This is another of what I hope will be frequent departures from my usual review of barbecue joints throughout New England and New York. My first love was and always will be the burger, in all its forms.
Corey's Catsup and Mustard is the creation of local restaurateur Corey Wry, a Johnson and Wales graduate who also owns Pastrami on Wry. Located literally on Main Street in downtown Manchester, this upstart gets a lot less pub than another burger joint across town, probably because there are no neon signs, no antique ice cream stools and no food mavens (at least none named Stern or Motz) to sing its praises. But that doesn't stop two dozen customers from waiting outside the door prior to the 11:30 opening on my Saturday visit; the joint is at least 3/4 full well before noon. The space can't seem to decide between bright family atmosphere and high-topped, TV-focused bar atmosphere, but the middle ground works. Besides, that's all secondary to the burgers.
There's only one kind of beef patty, and that doesn't get too much mention, but the approaches regarding condiments and buns are myriad. Appetizers include sliders, wings and ribs; sides include onion rings and fries with or without flavorings.
For a Saturday lunch, a burger buddy and I split the "7" (peppercorn crusted twin thin patties, bacon, brisket, American cheese, onions, lettuce and tomato on a sesame seed bun) and the "Auntie Laurie's" (bacon, lettuce, tomato, horsradish cheddar and house-made mustard on a pretzel bun).
7: This one had a bun straight out of central casting, not much different from the platform of a McDonald's quarter pounder. Higher quality and less industrial, but you get the idea.
Auntie Laurie's: The pretzel bun had the color and flavor of a brown pretzel, minus the salt. The texture was more akin to brioche or challah, only a little more dense, with a similar egg wash brightness to the crust. Although slightly wrinkled, it tasted very fresh and clung to the burger well.
There weren't any issues and certainly no blandness, but these burgers were less about the beef and more about the bread and condiments. Both burgers were cooked as ordered; both were moist without being juicy.
7: Cooked to the recommended (for that burger) well-done because of the patty thinness, this was heavily peppered "au poivre" style and had a serious crust.
Auntie Laurie's: Cooked to "pink" (the only three choices are rare, pink and well), this seemed to have less seasoning, but the mustard made it hard to gauge.
7: A thick dressing added some spiciness that amplified the black peppercorn's bite, and its creamier-than-creamy consistency was a smooth counterpoint. The bacon was long, naturally dark (but without even being close to being burnt) and simultaneously crisp and chewy. Lettuce and tomato were mere filler.
Auntie Laurie's: That house-made mustard was sweet and sour, and its tartness was the dominant element, with the pretzel bun (finally it hits me: pretzel and mustard) standing up to it more successfully than the beef and the surprisingly obscured horsradish cheddar. Although that mustard came across as more vinegary than mustardy, I really enjoyed the abundance of whole grains that popped with each bite. Bacon had the same positive qualities as on the previous burger.
First, the onion rings: small of ring, smooth of batter and devoid of seasoning, these had "frozen" scribbled onto my mental notepad even before the first bite (after which I added a mental underline). Fortunately, the salt and vinegar fries were a huge step up. I wanted assurances that they'd have dry seasoning and not be a wet soggy mess; our server assured and delivered. These had plenty of salt and a refreshing tartness from the vinegar that didn't overwhelm. The texture was fascinatingly chewy in a good way, leading me to eat more than my share.
The Bottom Line
If I want burnt cheese that looks like the Flying Nun's headgear, I'll head to that other burger joint in town. But if I want an interesting burger—whose beef is admittedly its least interesting component—I'll head back to Catsup and Mustard. Maybe not soon, but someday for sure.
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