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Devra First Dines in the Backroom; Luke O'Neil Tours Hard Rock's World of Burgers

Plus, Globe staffers find cheap eats in the burbs.

The Backroom
The Backroom
Katie Chudy for Eater Boston

This week, Boston Globe critic Devra First visited Waltham's Restaurant Row, Moody Street, for one of the biggest draws: meat. Specifically, she tried the new Backroom, the restaurant connected to the acclaimed Moody's Deli & Provisions, which chef Joshua Smith opened in 2013. With "links and haunches hanging from the ceiling," the metallic dome of a wood-fired oven visible, and "sports car-slick" meat slicers on display, it's something of a food paradise.

To start, First tried "awesome" meatballs, made from scraps of "great" cuts of meat doused in tomato sauce and cheese. "They eat like a steak," she writes. For a salad course, First's frisee is actually memorable, thanks to the Backroom's well-proportioned caramelized shallot vinaigrette, duck confit, and a soft-cooked egg. The charcuterie boards are generous, and First hails the chicken liver mousse as "the creamiest, most wonderful" version.

A flatbread offering pays homage to a popular sandwich from the deli next door: The "savory and tangy" Katz features house-made pastrami, Swiss, sauerkraut, and Dijon aioli. A different flatbread, a carnitas version, lacks balance, First says. A couple pasta dishes miss her mark, too, and a few large plates come out dry, tough, or overly rich, she notes.

But overall, the dining experience is refreshing, and First awarded the Backroom two and a half stars from a possible four. "With so many small plates and cerebral concepts on current menus, it is a tonic to just eat food, really good food: salads and flatbreads and steaks ... What a pleasure."

Also in Waltham, Globe critic Ellen Bhang visited the new Brelundi last week. The Italian eatery, located just beyond the commuter rail tracks, offers three meals daily — hence the hybrid name.

The eggplant-and-tomato appetizer caponata is "an excellent version," as is the caprese salad. With more than 30 flavor possibilities for arancini, the fried rice balls are available for breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Brelundi. Breakfast versions are filled with Nutella, or egg and cheese. Meat, peas, and Fontina cheese, as well as a spinach and Monterey jack version, are satisfying, Bhang writes.

For larger courses, a calzone has a yeasty, crisp crust, but the ham and cheese interior is "a tad too salty." The texture of the eggplant parmigiana is mushier than the writer would prefer, "but the flavors are pure comfort food." Repurposing side dishes, like beef meatballs or pork sausages, as quick, weeknight dinners or as a sandwich with some of Brelundi's freshly-baked bread, is an appealing take-out option, especially for the commuters passing by.

Catherine Smart, also writing for the Globe, visited a Vietnamese and Thai spot in Woburn. Cilantro offers a "cool and fiery-hot" papaya salad, which can be tweaked for the diners' preference on heat. Dishes from chef Jill Anektanasap's kitchen include an "addictive" Chicken Gra Paw, with ground chicken, sauteed bell peppers, and onions in a savory basil sauce.

A disappointing miss is the staple pad Thai: Smart finds it to be "a disappointing clump of noodles with flecks of egg, chicken, and overcooked shrimp." Vietnamese dishes also lack "sparkle" at Cilantro, according to Smart. The vermicelli noodles in a pork bún are too hot, and a pho is "so salty it’s almost guaranteed your rings won’t fit the next day." Service is pleasant, and with more refining of the dishes, the heart of this neighborhood restaurant will prevail.

Finally, roving writer Luke O'Neil tours the world through the burger menu at Hard Rock Cafe in the pixels of Food Republic. At each Hard Rock Cafe — more than 200 locations in 59 countries — chefs are given freedom to create hamburgers that reflect the area's culinary traditions, O'Neil writes. One hundred fifty of those burgers appear on menus worldwide this month for the chain's special World Burger Tour menu, and O'Neil went to the Faneuil Hall location to try the four offered there.

He begins with the Schnitzel burger, a sandwich of breaded pork cutlets, bacon, sauerkraut, and spicy brown mustard.

I pull out the knife skewered into the overflowing pretzel bun like Excalibur, set aside the tiny German and Hard Rock toothpick flags and send my face on a trip to the birthplace of Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa. The sandwich is overstuffed and falls apart on the first bite, but it tastes quite good.

Next up, O'Neil orders the haggis burger, which the Hard Rock staff note has been the toughest sell. Served with Monterey cheese, a whiskey maple glaze, and "turnip frazzles," the greasy haggis overpowers the other flavors, O'Neil writes.

An Andean burger, a native of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, is "the best-looking of the bunch by far." O'Neil likes the gooey egg on top, but laments that avocado slices get lost in the fray of too many toppings. It is with this burger that it dawns on him ordering cooler than medium rare may have been a good idea, as a firmer patty may support the toppings better. It is also with this burger that the meat sweats hit O'Neil, as well as serious ennui. "I’ve made a huge mistake, I tell the bartenders, whose curiosity about my experiment has shifted and who now regard me with pity."

While drudging up the courage to try the fourth a final burger, a creation from Guam, O'Neil orders a cocktail "made with Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, Chambord, vodka, sour mix and Sierra Mist. It tastes like the things that were used to make it." But when he finally takes a bite of the last creation, it "defibrillates me back from the beyond. Unlisted pickles and red onions are crisp and sharp and are, at this point, the best thing I’ve tasted all day. The burger is tender, and the cheese isn’t overwhelming. The glaze is lightly spicy and tangy."

He takes "a hamburger-whore's bath" afterwards in the Hard Rock restroom, then politely declines dessert.

Brelundi

16 Felton St, Waltham, MA 02453 (781) 788-8805

The Backroom

468 Moody St, Waltham, MA 02453

Hard Rock Cafe Boston

22-24 Clinton St, Boston, MA 02109 (617) 424-7625 Visit Website

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