Big Papi's Grille, open in July 2009, is named after and partly owned by Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. It's located in the former Desmond O'Malley's and Metro 9 space and is co-owned by the same group that ran those restaurants. There's plenty of wall space devoted to Ortiz and Red Sox stars past and present. There are also a few strategically placed televisions (mostly playing endless loop Ortiz highlight footage), but not enough screens or screen size to qualify it as a pure sports bar. Big Papi's Grille seems to be a cross between sports bar and Rat Pack style steakhouse.
Big Papi's Grille's something-for-everyone menu is pretty easy to navigate. A dozen appetizers cover all the bases, with two soups, a chili, three meat-dominant items and six seafood items. There are five appetizer salads and five entree salads (also available in smaller portion) that add meat or seafood. Burgers include veggie, turkey, beef and Kobe beef, along with a slider trio of beef, lamb and crabcake. Steaks feature sirloin, ribeye, filet mignon and rack of lamb, with choice of sauce and optional add-ons such as blue cheese crust, shrimp scampi or lobster tail. Seafood entrees include salmon, mahi mahi, plaintain crusted cod, ahi tuna and a chef's special. While I wouldn't call any of it a steal, the prices struck me as reasonably affordable for a celebrity-owned restaurant or a high aspirations steakhouse.
A friend and I stopped in on opening night. Since we're both burger aficionados, we scouted the burger roster: chimichurri burger, sliders, Kobe beef burgers.
The "At Bats"
We blurred the line between appetizer and entree, so rather than split those up and save the sides for their own sections as I normally do with the barbecue reviews, I'll just describe each item as it came to the plate, keeping a box score along the way.
1. BAJA CHICKEN EGG ROLLS
This $8.50 menu item was one of many opening night $5 appetizer specials, so we chose this to preceed the burger tour. It wound up being a single egg roll cut in two pieces, with generous scoops of guacamole and pico de gallo nestled in endive (the "En Fuego" hot sauce listed on the menu as an accompaniment was missing). The crunchy egg roll shell dominated the bits of chicken and black bean that hid inside. If the regular $8.50 menu version includes two egg rolls, this "$5 special" wasn't so special. If the regular version also only includes a single egg roll for $8.50, I'm bringing agent Scott Boras with me if I ever come back.
The outcome: sharp ground out to a shifted infield.
2. TRIO OF SLIDERS
Unless that's all the restaurant does, sliders are overrated in that you're basically trading away quality for variety. And if all the sliders are the same, you're trading away quality for nothing but novelty or mere sharability, and you'd be better off simply sharing a full burger (splitting one burger four ways as an appetizer is one of my signature ordering strategies). Knowing that going in, we ordered the sliders anyway because it was the only way to get the crab and lamb varieties, which aren't available on their own.
All three of the sliders' patties were small compared to their sesame studded mini buns, but the pebbly beef patty exhibited the most shrinkage, the most dry-outage, and a serious outage of flavor. The lamb patty, topped with plum sauce, had a refreshing gaminess and real juiciness to the meat. The crabcake, topped with a dollop of a spiced aioli, had the most flavor of the three (including a little heat) and had a nice texture, even if a little loose.
The chimichurri sauces promised on the menu were not on any of the burgers and not anywhere on the plate. The fries were abundant and flavorful but limp.
The outcome: with some corrected mechanics, this one could go over the fence, but as delivered, just a shallow fly to right.
3. CHIMICHURRI BURGER
I love Chimichurri sauce on steak, so I had high hopes for this burger ($10). We purposely ordered this one early in the game so we could work our way up to the Kobe.
Our first full-sized burger arrived naked on a well-toasted ciabatta bun, prompting us to wonder where the chimichurri was. It turns out that the patty is made with the chimichurri mixed with the meat. It added a little flavor, but this burger was just plain dry and just plain plain. With no ketchup or other toppings on the table or the plate, this one had to rely on a nicely roasted tomato to provide moisture. If they added a healthy dose of chimichurri sauce on top of the burger as a condiment, that might have made up for the flavor and texture deficiencies. On a technical note, the burger didn't skimp on size (no stats listed but I'm guessing 8 ounces), but its diameter fell short of the bun. The rice we ordered with this one never showed up—we instead wound up with another round of limp fries.
The outcome: strike out, swinging.
4. KOBE BEEF BURGER
The Kobe burger ($13) can be customized with choice of cheese, bacon and assorted vegetable and sauce toppings. I ordered mine with cheddar, bacon and caramelized onions, and I received bacon, sauteed mushrooms and an unidentifiable cheese. The size of the burger, the inclusion of toppings and the generous amount of fries make this a good value. This burger, ordered medium rare, was juicier and more flavorful than the previous round. Despite the topping mix-up and some incredibly limp bacon to go along with the once-again limp fries, this was a good burger. Not memorable or worth a quick trip back, but good.
The outcome: ground ball up the middle for a single.
Overall: 1 for 4, with not much power. Just like with Big Papi's 2009 on-field performance, an early stumble doesn't necessarily mean a lost cause, but things could be a lot better.
It was opening night, so some mix-ups should be expected. Despite some technical issues, the service was extremely cordial the entire night, from the valet attendant (a complimentary service) to the hosts to the managers to our server to the other servers who also helped out.
I should add another comment on the fries, which carried some good flavor even though the texture was off each time. You can choose among plain fries, sweet potato fries, truffle fries and rosemary fries. If executed to better crispness, they'd push the dishes they're a little closer to warning track distance.
Overall, I like the place, but even with some imaginative extrapolation for potential improvement, the food (or at least the burger lineup) doesn't hint at a home run streak.
The bottom line: For the type of restaurant goer who thinks Papa Razzi is a good choice for Italian or PF Chang's is a good choice for Chinese, Big Papi's Grille is a good choice for upscale casual. For everyone else, it might be better to wait until the slump is over.
Urban Spoon reviews of Big Papi's Grille