(11/29/12) (11/30/12) (12/05/12) (12/15/12)
Plunked down in the Assembly Square Marketplace diagonally across from Christmas Tree Shops, Burger Dive is a semi-fast food burger joint (their website calls it "upscale fast casual") from the same ownership group as Papagayo, Dylan's and Sip Wine Bar. It's easy to get to from I-93.
Comparisons to Five Guys and Shake Shack are inevitable, so please pardon the inevitable references below. Also please pardon some of the redundancies as I describe bacon and toppings in more than one place.
You order over the counter, get a number and they call you when it's ready (as at Shake Shack and Five Guys). The order is served in a plain brown bag (Five Guys) with the burger nestled in wax paper (Shake Shack). Martin's potato rolls are not only used (as by Shake Shack) but proudly displayed as a badge of honor behind the ordering counter, and even more proudly "branded" (literally and figuratively) with the Burger Dive logo. Combo deals aren't exactly nonexistent (Shake Shack, Five Guys) but aren't exactly flexible and aren't exactly deals. A nice technical innovation is kiosk style ordering (more like Sonic) that allows you to bypass the line that can be lengthy at peak times and slow moving in the early going (less due to staff and more due to the many questions).
In addition to beef, Burger Dive offers turkey, chicken and veggie burgers ("panko crusted portabella"), along with hot dogs, three different salads, nearly a dozen hand made shakes and a few different desserts. No beer.
Martin's potato rolls are used as housings for both the burgers and dogs. Like a poor man's brioche, they're incredibly soft, slightly sweet without getting too crazy and the perfect pillowy complement to the griddled beef when constructing a west coast or fast food style burger. Toasting with just a hint of butter adds an extra level of richness.
I like to think of Martin's potato rolls as the bun equivalent of actress Goldie Hawn: fun, unpretentious, somewhat overlooked, lasting much longer than you'd think and able to make even a mediocre vehicle (movie/burger) at least bearable if not mildly successful. Maybe that's what makes the inconsistent burger here quite doable (no comment on Goldie here) even on an off day.
On the preliminary version of the Burger Dive website, the beef was billed as "all natural," but that's as much info as they give you. Based on repeated taste tests, I don't see this as a special blend, but the 50/50 beef/bacon patty used in the Bakoneator and Blue Burger have a nice depth of flavor and inherent saltiness that you rarely find at a joint of this ilk. I was expecting Bacos or the like, but the bacon is cut in house from slabs. I'd peg the patty size at around 3.5 ounces. The burgers are griddled, with contraptions looking like butter dish lids placed atop the burgers during cooking to create a makeshift oven. As for the cooking, you can't request a particular doneness. A few examples hit tender and juicy medium, but slightly more often the patty has been cooked closer to well done, leaving it dry. The meat is generally well seared, slightly bouncy and lightly salted.
These are mostly a strength, at least relative to other fast food joints. The vegetables are fresh, if a little cold. The pickles are sliced to make them long enough to occupy much of the sandwich. The cheese is user selectable, with the meltage varying from light sweat to near liquid.
The most controversial topping is the bacon, which is not strips but instead chopped up bits. I like the concept in theory, and the bacon is real, not a Baco-like processed item. But for a $1.50 add-on there should be a lot more of them.
The arsenal of pumpable sauces extends the toppings' condiments division. The signature Dive Sauce is similar to ranch; the Chipotle and the Old Bay aioli have more body and flavor. It seems like they're adding a new sauce every time I visit.
50/50 Bakoneater: I'm guessing the folks at Wendy's took issue with its previous name ("Baconator"), but I don't take issue with the patty composition that mixes fresh diced bacon into the beef patty before cooking. Like most of the Burger Dive creations, the Bakoneater ($6.49) comes LTOP'd (prounounced as a word, almost like "hilltopped") with lettuce, tomato, sliced raw onion and pickles and cheddar cheesed. This is probably their best burger, based on relative simplicity and the meat blend.
