 1 clicker and 4 infected enemies. Taking out the first infected was easy. Naughty Dog incorporated a sneaking tactic which allows you suffocate and/or break the neck of enemies to stay silent. Players must then must turn to their backpack and use a combination of supplies they have been collecting and create distractions by throwing objects such as bricks and bottles to lure enemies away and take out stragglers. There are options such as bashing infected enemies skulls in with bricks, shooting them in the head with a pistol/magnum (which will most likely gain the attention of the other enemies) or taking them out silently one by one. When things get rough for Joel, he will go into an all-out fist fight (much like Nathan does in Uncharted) to beat enemies to death. If you are close to walls and other obstacles in the room, Joel will use that to his advantage and throw enemies into walls/objects.

The second area Joel must pass through is what looks to be a subway station. There are quite a few enemies in this area but the game introduces you to molotov cocktails, which if you have not been gathering supplies as you advance through the demo, you might not have enough material to make them. Molotov cocktails are good ways to take out multiple enemies; throw a brick at the corner of an area, watch the enemies stagger over to the noise, throw a cocktail and watch them burn. This area also gives you a shotgun with 3 or 4 shells. Ammo is very scarce cross the game which resembles a lot like the Condemned series. (Speaking of which, why have we not seen a Condemned 3??)

You finally make it back outside which felt like an eternity after exploring the abandoned building and subway station, and there’s a nice little cut scene that will hold players over until the game’s release.

Fans of Naught Dog and new players will love the tone, art direction and action compressed in the tight little package of Last of Us. I don’t think there’s any doubt this game will be a hit. It’s a thrilling breath of fresh air in the zombie craze (if that makes any sense). It’s not going to be an all-out shooter, although it’s possible some stages may incorporate that, the real fun is giving players the option on how to approach situation. Do I attack or do I avoid? Ammo and health kits are scarce. Choose wisely. I for one will definitely be support this game on launch. 
Last of Us is due out June 14, 2013 only on PS3.