This is another of what I hope will be frequent departures from my usual review of barbecue joints throughout New England and New York.
Back Bay Social Club occupies two floors in the former Vinny Testa's space almost directly across from the Prudential Center on Boylston Street. There's a small bar with a few TVs on the street level, with roomy booths and tight deuces scattered behind it. Seating downstairs is quieter and a little roomier as well, offering banquette tables much cozier than the main level deuces. Much of the press Back Bay Social Club has received in its first half year of operation has revolved around its steaky burger that weighs in at 10 ounces for $21. I ended 2010 with BBSC at the top of my most-wanted burgers list. Within the first 40 days of 2011, I visited twice: once for dinner with my girlfriend and once for lunch with a burger buddy.
Described as a "white trash bun" by the manager, this proved more formidable than the el cheapo Wonder Bread style I expected. Fresh and powdery, this bun had that rare duo of both denseness and pliability. It stood up perfectly to the the burger, holding the patty in and absorbing the abundance of juices without losing its structure and without getting in the way.
A hefty 10-ounce patty (about an inch high) is a nice shape for cooking to my choice of medium rare. The surface on two visits had only minimal crusting and char, but it did arrive both times with a glistening sheen. Both times the pink juices gushed readily, later revealing a shade a little closer to red than pink. Every bite brought a new burst of juices and some deep beefy flavor accented by vigorous additions of salt and pepper. The blend is top secret; I'm guessing it's a combination of high grade sirloin and high fat brisket and/or shortrib. Texture was excellent both times, though the first visit had a slightly looser packing to the patty and a little more silkiness to the bite. As many have written already, this is one steaky burger. I think it's one that's executed very well.
Cheese and caramelized onions come standard on this burger. There's no mention of bacon; if you ask you can have it added, but on both tries I just went with the burger as it comes. The cheese is a sharp cheddar that brings a little grit and a little saltiness to the party. Although it oozes impressively down the side of the burger, I can see a real cheese fan wanting a little more of it than is supplied. The onions—cooked down for six hours to intensify the flavor so that it's more of an onion jam—are more of a player, but both additions remain secondary to the meat while doing a nice job perking it up even further. Just like a good Reuben sandwich, this burger's main components work together to create a compelling integrated whole.
Served in a brown paper bag alongside the burger on a butcher's board, the fries look like a kicked-up version of the McDonald's shoestring: hot, skin-on, crisp outside, tender inside, aggressively seasoned with sea salt. I'm a huge fan of salt but on both visits found the fries oversalted.
On visit 1, I tried only the burger/fries tandem. On the return, I split a few other items from Back Bay Social Club's snack/cocktail and brunch menus. House Garlic Sausages ($8) brought mini sausages encased in a soft pretzel dough with huge crystals of salt, Philadelphia style, flanked by a small tub of mustard dipping sauce. This dish is ironically named, because they reminded me of something I'd get from the frozen food aisle. Chicken and Waffles ($12) supplied a typical, competent waffle topped by boneless breaded chicken and a very light coating of "BBQ maple." The batter wasn't crisp, the rubbery chicken wasn't juicy and the syrup was too ketchupy. Meat Candy ($7) from the anytime snacks menu turned things around, combining bite size sausage half-disks, pineapple chunks and a warm pineapple gravy that mixed a lot of sweet with a little bit of heat. This was very enjoyable as-is and as part of my makeshift "meat candy and waffles" appetizer.
The Bottom Line
The combination of size, flavor, texture, seasoning, freshness and juiciness makes the Back Bay Social Club burger one of my favorites in the city. I'm a little less enamored with the other menu choices I tried, but this is a burger I'll come back for again and again, even at $21.
Boston Burger Blog's review of the Back Bay Social Club burger
Yelp reviews of Back Bay Social Club
Urbanspoon reviews of Back Bay Social Club