When a burger buddy suggested this as a place to try, I formed a quick mental impression based on the name alone. Rustic and precious, with "local" and/or farm names sprinkled all over the menu. The kind of place that's fantastic if the ingredients are used right and the concept is truly embraced and not just marketed.
Located on a busy stretch of Newton Center just across from the train station, Farmstead Table turned out to be as precious as expected (menus on wooden tablets, anyone?) in the tight dining room that features popular-at-the-moment thick, aged and heavy wood tables that nail the rustic requirement. The small bar on the opposite side of the entry sports equally-popular-at-the-moment silver high stools straight out of central casting.
Buttered, toasted, flaky Brioche is the choice here, and it's paradoxically one of the fluffiest and one of the densest. That's because its domelike height forces you to compress it for each bite. It winds up being a lot of bread, but it's pleasant otherwise.
First look reaction: This is a very tall, very thick, nearly spherical patty, and one that doesn't reach the outer diameter of the bun. The grilling got a decent crust on it without blackening it or adding the tell-tale stripes, but the menu revealed the method of cooking as well as feeding: grass fed. Another one of those buzzwords that carries all kinds of connotations, and for me it means there's a good chance the burger's going to be dry.
First cut reaction: Bisecting the burger for ease of handling and to get a good look at the cross section revealed trickling juices that became free flowing upon a (required) squeeze of the bun. It also revealed tight construction with mixed doneness across the patty: the center was medium rare to rare; much of the perimeter had the gray meat of medium to well done—which was well over what it should have been for a burger ordered medium rare.
First bite reaction: "Now this is gamey." Not in a bad way, but in a very noticeable and interesting way, and I have to say, in an enjoyable way. Unlike some grass fed beef examples that evoke veal or poultry, this tasted like beef—just a different brand of it. Seasoning was light. Texture didn't jive with the running juices, as the meat seemed exceptionally dry. Those juices were coming from a small subset of the burger, and they had to moisten a much larger volume of meat and bun. There simply wasn't enough juice to handle the tall order. Moreover, the beef had an oddly firm consistency, as if burger mortis took over. It's possibly a reflection on the blend or the patty construction, but the cooking (overdoneness or a lower, slower approach) may have contributed most. For someone who's as into the feel of the meat as much as the flavor, this lack of gentleness and "give" can be significant.
All of the toppings deferred to the burger, as the refreshing gaminess sang loudest. The thick cut "New Hampshire" smoked bacon was a highlight, adding just the right combination of crispness, moistness, pliability and chew, along with salty, smoky and sweet. The smoked Swiss (changed up from the previous smoked cheddar, and from a different state) was well melted and certainly not problematic unless you count lack of smoke, but there seemed too little of it to really tell—and too little of it to flavor the supplied volume of meat and bun.
The Fries (and Such)
Fries: Skin-on, mid-sized and minimally salted, the perfectly crisp fries brought more starch
Salad: A baby greens salad can be substituted; mine was a pile of
leafiness dressed so lightly that a doubling of the condiment would
still keep it lightly dressed. Not exactly a huge deal, but this was merely an ordinary offering—especially when compared to the salad with the burger at The Gallows—and a bit of a disappointment for a place with farm-to-table ideals.
The Bottom Line
I liked the flavor of the beef and the flavor and feel of the bacon, but for a burger in the burbs that's $15, there were too many problems, however small. The Boston Globe's Devra First called this "a great burger" and that could indeed be the case if formed looser and flatter, if cooked properly, if cheesed more generously and if Bucholz stays healthy. There's certainly no shortage of flavor. My visit missed the mark, but I wouldn't rule out a revisit—I'd just rule out any priority being attached to such a visit.
Other Opinion/ Info
Boston Globe review of Farmstead Table
Yelp reviews of Farmstead Table
Urbanspoon reviews of Farmstead Table
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