Alasdair’s Burger Quest
This spring I went on a mission with my son Alasdair to survey the burgers of Cape Cod. Alasdair loves hamburgers so we made a perfect team as we ate a lot of meat and met a lot of great people providing tasty food. We considered burgers in all their forms as we chomped our way through patties, buns and fries, and we eventually agreed that, while there is nothing as satisfying as a traditional burger, innovative approaches to burger preparation are equally intriguing as they reflect changing food priorities.
We found the most traditional, the most feel-like-you’re-at-the-beach burger at Captain Frosty’s in Dennis; we were delighted by the falafel-like deliciousness of the veggie burger at Spoon and Seed in Barnstable; intrigued by the spiciness of the lamb burger at Estia in Mashpee Commons, and were set a bit loose by the option to design our own burgers at Sandwich’s new Next Door Burger Bar. There are burgers across the Cape to fit every mood and diet and age group, and I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of this story you aren’t out somewhere fabulous eating your own perfect burger.
THE CLAM SHACK BURGER
While you really shouldn’t order seafood in a steakhouse, you can definitely order the burgers at Captain Frosty’s Fish & Chips. This venerable local institution has been serving up clam shack fare for 42 summers on historic Route 6A in Dennis, and while owner Matt Henderson says his focus is on seafood, his burgers run a close second. “They’re a standard menu item, but I’ll tell you, they’re also a staff favorite. Some staff members eat a burger a day,” he said. Alasdair would too, if I let him.
The Cape’s salt air induces hunger, and while most Cape Codders are looking for a nice deep-fried fish-and-chips sort of treat, not all may be hankering for seafood. That’s where Captain Frosty’s comes into its own, because in addition to having won many awards for its fresh seafood, this clam shack also offers a terrific beef burger. It’s just the place to bring that one summer guest who won’t, or can’t, eat seafood.
The good food at Captain Frosty’s means there is usually a line to get in, and standing in that line in the late afternoon sun as kids with ice cream from the soft serve counter run around, you know you are about to have that quintessential Cape Cod clam shack experience. It’s the perfect end to a perfect beach day.
The Captain Frosty’s burger is unpretentious, offering the bare essence of burgers, beach style. Henderson says he sells 800 to 900 burgers a week, and they come in two sizes: the five-ounce standard and the eight-ounce Captain’s burger. “You have to be really hungry for the Captain’s burger,” Henderson warned.
The meat is bought locally from the Dennis Public Market just down the street, and cooked on a flat grill. It arrives at the table smelling like a beach cookout on a soft bun with a slice of American cheese, lettuce and tomato, french fries, a pickle and a side of coleslaw. Described by Alasdair as “super juicy, and cheesy with perfect flavor,” this burger beautifully extends the menu from surf to turf and is sure to please carnivores with its meaty summer cookout taste.
THE ALTERNATIVE BURGER
The hankering for a burger can be strong, so strong that even vegetarians among us can hear its siren song. And it can be hard to find a really fabulous stand-in for the juicy, meaty experience a burger gives. That is, until you visit Spoon and Seed in Hyannis, just north of Barnstable Village.
For two years Matt Tropeano, chef/owner of Spoon and Seed, has been serving up a combination of locally sourced and grown onsite items, and one of those items is the Hippie Burger, a flavorful riff on falafel.
“I used to live in New York, where I used to go to a vegetarian franchise restaurant that was open late at night. They did Mediterranean food. We wanted a veggie burger and I was inspired by the Mediterranean flavors,” Tropeano explained.
The Hippie Burger is a six-ounce chickpea-based patty reminiscent of falafel. We eat a lot of falafel at home, so Alasdair was okay with that. Spiced with cumin, paprika, coriander, parsley and cilantro, it is cooked to a crisp outside with a moist interior on a flat-top grill. It is served on house-made focaccia bread, baked to a recipe used since Spoon and Seed opened, which includes a bit of potato to keep the bread moist. The Hippie Burger is also great served on a bed of greens, if you don’t want bread. Either way, the burger is finished with a roasted red pepper relish, pickled red onion, feta cheese and a spicy yogurt sauce. “It can be vegan without the yogurt sauce,” Tropeano offered.
The Hippie Burger arrives at the table on a plate piled high with crispy french fries, made with potatoes that Tropeano sources locally when he can, from farms such as Not Enough Acres in Dennis. When local potatoes are unavailable, he brings them in from Maine.
Spoon and Seed emphasizes a strong local commitment through its use of local ingredients. It’s the sort of kitchen that can tell you where your food is from and you might even see a farmer or two around the place. Personally, Alasdair and I found our inaugural Hippie Burger was rather an event: the first bite signaled the end to our search for a delicious veggie burger. Now whenever we want the burger but not the meat, we head to Spoon and Seed.
