Give Bobby Flay credit for keeping his latest restaurant’s menu affordable. In an era in which celebrity chefs are cashing in on name recognition with sky-high prices at their self-titled establishments, no item at Bobby’s Burger Palace exceeds $8.50. Of course, the namesake says not to give him too much praise.
“If you want to spend a lot of money at my restaurants, I have opportunities for you to do that,’’ Flay says with a laugh. “I have six high-end restaurants where the check averages are about $75-$85 a person. When we first opened [Bobby’s], people were surprised that the food was fairly simple, not in the gourmet burger department using artisanal buns and grass-fed meats, and that burgers weren’t $22. I wanted to be able to touch basically anybody.’’
Indeed, the crowd at this fast-casual Burlington Mall spot, nestled between Legal Sea Foods and Rainforest Café, is mostly shopping-weary parents, excited children, and canoodling teenagers. It’s a bright and lively space that doesn’t serve alcohol, another draw for families.
Though Flay was wary of going “retro,’’ the restaurant feels a bit like a cross between a vintage diner and a Fuddruckers. Upon entering, customers order at a counter before seating themselves at one of several serpentine tables that snake through the space under swaths of warm, California colors.
This is the 14th Bobby’s Burger Palace, a venture Flay owns jointly with his longtime business partner Laurence Kretchmer, and it’s the micro-chain’s first foray north of its location at Mohegan Sun Casino. It was opened with some trepidation, as Flay doesn’t yet know how Bobby’s will be accepted by Greater Boston, which he refers to as an “unknown market.’’ But if you’re a shopper looking for a meal that’s affordable and still a cut above the food court, this is a fine option.
Burgers are inspired by Flay’s travels across the country and are named for those cities and regions. Philadelphia burger ($7.75) doubles for a cheesesteak, with provolone cheese, griddled onions, and a mound of hot peppers. Miami burger ($7.75) is essentially a Cuban, a pressed sandwich with ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and mayo. We devour both quickly.
LA burger ($7.75), which Flay says he tends to eat most frequently, combines watercress, cheddar, thickly sliced tomatoes, and avocado relish that’s too heavy on black pepper. Similarly, Santa Fe burger ($7.75), topped with queso, pickled jalapenos, and bits of blue corn chips, is also too heavily peppered. And while Napa Valley burger ($7.75) comes artfully decorated with a ball of fresh goat cheese, watercress, and Meyer lemon-honey mustard, unfortunately the goat cheese overpowers everything.
For no additional charge, any burger can be “crunchified,’’ which is Flay’s personal touch. “I’m a burger guy, but they’re always missing one thing. It needs a contrast of texture,’’ he says. “You can argue that you can get that with a crisp onion or some coleslaw or some lettuce even, but I wanted something even more distinct. So I was like, how about just thin crisp potato chips on the burger? It just makes it way more fun to eat.’’
While all the burgers fall under $8, that price doesn’t include fries or sides, which are an additional $3. Beer-battered onion rings, which are enormous, stand out from the other options of fresh-cut fries and sweet potato fries.
Perhaps the best item at Bobby’s Burger Palace is the milkshake. At $5 it is relatively steep in price compared with the rest of the menu, but these shakes are worth it, pumped full with 11 ounces of ice cream, real ingredients, and no fillers. Diners have the option of adding house-made whipped cream, which we suggest.
Bobby’s Burger Palace doesn’t make any false claims of being a high-end restaurant, nor does it charge like one. This establishment knows its customers and sets prices fairly. So while it’s not necessarily worth a trip from Boston for its own sake, after a day of shopping, it’s a welcome respite.