The spacious, two-floor Scholars seems to have it all: open air window seats, a long bar with TVs, roomy booths, a balcony, a billiards room and numerous nooks and crannies with comfy chairs built for eating, drinking and socializing. It has the feel of an old school hotel and is at the same time very modern.
The menu has all the dishes you'd expect of a gastropub and with even more creativity. There's no barbecue per se, but the bar menu includes babybacks in the small plates section. For burgers, the bun and toppings are very different from both traditional choices and latest rage choices.
For a Saturday lunch I joined two bloggers who cover the Boston burger beat well. All of us wanted to try Scholar's Bacon Fat Burger; I suggested we also split the Apple Chutney burger as a makeshift appetizer and did a fist pump upon acceptance. As Pee Wee Herman knows all too well, sometimes the pumping is premature.
A crusty, powdery ciabatta was a refreshing change from the typical array of potato rolls, sesame seed buns, brioche and quasi-French rolls. That choice might seem more sturdy than a burger bun ought to be, but since I enjoyed an outstanding burger on a ciabatta bun the day before, the choice was welcome. This one was more uniform in texture than the crusty, flaky exterior and fluffy interior of its predecesor, but it wasn't a problem. That its diameter noticeably outmeasured that of the burger patty was a bit of a problem.
Ordered medium rare, the burger was nominally pink but overcooked enough to make it slightly dry. There was plenty of moisture—courtesy of the toppings—that might have given the impression of juiciness, but this burger was barely borderline juicy. The roughly half pound patty had a strong char flavor on the surface from grilling, but seasoning did not keep pace. Inside, not much was going on. I don't expect every pub burger to have an over-the-top blend, so the simple ground chuck composition wasn't a crime. The real crime was calling this a bacon fat burger when the fat content of the patty itself was so laughably low and when the flavor—mapley yes, bacony no—didn't suggest any bacon involvement. The aforementioned underseasoning and overcooking were more than mere accomplices.
Did I mention this burger tasted like maple? If only the maple tasted like burger, because this was all maple and no burger. The number one topping (or infusion, or both) took all other flavors hostage. It was probably just as well, since none of the bit players—and sadly, the beef was one of them—seemed capable of putting up much of a fight anyway. I was looking forward to the grilled tomato slices, but beyond a couple of obligatory grill marks, this sounds-good-on-paper ingredient/method brought no flavor contributions from charring or compositional changes. The cheese (again, the choice of brie sounds great in theory) got completely lost in the mapley badness. (Note: I'm using that last phrase tongue in cheek, as I would never ever ever use the term "mapley goodness" had it actually been good.)
The apple chutney burger fared somewhat better, but the sweet apple topping (rasins and cashews, anyone?) would be a better fit for a double cut bone-in pork chop than a burger. At least the smoked gouda (three slices) didn't get lost, but it seemed slapped on as an afterthought and not melted in.
Billed as "lime parmesan frites," the accompaniment first appeared to be an unannounced substitution of onion rings, but they were just dressed up curly fries. I'm guessing they were a frozen product, as they didn't have much potato flavor. Seasoning was abundant, but it had more of a Friday's feel than something involving fresh ingredients.
The Bottom Line
Beware of enticing menu descriptions, because their compatability and their execution can both be a letdown. Such was the case at Scholars, where a much anticipated burger was a colossal disappointment. Seeing so many interesting choices on the menu prior to my visit (like babyback ribs that I later wasn't surprised to learn are not smoked), I was contemplating multiple visits to chronicle more than just the burger. After one burger visit, I'm done.
Boston Burger Blog's review of the Scholars Burger
Yelp reviews of Scholars
Urbanspoon reviews of Scholars