It’s clear what all the fuss is about
It can be interesting to track how some restaurants become popular spots while others never become household names. In some cases (such as, say, Hojoko in the Fenway), the places have a ton of anticipation before they even open and they never seem to lose that momentum once they’re up and running, while others start relatively small (think Tatte or Flour) and then start to expand, introducing their outlets to more and more people over time until everyone seems to know about them.
And then there are those like A&B Burgers that have humble beginnings but catch on for any number of reasons, in this case transforming from a little-known restaurant in an obscure location to a big name that’s suddenly located in the heart of Boston. A recent first look at A&B sheds some light into how this may have happened and why the future may continue to be bright for it.
Back in late 2013, a restaurant called Great Escape was leaving its rather unusual home on the ground floor of the Salem Jail complex on the North Shore, being replaced by a brand new quick-service burger and beer place called A&B Salem. Its out-of-the-way location on St. Peter Street made it a bit of a hidden gem, but its days of obscurity appeared to be over when owner Thomas Holland and former co-owner Amy Constant decided to move the business out of the jail, leaving in the summer of 2015 and reopening in a larger and more visible space in Beverly in early 2016—and also becoming more of a full-service restaurant in the process.
A&B quickly started to take off in this location, being known for its inventive takes on burgers and other dishes while also placing a serious focus on service. As its reputation started to grow, there were rumblings about a second location coming—possibly to Boston—and in the spring of 2018 it was announced that a new A&B Burgers would be coming to the North Station/West End area of Boston, ironically in a residential building across from the Garden called the Beverly. The restaurant debuted approximately three months ago, and A&B officially went from being a counter-service spot in a hidden North Shore location to a front-and-center dining and drinking place in one of the hottest parts of the city.
The new location of A&B Burgers is in a part of Boston that seems to be changing by the week; what was once a gritty and at times dangerous area decades ago has now changed almost to the point of being unrecognizable but still with pieces of the “old” Boston in place. And unbeknownst to some, the area around North Station actually has a waterfront, but it wasn’t really being used for much until recently, so the upgrading of the areas along the Charles River (near where it empties into Boston Harbor) combined with the development of Lovejoy Wharf and Portal Park and the opening of such waterfront places as Alcove and Night Shift has turned this into a bit of a destination spot, with A&B right in the heart of it. (By the way, when you drop down from the Zakim Bridge into the O’Neill Tunnel, you can see the restaurant front and center just before going underground.)
The new location of A&B is a mix of rustic and industrial, with high ceilings; lots of exposed brick, pipes, and beams; and a mix of wood and wood-colored vinyl helping give the space an earthy feel. A large bar and lounge area sits off to the right while a dining room can be found to the left. As might be expected with such an open space, the restaurant can be whisper-quiet when few are there but very, very loud when busy—and if you don’t like busy places, it might be best to come here on an afternoon when there aren’t any Celtics or Bruins games taking place, and no special events at the Garden for that matter.
A number of classic comfort food items can be had at A&B Burgers, but perhaps because of its name—or maybe because of the unique way they are made (more on that in a minute)—it seems that the burgers are really the main thing here. The all-natural meat used here comes from a farm up in Maine, though premium Wagyu meat from Colorado is also available for a slightly higher price. The burgers are made using a special kind of oven called a CAVP that allows them to be slow-cooked and have moisture added to the meat while the patties also get finished with a sear on the outside.
Based on a couple of burgers tried here, it seems pretty clear what the fuss is all about, since the two burgers were among the best tried anywhere in the Boston area over the past couple of years at the very least, which is saying a lot considering how many burgers that includes. Beyond the burgers, a number of small plates and entrees are also offered at A&B, including such “elevated comfort food” standbys as scotch eggs, baked brie, cheese and charcuterie boards, fried Brussels sprouts, house-made potato chips, pork chops, and chicken and waffles. The beer, wine, spirits, and cocktail lists are extensive and pretty impressive, especially when a few adult milkshake options are added to the mix. Prices are generally moderate for food and drink, with the burgers mainly being on either side of $15 depending on toppings and whether you go for the Wagyu, which will bring the price up to around $20.
A&B Burgers has come a long way from its rather inauspicious beginnings north of Boston to its star status in the heart of Boston over the course of the past several years. It should be interesting to see what’s next for the place, as it has the feel of a restaurant that could continue to expand to at least one or two other locations (or maybe even more). Time will tell as far as that is concerned, but for now, the brand new A&B by North Station has a pretty special feel to it and will also need to be tried for its other food items at some point, that is if it’s even possible to get beyond its exquisite burgers.
A&B BURGERS, 115 BEVERLY ST., BOSTON. ANBBURGERS.COM/BOSTON