"I don't want to be a product of my burgers. I want my burgers to be a product of me." - The Wahlbergs, probably.
The often overlooked East Coast cousin of New York City, Boston is perhaps most famous for being home to one of the most prestigious universities in the world, impressions of Leonardo DiCaprio screaming “I AM NOT A CWAWP”, and holding the record for “most bloodshed caused by a rowdy tea party, 1773-present”. It's also where I ended up last week while on a press trip for a forthcoming comedy movie. Having visited the set and shaken some celebrity hands, I found myself with a spare few afternoon hours to while away in the city that bore Elle Woods’ Alma Mater, the film that finally earned Martin Scorcese an Oscar for Best Director, and the physical embodiment of manifest destiny.
So, what did I do with a free afternoon in the city that gave us Facebook, the classic “cranberry juice? What are you on your period?” GIF, and the smoking gun for the American Revolution? I made my way to the only site of historic or cultural significance I cared about... Wahlburgers.
For those of you living under a rock (with wi-fi), Wahlburgers is a burger joint owned by, you guessed it, the Wahlbergs: Mark, Donnie, Paul, and their ma – stars of Ted, New Kids On The Block, and... well, the Wahlburgers TV show, respectively. If the Kardashians are the most famous family on the West Coast, the Wahlbergs have the East on lockdown.
Nestled in the shadow of Fenway Park, the chain has a handful of restaurants, mostly dotted around the East Coast, where it could easily become just another fast food joint (though, granted, the only one with a reality show based purely on a high profile pun). But here, in its home town, it’s an institution. Obviously to understand Boston, I had first to understand Wahlburgers, and what better way to understand Wahlburgers than to rate every Wahlburger on the menu?
From the moment I walked in I was overwhelmed by just how Wahlbergy Wahlburgers is. The menu proudly proclaims each Wahlberg’s favourite Wahlburger. The walls are covered in a pantheon of Wahlberg portraits, posters, and paraphernalia. It’s a wonder they even bothered to be honest, they could have just scrawled “Wahlberg” in Marky Mark’s excrement and I’d have been paradise, but for the sake of sanitation I’m glad they opted for a broader appeal.
Standing in front of the order bar, I wondered if this was how Michelangelo felt when he first laid eyes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a bare canvas pulsing with potential energy, begging to be made kinetic, a spectre of greatness clamouring to be brought into the world – only burgers. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and walked on. The conversation went a little something like this.
“Good evening, sir. Welcome to Wahlburgers. What can I get you?”
“Hi, so this might be a... I’m a journalist you see and I need... Can I get one of everything?”
“The burgers? Can I get one of every burger?”
“OK? So you want... it’s my first day... can you wait here? One of every burger?”
“Let me just... OK... I'm gonna need a manager.”
Anyway, after a while I was given a seat by a nice woman called Katie, and my future was laid in front of me – 10 parcels of hope that I hoped might help me understand the truth of what it means to be a Wahlburger. There was nothing left to do but dig in.
1. Portobello Sandwich
“House marinated & roasted Portobello mushroom cap, white cheddar, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, lettuce, tomato & Paul’s signature wahl sauce.”
The thick mushroom “patty” (a whole, juicy portobello mushroom) makes you feel like you're being healthy, if you ignore the mountain of cheese and onions on top. The bun’s not quite as sweet as a brioche, or as bland as an Asda value six pack – the Wahlburgers bun is perfectly functional. Fillings go in. Hands go around. Mouth goes chomp. Good buns are like like oxygen, or good wi-fi coverage: imperceptible, but essential, and you only notice it when it's lacking.
They should really change the name of this burger to the Fried Onion Sandwich, though, because they're all you're gonna notice while you're chowing it down.
2. BBQ Bacon – Donnie’s Favourite
Here we, here we, here we fucking go... the main event, the moment we’ve all been waiting, the first taste of what the Wahlbergs consider to be the perfect beef patty. The moment I sink my teeth into this medium rare masterpiece, I whip out my phone and quickly edit the default wiki picture for “patty”, updating it to reflect Paul’s singular vision. Melt in the mouth meat, this beef can only have been bred by the sort of farmer who didn't grow up fearing mad cow disease or cutting costs to keep up with supermarket prices. Thanks, Tesco.
