It's a below-average cold day in Brookline as the search for a good burger starts in Washington Square — which means that it's perfect weather for consuming meat, fries, and a pint of beer. The day starts at The Fireplace, a restaurant with a menu steeped in New England tradition. Last year, it threatened to shutter, making way for the first Massachusetts location of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, but now it's here to stay. We're lucky to snag a table right in front of the namesake fireplace. It's still within brunch hours, and indulging in The Fireplace burger seems only appropriate. The grass-fed patty, served atop an English muffin, is loaded with toppings, including local Shelburne Falls cheddar cheese, crisp bacon strips, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, garlic-dill pickles, and kale chips. Oh, and there are fries, too. It's a good burger — juicy, salty, and creative. It does not disappoint.
The next spot, The Publick House, is known for its extensive beer list, offering hundreds of varieties that stretch across all reaches of the globe. It also has a good burger with a choose-your-own toppings approach — and a vast list of adornments, at that, including items like truffle ketchup, beer mustard, cheeses, meats, and vegetables. The burger comes with fries, and naturally, a beer must be ordered. It's inching into mid-afternoon territory, but the restaurant is packed, boisterous, and lively. In one corner, a group of people are loudly watching a lacrosse game on their iPad, almost in the same fashion as if it were the World Cup. Every couple of minutes, the table erupts in a roar of cheers or boos.
Onward and across the street to The Abbey. It's a more subdued atmosphere but lively nonetheless. At the bar, burgers are a popular order and seem to fly out of the open kitchen every couple of minutes. A gaggle of women seated by the window all order side salads and round after round of French fries and diet cokes. They are gossiping and giggling like girls around prom time. The rest of the bar hums in light conversation and soft laughter.
It's reaching evening, and the sun is just starting to set. Washington Square Tavern is next on the list. They've just opened, and people are starting to trickle in. We secure a seat in the bar area, right in front of the window; a burger is ordered. The bar area starts to fill in more, and within 30 minutes, half the bar is eating — and only burgers. The burger arrives with cheese, caramelized onions, an iceberg lettuce leaf, and a slice of tomato. A pile of fries joins the burger, which is well-seasoned and meaty, on the plate.
As we move on down the road to Coolidge Corner, evening starts to turn to night as we order a burger at Lee's. It's the cheapest of the lot thus far and is served fast-food-style. It's busy, with teenagers and a couple of families making up the most of the population. The burger is exactly what you'd expect from a fast-food place, a thin, griddled patty topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pickles, all on a sesame-studded bun and wrapped in a foil-lined parchment paper. A young high school age couple that sits a couple tables away looks like they've been there for hours. They flirt like crazy and can't seem to stop. They sit close, their burger wrappings in front of them.
Lastly on the list, the burger at Lineage. It's fully nighttime now, and it's busy. The table to the right is ordering a full round of appetizers, and no one is sharing, but they are all interested in what the others have ordered. The burger arrives, and it's fantastic. A thick and juicy patty is blanketed by pepper jack cheese and crispy fried onions. It's tucked into a soft, house-made bun that offers a sweetness. Pickled vegetables on the side are a great addition to the mix, and the fries are perfectly cut into batons that rest in a pail. They are extra crispy and have a center resembling mashed potatoes. It's the most expensive burger sampled on this meaty tour through the center of Brookline, and it's worth every cent.
Brookline may not often be thought of as a burger haven, but an afternoon strolling down Beacon Street, sampling the offerings of one of America's most iconic dishes, proves that there are many great choices in a variety of settings.