Burger Dive is the first restaurant to open in the massive, and much talked about, Assembly Square revitalization project in Somerville. In November 2011, Mayor Joseph Curtatone was quoted describing the mall: “The feel would be the pedestrian feel, the street-scape feel, as you do your shopping down Main Street and any neighborhood square . . . it’s not a mall.” But walking into Burger Dive, which exists as an island, a building in the middle of a parking lot adjacent to a Christmas Tree Shop, it’s clear you are not in Davis Square, or Union Square, or any square that currently exists in the city.
The three-month-old Burger Dive is owned by the Legendary Restaurant Group, which runs several other eateries including Max & Dylans, Sip Wine Bar, and the Mexican restaurant Papagayo. According to Burger Dive manager Michael Ball, if the first iteration succeeds, Legendary would like to expand and open other locations (the group is also slated to open a second location of Papagayo in Assembly Square). For now, says the manager, “We are just trying to figure out what works, what the customer likes.”
The industrial-styled space, with subway tiles, high ceilings, and an 11-sauce dispensary bar — condiments include Old Bay aioli and chipotle mayo —already has the feel of a chain. Service is prompt, and everything is clean, if a little dark and cold. (I mean that literally. Diners are eating in their jackets.)
A cheeseburger classic ($5.49) is a standard ¼-pound patty that comes “LTOP’D” (lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and dive sauce — for those of you not down with burger lingo), popularized by the Food Network’s Guy Fieri. The burger is decent, ground Angus beef cooked to medium, but it doesn’t have much flavor; the dive sauce adds moisture and some seasoning. It tastes a little like a pale imitation of the Animal Sauce at In-N-Out Burger, the beloved West Coast chain. A potato roll, which is toasted, is branded with the name Burger Dive, which is a cute touch.
A “50/50 Bakoneater” ($6.49) is made from a gut-busting mix of ground bacon and ground beef. Bacon is indeed a flavor booster, and pork fat has a special place in my heart, but this is like drinking the drippings from your breakfast skillet. The “Lay It On Hot Dog” ($6.59) comes topped with caramelized onions, cheddar, and pretzel-coated fried pickles. Individually, all the components are good; the Pearl brand hot dog is flavorful, with the snap of natural casing. Onions are well caramelized, and melty yellow cheddar is always welcome. Pretzel-coated pickles on the dog are just what they sound like: pickles dredged in a crushed pretzel coating and deep fried ($3.99 for a la carte). They’re tasty but extremely salty and overwhelm the dog. Another time I would order the Pearl hot dog without the specialty topping ($3.59).
Thick-cut fries, however, are golden and delicious ($2.99), and milkshakes ($4.99-$5.99) are a real bright spot. Made with Richardson’s ice cream from Middleton, these are creamy, dreamy, frozen confections. In the s’mores version ($5.99), you get whole toasted marshmallows, real graham crackers, and chocolate ganache blended with vanilla ice cream, and the result is a dead ringer for the fireside treat. Bananas Foster milkshake contains real bananas and caramel. Apple pie milkshake is made with a slice of apple pie blended with ice cream. The shakes are over the top, and so delicious I would drive across town next time a craving hits.
Unfortunately, the good news stops there. “Jack’s Mess” ($3.99) is a serving of tater tots smothered in more gooey cheese and the “5-alarm chili” is bland, heavy, and unappetizing.
Burger chains are all the rage, and the Legendary group isn’t the first to cash in on the trend. Local companies like Boston Burger Company and Tasty Burger, as well as the national chains like Five Guys, and 5 Napkin Burger, all have a devoted following, as do excellent old-school spots like Charlies Kitchen in Cambridge, and O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub in Somerville.
When Assembly Square fills up, Burger Dive might satisfy the hungry shopper, especially if a liquor license comes through as planned. But unless the food rises to the quality of the shakes, they’ll have a tough time keeping up with the competition. If you are going to tuck into America’s favorite greasy, salty meal, it should be outstanding. In summer, Burger Dive will set up 150 outdoor seats. But even in the finest weather, you’ll still be sitting in a parking lot, looking at a discount retailer.