Review Date: 03/04/16
Visit Date: 01/06/16
There was a time, back in the 1950s or 1960s, when Ken's Steakhouse was one of the most important restaurants in the western suburbs. It was part of Framingham's "Million Dollar Mile" that included such lost gems as Sea 'n' Surf, The Meadows, The Maridor, and at least a half dozen more. Only Ken's has survived, though possibly more on the strength of its salad dressing than anything else. A rift within the ownership family left the salad dressing with one side and the restaurant business with the other. The first group is cleaning up while the second group is struggling, but Ken's has endured..
Ken's Steakhouse doesn't look that much different from when I first visited as a little tyke, probably so disappointed to not be eating Chinese food down the street at the Golden Phoenix that I couldn't possibly enjoy my burger, which may have been called a Salisbury steak back then.
Living in Natick and Framingham for much of my life, I've had my share of steaks at Ken's over the years, probably at the rate of one or two visits a decade, tops. Their steaks never did much for me, even when I was in the mood. But one day earlier this year, I happened to be in the area and my first two choices were closed, so I made the tough call and decided to give Ken's its try of the decade, but for a burger.
There are two burgers on the lunch menu. The Ken's Burger and the Porterhouse use the same patty but offer slightly different toppings configurations: onions and cheese on the former and build-your-own on the latter. Those toppings were exactly what I already wanted, but I wanted my onions caramelized, so I went with the Porterhouse ($14 with the two toppings, fries included)..
At first glance, the bun looks like the simplest storebought version available, but a closer inspection reveals a crustier, flakier top and an airier interior without that white bread feel or flavor. Think French bread, but in round form and without the overwhelming brittleness and occasional dryness. It had decent flexibility and soaked up the juices nicely. Not a plus, but it did its job. Toasted, yes; buttered, no.
The Porterhouse burger patty is a mix of sirloin and tenderloin, just like the steak cut. It doesn't sound like anything special, and it wasn't. That's not to slight the beef; it's just that it didn't join the ranks of some of the steakier burgers sometimes found at steakhouses such as this. But no complaints on the composition.
The outside got crusted and the inside presented good tenderness while leaking juices. If there's a complaint on the execution, it's that it fell very short of the requested medium rare when there were barely three other tables in the place ordering food. Within the context of the sandwich, the underdoneness wasn't a huge problem. Low on salt. Nice char. Nice overall beef flavor. Decent, not great.
I kept things simple: onions and cheese. both complemented the beef patty without calling too much attention to themselves. The onions were cooked just past the point where you could say they were no longer raw, but not much more, attaining the faintest of caramelization. The cheese got a good melt and good distribution.
The Fries (and Such)
Ken's has onion rings as a separate item, so I asked the obvious question, and yes, you can get your burger with hand cut onion rings instead of fries. They impressed more than the burger: thick but not too thick, with a flaky seafood shack batter treatment. Crisp. Flavorful. Not overcooked.
It's like dining in a museum, which can be fun or a turn-off.
The Bottom Line
I'll say the same thing about the burger as a whole that I did about the beef: decent, not great. Understated (and yes, a little undercooked) with no standout items other than that you can get it with hand cut onion rings instead of fries, and those were better than decent. No steaky flavor, but juicy and with just enough char. This 1960s style burger is as much of a throwback as the decor of the place, which is only fitting. I wouldn't go rushing back, but as someone who still has ties to the area, I can see myself revisiting this doable burger more than once a decade.
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