Working in Worcester, I'm constantly asking people where to get a good burger. Ralph's Chadwick Square Diner is one answer that comes up a lot—both as one to try as soon as possible and one to avoid at all costs.
It's a decades old joint near downtown Worcester more famous for its drinks, entertainment and late night escapades (and freakazoids) than its menu, which has a burger and chili and that's it. The downstairs bar in the original diner has old wooden booths and an extra long set of bar stools with farm animals on the cushions. The add-on sections—with two more bars—are funky, with odd lights, unusual art, mannequins and antique relics that would be equally at home at the Halloween Outlet a few miles away. The upstairs bar has even funkier decor and a stage for live entertainment. Outdoor bar tables made out of entire doors laid horizontally are a summer option, with a roofed-in area to the side just in case.
Nothing special here, just a storebought Kaiser. A lot fresher than I expected but nothing to get excited about. Maybe a little too much bread for the beef, but nothing to get concerned about.
Straightforward chuck, straight from the mini fridge to the flame grill. The patties were bigger and more irregular shaped than I expected, so that's good. As the bartender tinkered with the grilling patties I noted to myself that no salting was involved and noted to her that she never asked how we wanted them cooked.
"Oh, that's because they come out differently every time." Hmmm. As she went on to describe, one bartender is responsible for handling all of the downstairs drinks and all of the burger cooking. With such a large place and with such a beverage focus, things can get very hectic.
"But," she added, "most people don't seem to mind, especially late at night."
After some poking and prodding and testing for doneness that left parts looking like a meat version of Tommy Lee Jones, the patties hit the buns. The exterior was a bit charred and greasy; the inside pink and soft. The overall thickness of the burger and minimal waiting time from grill to mouth kept things moist throughout. The plainness of the beef and the lack of salting kept this a fairly ordinary burger, but for late night eats I'm sure this burger would do just fine. And when I say "this burger" I realize that my experience—arriving straight from work as the first customer in the joint—was probably about as good as it gets, with predictable and understandable degradation as the hours proceed.
The burgers are served open faced with lettuce, onion and tomato on the side. Even though the sliced tomato emerged from the mini fridge just moments before hitting the plate, it was surprisingly fresh. Cheese was standard commercial slices of American. Onions are served raw.
The Fries (and such)
No fries are available. I was offered but declined a bag of Frito's corn chips.
Extra friendly service and comfortable environs (at least at this early hour) made for an enjoyable meal.
The Bottom Line
So is Ralph's burger one to be tried or one to be avoided? The burger I tried falls into neither category. If you're nearby and hankering for a thick, no-frills burger with diner-from-another-dimension ambience, go for it. Just don't go too late and don't make it a serious destination burger.
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