THE NON-BEEF BURGER
Estia is the Greek goddess of the hearth. Her job is to keep the house warm by stoking the fireplace, and true to tradition, Estia in Mashpee Commons has a big coal-fired oven right in the dining room. On a chilly day it makes for a warm retreat, especially when combined with a plate of lamb sliders, as we found on a gray late winter afternoon when Alasdair ordered them. It was the first time we had seen lamb sliders on a menu, and we were in for a treat.
Estia’s owner Nick Markantonis explained that Greek cuisine has lamb, lots of lamb. In his two and a half years at Estia, he said he has wanted to rule the lamb market. “When we opened, people loved our menu and everything on it, but we didn’t have a lamb burger. A Greek restaurant needs a lamb burger, so we spent a lot of time getting it right.”
The lamb burger comes in two sizes: one eight-ounce burger or three two-and-a-half ounce sliders, which make a great appetizer, or a young boy’s lunch. Both options are served on brioche buns from Pain D’Avignon in Hyannis. Lamb burgers remind us of Middle Eastern meatballs. Ground lamb is mixed with garlic, cumin, salt and pepper, grilled, and served on the brioche with a spicy Greek feta spread, tomatoes, onions, and tzatziki. Alasdair declared them the perfect mix of spice, while I noticed the flavors were balanced just right.
Markantonis said that after careful experimentation the lamb burgers first went on the menu as a special. When that proved successful, he upgraded them to permanent menu status. “We cook modern Greek cuisine, we do traditional specialties such as octopus, but we do twists as well, especially the spicy feta spread on the lamb burger.” Markantonis’ story definitely confirmed my suspicion that these burgers are truly unique. They’re also savory and delicious, and they come with a side of delicately truffle-oiled french fries. “The truffle oil gives it more pizazz,” Markantonis declared.
THE DIY BURGER
How do you like your burger? While the Next Door Burger Bar in Sandwich likes to cook them medium rare, you can decide how to dress them. The patties are made of a freshly ground chuck and shortrib blend from all natural, hormone and antibiotic free cattle raised on family farms throughout the Northeast. They are served on brioche buns from local bakery Pain d’Avignon, and arrive at your table on a small, square baking sheet with a choice of veggie fries, waffle fries or sweet potato fries, and a kosher dill pickle.
The menu suggests different options for burger dressing, such as the Over the Bridge burger: eight ounces of beef with Vermont white cheddar cheese, a slice of beefsteak tomato, baby arugula, red onion and a black pepper mayo, while the Wicked Spicy Burga kicks the heat up with the addition of ghost pepper jam and ground chili aioli. The Bánh mì has a nice sweet/tangy/crunchy combination of spicy kewpie mayo, cilantro, ginger, pickled cucumber and carrot. Feeling flush? The New Yorker includes a slab of Hudson Valley foie gras. Here’s the cool part that a kid of any age will love. While each menu option incorporates a list of slightly different ingredients, you can mix and match them as you choose.
I went traditional and ordered the Over The Bridge Burger. It was a delicious and substantial meal, the meat cooked just pink enough with just the right amount of cheese. The waffle fries were hot and crispy. Alasdair, who loves to build, grabbed the new freedom offered by the create-your-own burger concept to order his own design: a patty with blue cheese and bacon. It was delicious with the sweet potato fries.
The Burger Bar really is next door, and there really is a bar. Located at 8 Jarvis Street in Sandwich, the Burger Bar occupies the former Painted Lady, next door to the Belfry Bistro and under the same ownership. Christopher G. Wilson, owner of the Belfry Bistro and the Burger Bar, told me how his four-year old son came up with the name. “My son was always asking where I was, and Wendy, my wife would say, ‘next door.’ When my son’s school class invented their own restaurants and named them, my son called his Next Door, so we named ours the Next Door Burger Bar.”
While the full bar serves a killer Bloody Mary, according to the people sitting next to us, it also makes amazing shakes. I tried the coffee shake. Made with coffee syrup, vanilla ice cream, and topped with whipped cream and a sprinkle of ground coffee, it was balanced and not too sweet; a shake for grown ups. While you could always add a liqueur from the bar, such as Kahlua, the Burger Bar is completely kid friendly, so don’t hesitate to bring the family. It might be fun to see what new burger combinations they come up with.
Captain Frosty’s Fish & Chips
219 Main Street, Route 6A, Dennis
508-385-8548 / captainfrosty.com
26 Steeple Street, Mashpee Commons, Mashpee
508-539-4700 / estiacapecod.com
Next Door Burger Bar
8 Jarves Street, Sandwich
508-888-3746 / nextdoorburgerbar.com
Spoon and Seed
12A Thornton Drive, Hyannis
774-470-4634 / spoonandseed.com