When Time Out Market Boston opens in Fenway in June 2019, the food hall — part of a growing Lisbon-based chain — will feature a number of Boston’s best chefs and restaurants. On the list: Craigie Burger, from Craigie on Main and Kirkland Tap & Trotter chef and owner Tony Maws with two other longtime industry vets, Nick Zappia (of the now-defunct Blue Room in Cambridge) and Michael Leviton (founder of Lumière in Newton, which he sold in 2016).
The burger at Craigie on Main has long been recognized as one of the best burgers in the Boston area, one of the early stalwarts of the high-end burger scene. There’s a sort of mystique around it because it can be difficult to get — there are only 18 available per night, and there’s often a line to get one.
So how does the elusive Craigie on Main burger make the jump to Craigie Burger, a counter-service spot in a sure-to-be-bustling food hall? Read on to dive into the Craigie Burger menu, which will feature three burgers — one of them in the spirit of the Craigie on Main burger, but not an exact replica — and more.
The burgers: The Craigie Burger menu includes three burgers — the Craigie “OG,” the Special, and the Steakburger, each $16. The Craigie “OG” is based on the famous Craigie on Main burger — similar in structure, but with changes that allow for the necessary volume at the food hall. This isn’t an 18-a-night situation; not everything can be made from scratch in-house.
“Compromise is not necessarily a bad word,” Maws told Eater, “but in this case, it doesn’t apply at all to anything that’s taking a step backwards. We’re taking this to a different venue that’s going to have some volume. We want to show people that you can actually serve real food, grown by real people — the same ethos that Michael, Nick, and I had in all of our restaurants — and not have to compromise that at all, just think differently about the production model.”
That means collaborating on the bun with Cambridge-based Iggy’s Bread, as opposed to making the bun in-house, like the team does for the Craigie on Main burger. The Craigie Burger pickles are based on the Craigie on Main pickles but made at Maitland Mountain Farm in Salem. The cheddar — used on the Craigie “OG,” the Steakburger, the Craigie Chili Fries, and the Bowl — comes from Adams Reserve in upstate New York; at Craigie on Main, the burger features cheddar from Shelburne, Vermont.
The beef comes from Northeast Family Farms. “Very locally raised; this is the real deal,” said Maws. “We didn’t go for commodity, mass production, or cheapest cuts.”
One thing that’s the same between the Craigie on Main burger and the Craigie “OG” burger is the ketchup. “We’re making it in-house at Craigie on Main because we love the Craigie ketchup and people do too,” said Maws.
Where the Craigie “OG” takes after the Craigie on Main burger, Craigie Burger’s Special burger takes after the Kirkland Tap & Trotter burger, featuring Swiss cheese and kimchi Russian dressing.
“But before [Kirkland], it’s really based on what we grew up with,” said Maws. “The idea of Russian dressing and Swiss cheese melted on meat is kind of our heritage. I’m a Jew; I grew up around here, and my dad is from the Bronx. We would make pilgrimages down to New York City to have deli; I would always get Russian dressing, melted Swiss cheese, pick the meat — tongue, pastrami, something like that. The sum is greater than the parts even though the parts themselves are all pretty fantastic.”
At Craigie Burger, the Special shares ingredients with the Craigie “OG” — same patty, same bun, same bibb lettuce. The kimchi Russian dressing adds a bit of funk. “Umami really goes with beef fantastically,” said Maws.
The Steakburger features a burnt bread steak sauce that has “a good balance of acidity and salt and funk and that burnt yeasty bread flavor,” said Maws. “You just want to slather it on a whole bunch of different things.”
It’s also topped with the Adams Reserve cheddar, plus charred onions marinated in malt vinegar and Worcestershire. “It’s umami on top of umami on top of umami, and really steak-y,” said Maws. “It makes you think that you’re in an old-style, cigar-smoke-filled steakhouse.”
The fries: There are two fry options — the Craigie Fries ($5) are seasoned with togarashi and garlic chives, while the Craigie Chili Fries ($9) are topped with the Adams Reserve cheddar and a four-chile chili (containing burger meat). Add bacon and/or an egg to either for $2 apiece.
The fries are sizable wedges, an “old-school steakhouse cut,” and they’re tossed in melted butter, “because why not?” Maws said.
“We’ve settled on a french fry that is pretty darn close to what we do at Craigie on Main, and we’re really excited about it,” Maws said. “I love the texture; you really feel like you’re eating a potato. We’re not making this the ubiquitous fry, the fry that you pop in your mouth being like, ‘It’s okay, but I’ll just keep eating because they’re fries.’ These things are bomb.”
As for the Craigie Chili Fries, the chili is “rich and deep in flavor,” said Maws, and “not super spicy.” Texturally it’s almost “like a Bolognese.” There’s burger meat, spices (cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, cinnamon, etc.), coffee, ground tortilla chips, and a combination of beans.
The bunless option: For those who prefer their burger without a bun, the Bowl is no afterthought — the patty is nestled on a hearty combination of freekeh, greens, sprouted legumes, cheddar, red onion, furikake, and Banyuls-shallot vinaigrette (“a mustard-y, bistro-y vinaigrette,” said Maws), and the additional egg and bacon options are in play.
Here’s the full menu:
“Michael, Nick, and I were talking about doing something together because we’ve known each other for a really long time, and we thought at this point in our lives and careers, it would be really fun to work with each other,” said Maws. “Our original conversations centered on how to show that real food can be served at a competitive price outside of a Craigie, Blue Room, Lumière setting. We’re all madly in love with what we’ve been able to accomplish and proud of each other’s restaurants, but there is this way that people eat without having to have the whole Craigie-type experience, so could we do that and still not compromise any of the values we consider to be non-negotiable?”
“When Time Out Market called,” Maws continued, “they said they’d be interested in having the burger in the market, and my first reaction was no — the Craigie burger is the Craigie burger. Sometimes I can get a little bitter and jaded about the whole thing, but it is what it is. Then I started to think about it, and I brought it to Nick and Michael to see if we could find a way to check all of the boxes that we really wanted to be able to check in a project — source it the way we want, enter this arena at a different price point and still be able to look ourselves and people in the eye and be honest and have integrity about it.”
“We want to challenge the idea that fast food has to have a lot of compromises. We’ve been having a blast trying to connect the dots on how to make this burger accessible to a wider range of people, and I think we’re going to successfully accomplish our goal. We’re really pumped.”