Remember Orbit Billiards, on the corner of 14th Street and University Avenue? Well, Boylan Heights, an upscale burger joint with a prep school theme, took its place in August.
Presenting itself as a "gourmet burger bar," the offerings are quirky and fun. For instance, there's A "green eggs and ham burger" and, in a playful nod to Pulp Fiction fans, there's a "Five Dollar Shake" for just $4.
Patrons place their orders on custom bubble forms with #2 pencils. It's a cute touch but not necessary, in particular if you blocked out much of high school as I did due to poor testing. Melamine plates and bowls are reminiscent of cafeteria trays, yet the décor is dark and industrial.
The dismal economy has me thinking about comfort foods and low prices. Perhaps in response to diners reforming their spendy ways, signature burgers are priced at $6.99 plus just $1 (previously $4) for the addition of fries and drink.
Build your own burgers are $7.50, reasonable considering that toppings include grilled Vidalia onion and Maytag blue cheese. It seems more than a bargain compared to the quality, and I almost worry about that the prices are too low for the business to succeed, although college town wallets are another thing Boylan Heights must contend with.
I first visited the restaurant in early December, around 7:30, on a Friday. The restaurant was far from packed, probably due to finals. A handful of undergrad girls sat huddled in coats sipping waters as they waited for their checks. A couple guys chomped away at the table behind me. One actually let out a belch, apparently oblivious that anyone was nearby. Indie rock hits from Belle & Sebastian, Elliott Smith, and Wilco blared. The music set a relaxed tone while the volume provided an odd contrast. On a more mellow song, the bass buzzed weirdly. I had to shout across the small table.
We started our meal with corn dog bites. The Hebrew National franks each came pierced by a toothpick; the batter was thin, dark, and flaky and came accompanied by huge portions of ketchup and brown mustard. The big chunks of dog lolled around the bowl a little awkwardly. A piece of paper lining the bowl would have kept them in place and allowed the excess oil to drain away. Still, they were good and didn't last long.
A Boylan Heights burger comes one way (medium), so some aficionados may be unhappy. The quality ingredients stand out, though, and local Angus beef comes to the table tender and juicy. Turkey and veggie burger options are also available.
In early December, The B.O.M.B. (Burger of the Month Burger) was really a post Thanksgiving turkey sandwich on white bread with cranberry sauce, and stuffing. The accompanying mashed potatoes and gravy were a little gluey but did the job.
Packaging is not an afterthought; rolls are fresh and soft, containing the burger and filling without taking over. The menu includes typical sides like fries and slaw plus– get this– a deep fried potato salad. I have no idea what I imagined, but, encased by a golden brown exterior, the salad stayed cool on the inside with a clean mustard flavor.
Upon my second visit, I noticed the addition of a huge painting inspired by the film Rushmore. In it, the main character, Max Fischer, poses in front of the boys choir. The opening scenes of the film show Max involved with every club at the prep school. We quickly learn that he's over-extended and about to flunk out.
Bbq nachos were a filling twist on the traditional bar favorite. The sturdy chips stood up to a hefty topping of pork, fresh jalapenos, beans, cilantro, and lashings of sour cream. Tomato salsa seemed doctored by a bit of sugar it didn't need. Two hungry people really didn't make a dent in the portion, more fitting for a crowd.
Meating Cancelled is one of the vegetarian options on the menu. The house veggie burger, made with quinoa, black beans, corn and zucchini, arrived golden brown on a soft multigrain bun accompanied by greens, sprouts, feta, tzatziki, olive tapenade, and roasted red peppers. Cucumbers added crunch and contrast to bright flavors.
On its own, the burger had a nice, crisp outside and balanced flavor. Kudos for making their own burger, but the soft filling squeezed out the sides when I picked it up to eat, and it lost its shape. The burger featured a multitude of Mediterranean flavors but could have gone lighter to showcase the burger itself.
Green Eggs and Ham, a beef burger topped with ham, fried egg, tomato, pesto and provolone was served on an English muffin. Bursting with flavor and dripping with pesto, I was surprised that the combination worked— at least for the first few bites. After it started to cool, it lost a little bit of its appeal.
In Rushmore, Max Fischer is troubled by the idea that glory fades. The easy answer? Perhaps do a little less. Next time, I think I'll design my own burger.