The avocado? White cheddar? Jalapeños? ALL IRRELEVANT. The only thing that matters about this burger’s toppings is that it contains the best bacon I’ve had in my entire fucking life. Crispy, yet succulent, this is Hollywood’s own bacon, the sort you see in family dramas being placed lovingly on a child’s scrambled eggs by a doting parent. It is the alpha bacon, and I can see why alpha Wahlberg Donnie loves it.
3. Melt Burger
“1/3 lb. burger, served between thick-cut bread & grilled with ‘government’ cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, HOUSEMADE pickles, & mustard sauce.”
With this burger, you have the choice between eating the grease-imbued slice of bread with a knife and fork, or actually interacting with it with your physical, literal hands. Like the difference between ordering a drone strike and pulling a trigger, dissociation makes a fundamentally horrible experience a lot more palatable.
I have no idea what makes “government cheese” special (but if it’s anything like the Tories it can’t be trusted with your health or well-being). The Wahlbergs lay on a signature layer of onions, but any flavour in this burger is overwhelmed by the torrent of grease oozing out of the bun. Late night kebabs. Salted caramel profiteroles. Eating an entire tub of Cookie Dough B&J in one sitting. Some things are worth health scares. This burger is not worth the heart palpitations. Steer clear.
4. The Thanksgiving Day Sandwich – Mark’s Favourite
“Fresh ground seasoned turkey burger, stuffing, mayo, HOUSEMADE orange-cranberry sauce & roasted butternut squash.”
God bless Paul Wahlberg trying his best to make turkey anything other than a meat people only eat out of misplaced loyalty, but my god is this terrible. Dry. Unsatisfying. Classic turkey. What are you thinking, Mark?
The only respite from the overbearing dryness of the turkey patty on offer is a layer of sickly sweet orange cranberry sauce, which does nothing to relieve your artificially-induced thirst. Like a sailor throwing an anchor as aid to a drowning shipmate, it makes the situation worse if anything.
5. Crispy Haddock Sandwich
“Seasoned panko house breaded Haddock fillet, lettuce, tomato & HOUSEMADE balsamic tartar sauce.”
Imagine a thicker, crispier, chewier fish finger. If that sounds good to you, then cool. It’s definitely the simplest sandwich on offer, and feels almost half-arsed compared to its fully loaded burger brothers. But as Einstein said, genius often lies in simplicity, so maybe a bit of salad and tartar sauce is actually the best burger combo? It’s not though, is it? Einstein’s an idiot, I reckon.
6. Jenn’s Chicken Sandwich
“Seared chicken breast, caramelized onions & crispy onions, lettuce & HOUSEMADE honey-garlic mayo.”
Hands down one of the best chicken burgers I’ve ever had. Succulent on the inside, flame seared on the outside – think Two Face from Batman Forever but the slaughtered carcass of a once sentient bird.
Also, despite having more onions per square inch than anywhere on Earth, this burger was surprisingly easy to eat. Either the addition of the crispy fried onions acted like a stabilizer, or I’m becoming a total pro.
7. The Fiesta Burger
“1/2 lb burger dusted with HOUSEMADE southern spice mix, topped with jalapenos, lettuce, pepper jack cheese, HOUSEMADE salsa, chipotle mayo, & pickles.”
We all know a Kev. Kev is an old school friend, the kind who used to wear off-white briefs on swim day, and squirt milk out his nose when he laughed his shrill stupid laugh that attracted the attention of the big boys and the bullies. Now he can't eat a single meal out without demanding hot sauce, and calls you a pussy when you order a korma. Kev is committed to heat, the feeling of blood rushing to his face, the trickle of sweat running down his brow, the nightmarish four or five minutes six or seven hours later when his bowels eventually evacuate a torrent of excruciating, capsicum-embued excrement into his completely innocent toilet bowl that truly makes him feel like a man. Like his soon to be red raw throbbing anus, Kev is an arsehole. Kev would love this burger.
