The new Craigie Burger really began 10 years ago at Tony Maws’s place in Central Square, Craigie on Main, when restaurants were creating burgers with proprietary combinations of meats that promised more flavor (and were priced higher than we’d ever seen). The chef put the same attention into the burger that he did into other items on his celebrated menu. He mixed cuts of grass-fed beef, including brisket, to make a patty with real beefy, juicy flavor. It’s the kind of taste that drew Americans to burgers in the first place. Needless to say, few today are made with this care.
Maws’s Craigie on Main creation, stacked with aged Shelburne Farms cheddar from Vermont on a lightly griddled sesame seed bun, with pickles, celeriac slaw, and a barely sweetened ketchup, all made in-house, came into the national spotlight when it was featured on the cover of Bon Appetit magazine. Maws explained recently that he receives a limited supply of the grass-fed beef and cannot produce more than 18. If you are the 19th customer to order a burger at Craigie on Main, tough luck. You can imagine how coveted those 18 servings became.
Now you can get all you want at Craigie Burger in the Time Out Market Boston in the Fenway. In June, Maws, with two seasoned restaurateur partners — Nick Zappia, co-owner of now-closed Blue Room and Belly Wine Bar, and Michael Leviton, former owner of Lumiere and Area Four — began producing close variations of the famous stack.
Time Out Market is a beautiful, light, open, industrial space (snap photos of where you’ve parked under it; it’s not as massive or maddening as the Pru, but along those lines). Enter the old Sears building at the front door and you’ll find the burger counter at the far end of the food hall, near the Brookline Avenue entrance. Eateries run along the perimeter of the space, with wide community tables across the center. You order at the counter, get a beeper, find yourself a drink at one of the market’s bars, and settle into a table.
There are four burger options at Craigie, all fashioned from sustainably grown beef that is ground and mixed especially for them by Northeast Family Farms, an arm of Dole & Bailey in Woburn. You can order the OG, the closest to the Craigie on Main original. Buns are now produced at Iggy’s, patties are topped with an upstate New York sharp cheddar, pickles (made for them by Maitland Mountain Farm) and celery root are alongside. The ketchup is tangy. This is an astonishingly good burger, the 6-ounce patty perfectly done to medium — bright pink inside, juicy, meaty, delicious. If it’s a bit different than the one at Craigie on Main, I don’t mind. Fries are chunky and crisp, sprinkled with garlic chives and togashari, a Japanese chile pepper mix. (All burgers are $16; fries $5; chili fries $9).
The Special burger is topped with Swiss cheese and a Russian dressing pureed with kimchi. The third, a “steakburger,” recalls steakhouse treatment with its charred onions and steak sauce tucked into the bun with cheddar. These, too, are exceptional. What’s surprising is that you’ll never reach for salt and you don’t really need the ketchup. These are all umami bombs.
A fourth burger, which is bunless, might be the most interesting. It sits on a bed of freekeh, roasted wheat popular in the Middle East. There are sprouts in the bowl, along with celery root, shredded red cabbage and carrots, radishes, and greens with a Banyuls white wine vinaigrette and more of that slightly piquant kimchi Russian dressing. The crunchy bits on top are furikake, another Japanese mix, made with toasted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, nori, salt, and more. The beefy juices from the patty mix with the dressing on the vegetables and with all that crunch, you may never need a bun again.
What’s striking here is the trouble the trio is taking to start with the most familiar American casual dish and turn it into something remarkable. It will delight the Red Sox crowd and hospital workers nearby, but other diners who care about food will make this spot a destination.
In late July, Maws closed his second restaurant, Kirkland Tap & Trotter in Somerville, a casual place that also offered burgers, after six years. He won’t say why he closed or whether this burger counter is a template for more to come, but writes this in an e-mail: “Nick, Michael, and I are having a blast with this project. Time Out Market has been a tremendous place to see if we could successfully serve a high-quality, delicious and sustainably produced burger. We don’t know what the next chapter is.”
A friend who goes to every new restaurant in and around Boston told me recently that burgers are over and that we should be eating less meat, environmentally speaking. I agree about less meat. I strongly disagree that burgers are passe. They’re beyond trend. Re-creating familiar, even cliched, dishes with brilliant ingredients is the way forward now. If you crave a burger, this is surely the best around — unless, of course, you can get to Craigie on Main before Number 18 is delivered to another table.
Craigie Burger, Time Out Market Boston, 401 Park Drive, Fenway, Boston, craigieburger.com