UltiMelt: This interpretation of a patty melt ($6.99) still uses the Martin's potato roll (I was guessing bread) and loads the sandwich with Swiss cheese, caramelized onions and caramelized onion juice that gushed out with every bite. The beef got lost in the shuffle.
Burger Dive Classic: This is the basics only, with LTOP ($4.99) or with LTOP and cheese ($5.49).
Kiddie Burger: Not listed on the original menu, this one ($3.99) is not only as simple as it gets but $1 less than the base burger for the build-your-own option. I tried one on a recent visit to isolate the beef. Unfortunately, they overcooked it to the point where it was very dry, but you can see the jumbly patty construction. As for the beef, it's billed as all-natural but tastes no different—unless you get one of the 50/50 options that include finely cubed bacon in the patty—from any other fast food burger.
Blue Burger: This one ($6.99) lists bacon, but a careful study reveals that it's the 50/50 patty that includes bacon in the mix—alas, there are no strips here. The LTOP doesn't overwhelm the patty as much with the 50/50 blend, and the "blue cheese fondue" makes it moist and works well in the ensemble.
Burger Dive ups the ante on the hot dogs, pairing Pearl franks with Martin's long rolls. The toppings are a bit heavy, but the griddle-lubed Pearl shines flavor through effortlessly, nestled in the reliably soft Martin's bun. The dogs are arguably a better bet than the burgers based on both pricing and sourcing.
The Fries (and Such)
Fries: Listed on the menu as thick, the fries ($2.99) are indeed fatter than the McDonald's style shoestrings but more svelte than the Five Guys steak fries model. They've got skins on and taste homemade, with decent crispness and decent salting. They're not the potatoiest fries around or dazzlers in terms of rugged flavor, but the overall package of the fries plus the many complimentary dipping sauces—especially the Old Bay aioli for me—is a winner.
Crispy Onion Petals: They're easy to miss on the menu board but not easy to forget: instead of rings, the battered fried onions here ($3.99) are mini bowls formed by the natural curvature of the onion. This arrangement makes them a natural for dipping into one of the sauces from the pump station (again, I recommend Old Bay aioli) and also gives them a little extra thickness to stand up to the batter. About the batter: crisp, lighter than it looks, more than a little greasy, tentatively seasoned and a bit startling in orangy color. But a guilty pleasure on the right day.
Pretzel Coated Petals: Also known simply as PCP ($3.99), these take long slices of pickle and coat them with nothing more than crushed pretzels before a swim in the vat. The result is a crispy, chicken fried consistency, with flavor that seems like it has more seasoning but doesn't. Another candidate for dipping and another greasy, guilty pleasure.
Potato Chips: Homemade, thin, crisp, well seasoned and the best value ($1.99) of any of the sides, these also make a great vessel for the sauces.
Chocolate Shake: Hand made with scoops of Richardson's ice cream instead of the chemical-laden premix that the chains use, these shakes ($4.99 for basic, $5.99 for specialty) are thinner and taste more homemade but lack the flavor intensity of the competition's.
If you opt for a burger, fries and either a drink or cookie, you get a bit of a price break, but generally speaking, everything's about 20% higher than it should be.
That said, it seems management has noticed, as some of the menu items dropped in price by up to a dollar (Onion Petals, Blue Burger) within the first month.
The Bottom Line
The dogs are a surprise hit, the sauces are myriad, the staff is friendly, the sides are a departure from the ordinary and the beef is sometimes a little too ordinary, but the buns and the best examples bring them up past doable.
Your enjoyment of Burger Dive will depend on two things: how much of an emphasis you place on pricing, and how much you've built the place up in your mind as Boston's latest burger messiah. If both are significant and you make a special trip, you're in for a rocky ride. But if you happen to be in the area and want an admittedly expensive guilty pleasure that's a step up from the chains, you'll do just fine.
Other Opinion/ Info
Yelp reviews of Burger Dive
Urbanspoon reviews of Burger Dive
||'Like' PigTrip BBQ Reviews on Facebook to keep up with all of the reviews and much more content not available on the site.