8. The O.F.D. (Originally From “Dorchestah”) Burger
“Originally from “Dorchestah” 1/2 lb. burger, Swiss cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms & HOUSEMADE tomato jam.”
I’ve eaten things you people wouldn’t believe; an entire family bag of Chewits scrunched up into a ball and eaten like an apple; high street Christmas meal deals blended into a savoury smoothie; in my infancy I often shamefully snaffled my own snot. But, in all my years of being a regular eater, I have never had anything quite like this burger. The crunchy bacon. The soft mushrooms. The sweet tomato jam and salty Swiss cheese. It all slots together so perfectly! Well done, Paul. Well fucking done.
9. The Triple Decker House Burger – Paul’s Favourite
“THREE 3 oz. burgers, lettuce, tomato, onion, ‘government’ cheese, Paul’s signature wahl sauce & HOUSEMADE pickles.”
Imagine the The O.F.D. Burger, but even bigger. If you went up to a stranger in the street and asked them to draw a burger off the top of their head, you’d definitely be ignored. But if you managed to find someone either mind-numbingly bored, or desperate to believe every unusual public occurrence is part of a Punk’d-style prank show, this is the burger they’d draw (before excitedly screaming “where are the cameras”). Cheese. Lettuce. Tomato. Pickles. Onions. Burger. Classic.
No mushrooms, though. You could say that this burger has... mushroom for improvement. Because it doesn’t have mushrooms, and mushroom is a homonym for... ah, forget it.
10. The Beast Burger
“TWO 5 oz. burgers, lettuce, tomato, pulled pork, HOUSEMADE blue cheese sauce, pickles & BBQ sauce.”
Imagine the Triple Decker House Burger patty, but the most burger you've ever seen in your life. Sure, a lump of pulled pork, blue cheese sauce and pickles sounds like the greatest combo in the world, and you know what, for the first two seconds it was absolutely biblical. But, as with Lot at Sodom & Gomorrah, my dreams quickly turned to a pile of salt. That sentence makes perfect sense if you replace “dreams” with “tastebuds”, because nothing will ever grow on my tongue again after the sodium battering it just went through.
I know the Wahlberg family is pretty huge, but just because they could make a burger big enough to feed all nine of them doesn't mean they should. I am just one man, and I have been bested by the beast.
I just ate 10 burgers. That’s 10 times more burgers than anyone should feasibly try to eat in a single sitting. Two would be greedy. Three would significantly weaken Adam Richman from Man vs. Food’s unique bargaining position in his next contract negotiation. But, thanks to sampling 10 times the recommended serving size of delicious, (sort of) nutritious burger, I can announce there is one winner: The O.F.D. (Originally From “Dorchestah”) Burger.
Chewing on the The O.F.D. Burger, I can imagine Wahlmama standing over the grill, lovingly flipping 11 patties, one for each of her children, her husband, and herself. I can feel the sunshine glint across my eyes, reflected from the cool can of beer gently perspiring in Wahldaddy’s hand. I can feel the breeze blow through my hair as I roughhouse with the nine Wahlchildren, reenacting the last inning of that weekend’s Red Sox game. Is this what it means to be a Wahlburger?
When J. Robert Oppenheimer successfully tested the atomic bomb, it is said that he quoted Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” When Paul Wahlberg successfully assembled the The O.F.D. Burger, it is said that he whispered: “Now I am become Wahlberg, destroyer of other non-Wahlberg burgers, look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.” He transcended adages. That’s how good the The Originally From “Dorchestah” Burger is. The sign in arrivals at Logan Airport should read “Welcome to Boston, home of Harvard, The Departed, American Independence, and Wahlburgers (try the The O.F.D. (Originally From “Dorchestah”) Burger)”.
So next time you’re find yourself in Boston, take some time to take the D to Kenmore, walk those five glorious minutes through the shadow of Fenway Park, and walk into Wahlburgers, head held high, and order the The O.F.D. (Originally From “Dorchestah”) Burger.
Then say hi to your mother for me...