Grumpy White's is one of those out of the way places that you're likely to visit only if you're a local or on a mission after having read about it on Boston's Hidden Restaurants or having seen it on the Phantom Gourmet. It's a throwback for sure, with 1970s design sensibilities (even though it opened in the 1980s) and American relics filling not only the menu but the well worn booths as well. Think of it as a diner that doesn't look like a diner, and the home of one of Boston's most interesting burgers. Make that two of Boston's most interesting burgers.
I usually break down a burger by starting with the bun, moving to the meat and finishing with the toppings, but for Grumpy White's it makes sense to start with the meat.
At Grumpy White's the beef blend (if there even is one, as it's probably 100% chuck) is as uneventful as it gets, but that doesn't mean it's an uneventful burger. I didn't realize this on my first visit (when I tried just one out of the two), but there are two different burger styles to choose from.
The "Hot 'n' Juicy Off the Grill" section of the menu features a small patty, billed as 4 ounces, with prices quoted for a Grumpy Double ($7.95 with fries), Grumpy Triple ($8.95) or Grumpy Quad ($9.95), with as many slices of cheese as there are patties. They can be further stacked as high as you want ($1.50 per additional patty with cheese slice), but it's probably best to stick with the double. These patties are griddled on a flat top and given a semi-sturdy crust with vigorous salting. Inside, they're fairly juicy, completing the picture of a throwback burger to parallel the place itself. Beef flavor? I'll get to that.
The "Old Fashion Char-Broiled" section lists an 8-ounce burger, grilled instead of griddled. As with the first version, this one has a good crunchy exterior and even more salting (some may say it's too much, but I say it's just right). It brings that familiar char flavor that is a go-to component for those who like that style, and it's restrained enough that even those who prefer griddled can still enjoy it. That robust surface oomph gives way to a pink interior cooked to desired temp with even more juices than the smaller model.
The bun is a simple affair with slits in the crown that make it look like a bicycle helmet after baking. The simplicity is deceptive, as this bun has a slightly crusty surface and flakiness similar to French bread. Inside, it's lighter and closer to the standard burger bun model. It's griddled with a generous portion—and that's an understatement—of butter that makes it the primary ingredient of the sandwich. Maybe even the primary and secondary. Whether it's a plus or not depends on your expectations and your personal preference. On my first visit, it took me by surprise and was a bit much. On the follow-up, I was expecting it and wound up embracing it, enjoying the interplay with the beef even though the beef got overshadowed. I won't guarantee you'll like this burger, but I guarantee it's one you'll never forget.
Well melted cheese is the buttery bun's co-conspirator that makes these burgers essentially grilled cheese sandwiches that just happen to have beef inside. The flavor that'll stay with you is the buttery griddled bun surfaces and the the gooey melted cheese. I remember ordering bacon, I remember ordering caramelized onions and I remember receiving both, but I can't really remember either in the burger. But boy, do I remember that grilled cheese sandwich of a burger.
I say try both burger varieties, especially if going in with two or more people and have the ability to share, as I did. But if you're hesitant about all that grilled cheese flavor, go with the larger burger that supplies a higher beef ratio.
The Fries (and such)
Fries: Included with the burgers, the fries have bits of skin and are decent enough, but are probably frozen. They have that extra crispy surface that may have come from double frying, but I think they're coated.
Onion rings: The onion rings ($6.95) are a thin, hand-cut clam shack model, generous with the salt and a little too generous with the grease.
Mac and cheese: Grumpy White's mac and cheese ($7.95) is an extremely mild, extremely creamy version that'll keep the kids from feeling grumpy. Ordinary and a little pricey for the portion though.
The Bottom Line
After one visit, I wrote Grumpy White's off as more of a curiosity or novelty than a burger I'd go back for, but after two visits I'm a convert. They've got griddled and they've got grilled. They know how to cook the meat to the right temperature. They know how to get a good sear on the outside without drying out the inside. They understand the importance of seasoning. They might have no atmosphere and they might get a little carried away with the butter, but the overall package is unique at worst and extremely satisfying at its best, as long as you come in with an open mind.
Other Opinion/ Info
Yelp reviews of Grumpy White's
Urbanspoon reviews of Grumpy White's
Boston's Hidden Restaurants review of Grumpy White's
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