Battle of the Burgers
Craigie on Main vs. Radius
When you’ve been craving a burger for two months, a junior bacon cheeseburger from Wendy’s or even a patty from UBurger slathered with mushroom and barbecue sauce won’t fill the bill.
I had to find the best, and some online sleuthing narrowed my targets down to arguably the two most buzzed-about burgers in Boston: the Local Grass-Fed Beef Burger from Craigie on Main in Central Square, Cambridge, and the Burger from Radius in Boston’s Financial District.
Each is crafted by one of the city’s most notable chefs and available on the bar menus of the fine-dining restaurants. They are lauded on the popular food blogs Serious Eats and Grub Street Boston, as well as the review site Yelp, and have received kudos in publications from the Improper Bostonian to the Boston Globe. Radius got an additional boost when it won the 2008 South Beach Burger Bash, the country’s ultimate burger contest, beating out New York’s famous Shake Shack in the process.
But at nearly $20 apiece, are they worth the hype?
Craigie on Main has a cheery, neighborhood vibe, but don’t let the décor fool you. The restaurant takes its food seriously, serving up celebrated chef Tony Maws’ locally and seasonally minded fare. Vintage posters line the walls, and on any given night diners can watch Maws cook in the exposed kitchen.
Radius is a slick, upscale establishment featuring modern American and French-influenced cuisine and helmed by venerable Boston chef Michael Schlow, a former Top Chef Masters contestant. Suited for those in suits, the Financial District spot is dimly lit and sleek, with white pillars in the dining room and gray walls and a shiny black bar top in the bar.
Radius gets its beef specially ground from Savenor’s Market on Charles Street and mixes in extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. The burger is briefly grilled, allowed to rest, and then slow roasted in the oven at low temperature. The result is a flavorful, incredibly juicy burger.
Craigie on Main adds bone marrow and dehydrated miso to its burger. The patty is cooked in a CVap oven at low heat, which helps retain moisture, and then given a quick char on a plancha. It is one beefy-tasting burger, the meaty flavor deepened by the miso and the marrow. My burger was perfectly medium-rare, and less salty than the Radius burger.
The Craigie on Main burger is topped with house-made ketchup, a condiment made sweeter and more flavorful than the bottled variety with the addition of mace, the covering of a nutmeg seed. Watercress, fried onions, and aged cheddar are piled on, and it’s all between a sesame seed bun. What makes this burger stand out is its unusual flavors — the nutmeg in the ketchup, the nutty cheddar, and the miso-laced burger make each bite increasingly complex.
The Radius patty comes smothered with sharp yellow Vermont cheddar and creamy horseradish sauce and is finished off with a massive heap of fried onions and a toasted buttery brioche roll. The overall effect is peppery, salty, creamy, tangy, rich — all these flavors seem to somehow meld into one perfect bite, bite after bite. It’s a relatively simple burger, but the quality and harmony of the different elements make it exceptional.
Radius offers a pot of fries with the burger; a perfect thickness, they are pleasantly salty and crispy. Radius serves traditional Heinz ketchup on the side; this may seem less inventive, but it fits the Radius burger’s overall theme as a classic yet high-quality burger.
Crispy shoestring potatoes take the place of fries at Craigie on Main. They are skinny enough to eat with a fork, or if you’re like me, in messy handfuls. The potatoes are spicy, topped with Togarishi, a Japanese six-spice blend. The burger comes with a house-made pickle and celery slaw — the tart pickle tastes great atop the burger and helps cut the richness of the meat and cheese.
Despite the prices, the vibe at Craigie on Main is homey. And although we sat at the bar, we were treated as if we were ordering from the tasting menu. Our bartender was attentive and knowledgeable about the wine list.
The bar area lighting at Radius is dim, and its upscale surroundings are perfect for after-work schmoozing. The service was friendly, if a little uninformed about the wine list. We were able to snag a high-top table against the window, a great spot to eat.
To wrap up, both burgers were the best I’ve ever eaten. Both are more like gourmet meals on a bun than a simple charred patty.
While pricey — the Radius burger rings in at $19 and the Craigie at $18 — they are a bargain if you consider the high-quality ingredients, the work that goes into each burger, and the generous portions.
So, if I’m in need of a traditionally rich, juicy, cheesy, salty burger, I’ll immediately head to Radius. But if I’m factoring in the exceptional service, warm vibe, and flavors that surprise, bite after bite, I’ll go to Craigie on Main.
Either way, I know my burger craving will be satisfied.
Leah Mennies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments