Review Date: 10/14/15
Visit Dates: (09/30/15) (10/13/15)
The Blue Ox and chef-owner Matt O'Neil started making waves when the Lynn gastropub opened in 2009, drawing favorable comparisons to upscale dining options in Boston. O'Neil describes his cuisine as upscale, contemporary, approachable new American.
By 2010 Boston's most ambitious foodies began trekking northward to Lynn to experience the magic. By 2013 O'Neil's signature Sin Burger made a name for itself in burger circles by winning Boston Magazine's annual Burger Battle. By 2015 it was three wins in a row.
Like the city of Lynn itself, the Blue Ox space is a humble one. Despite a modern sign outside, it's worn-down old school inside, with scratchy wood floors, brick walls and simple chairs in the dining room. In the bar, the lighting is low and the music volume is high. Impressionistic paintings of oxen and Boston cityscapes add brightness to both rooms. Perched at one of the dozen-plus bar stools, you can observe the kitchen choreography of chef O'Neil and crew through the pass.
Three burgers are available:
Blue Ox Burgers: Two ¼ lb. burgers stuffed with gorgonzola dolce, topped with applewood smoked bacon, tomato, lettuce, grilled lemon & thyme aioli ($17).
Sin Burger: Applewood smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, truffle aioli, lettuce, tomato ($17).
House Burger: Served with lettuce, tomato ($13).
Sin Burger: An Iggy's brioche bun provides a soft and flexible vessel that holds everything in even if it struggles—and even after a light grilling—to contain the juices with the bottom half. The light feel and slightly sweet, eggy flavor are like challah. The bun-to-beef ratio is a bullseye. A faint dabble of butter is the first of many subtle and not-so-subtle layers of flavor that build the burger.
Blue Ox Burger: A very similar bun, but a little firmer. No bullseye this time as far as the ratio goes—the diameter of the bun exceeds that of the patty on visit 1 but rebounds on visit 2.
Sin Burger: It's a secret blend with an 80-20 meat-to-fat ratio, but the biggest secret is what's added to the beef to make it truly unique. That there even is something secret not a secret, since there's a disclaimer the bartender recites upon ordering: because of the additions, there's an oxidation process that prevents the meat from becoming pink, even at medium rare. And sure enough, my medium rare burger comes out gray, but fully juicy like medium rare and fully tender like medium rare, even with the admirable crusting from the flat top griddle. The distinct flavor here is sweetness, as if the meat has been marinating (there's a bit of a meatloaf feel). Guesses at the ingredient fly about. Molasses? Wine? Honey? It's a secret, but if you treat your bartender right, you may walk out with the answer. Seasoning is noticeable but takes a back seat to the wet additions. It's an engagingly enjoyable patty that makes an impact on the first try. I'm not so sure the novelty won't wear off with regular visits.
Blue Ox Burger: The beef in the mini burgers is less sweet but just as skillfully cooked on the griddle to achieve some light char outside, a sheen from its own juices and a hint of wobble in the tenderness.
Sin Burger: There's a lot going on here. A creamy aioli made with grilled lemon and thyme is a 2-pronged attack appealing to different parts of your tongue. The cheese is Swiss, slightly melted and draped over the patty in low key fashion, making it less of an attack but every bit the contributor to overall depth. Its bite serves as a contasting element to the sweetness in the beef, while the crisp, sweet bacon from a New Hampshire smokehouse bolsters that sweetness. You can take your pick as to whether the Sin burger is named after Lynn's nickname ("Lynn, Lynn, city of sin) or the sin of gluttony you'll be guilty of after downing it. At least you can point to the lettuce and tomato as healthy. Like I said, there's a lot going on.
Blue Ox Burger: Here, the duo of mini burgers reassigns its number one topping as a filling. The manageably sharp, manageably warm gorgonzola oozes gently from the center, bringing as much textural contrast as flavor. Bacon is crisp but still soft enough to curl over itself to fit inside the bun. Another aioli, placed below the patties, is more subtle. Lettuce and tomato make a comeback. Actually, the whole ensemble serves as another kind of comeback: the totality of flavor overcomes the initial deficit of the slightly-too-large buns. Each bite winds up being a nice combination of beef, bread and additions that are hot and cold, sweet and savory, smooth and crunchy.
My Predictable Answer to the Obvious Question
For most people, the dilemma here is whether to go for the Sin Burger or the Blue Ox Burgers. I say come with a friend or a date and order both. They're both good.
If I'm forced to decide? The Sin Burger makes one hell of a first impression, but it's the Blue Ox Burgers that make the lasting impression. So going forward, I'd go with the Blue Ox Burgers more often. But, since the question implicitly asks my recommendation for a first time visitor, I'm recommending the Sin Burger. It's so unlike any burger you've had before, and it's a 3-time Burger Battle winner, so not trying it would be regrettable.
Fries here are double-fried, extra crisp with no wilt factor, seasoned well and tossed in herbs. Aside from the aforementioned, there's nothing particularly special about them, but somehow these fries are addictive.
Wings: As a wings lover in general and a smoked wings fanatic, there's no way I could hit Blue Ox and not hit their smoked wings. Interestingly, all six wings ($12) on visit 1 are wingettes (flats), which is fine by me. They all get just the right browning and red tint from the smoke and just enough crispness, leaving the interiors extremely tender and juicy. Smoke often falls short outside of a barbecue context, but here it's very lively. But livelier still is the combination of ingredients in the herb-infused oily puddle below. And when I say "oily puddle," I say that with the utmost affection. Beyond the usual sweet and spicy, here it's bright and sharp flavors that dominate. The saucing on the wings is applied sparingly. In the puddle, a mystery green oil (tarragon?) adds an herbal bite and another dimension of richness. Honey hot sauce isn't integrated, instead intermingling, and it works perfectly. There are a few Asian components too.
Visit 2 brings changes. This time it's five wing pieces: two drumettes, three wingettes. The puddle is gone. The saucing is thicker and sweeter. The hot sauce, rather than a separate element, is now part of that sauce. Black sesame seeds now join the scallion on top. A tarragon and blue cheese dressing is now included in a stainless steel cup. It all works just as well, though I miss the oily puddle.
The most praiseworthy aspect is that with so much flavor from the cheese, herbs, oil, honey, light heat and smoke, the chicken itself never gets lost. With texture and flavor both coming through triumphantly, they're easily among my favorite wings, and no matter what the dessert options are, if I still have room left, I'm ordering another round of wings instead of dessert.
The stated opening is 5:00 PM, but on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays the bar opens an hour earlier, and the burgers and wings are both available.
Free parking is available in the bank lot next door. Be sure not to block the ATM aisle.
The Bottom Line
The Sin Burger is a "busy" burger, with arguably more attention paid to the toppings than the beef, but the additions all work well and the beef cookery is exemplary. So even though the beef doesn't shine brightest, and even though it might not match the sky high expectation set by three consecutive Burger Battle wins, this is a burger with great appeal. With a higher degree of difficulty due to size, the twin Blue Ox miniburgers showcase an even higher degree of skill on the flat top while balancing cheffy and classic looks.
These are two unique burgers that should put the Blue Ox on any Boston burger fan's radar. The amount of thought that goes into them is obvious and the layers of flavor on them are unforgettable. Just don't forget those wings.
Boston Burger Blog review of the Blue Ox
Wicked Bites segment on the Blue Ox Sin Burger
Boston Magazine features Matt O'Neil's wing sauce recipe
Yelp reviews of the Blue Ox
Zomato reviews of the Blue Ox
Tabelog reviews of the Blue Ox
||'Like' PigTrip BBQ Reviews on Facebook to keep up with all of the reviews and much more content not available on the site.