NO CHAIN REACTION HERE: The food at Burtons Grill is surprisingly flavorful.
The menu says Burtons has upscale-casual dining, contemporary American cuisine, and atmosphere. Can you guess one menu item from that description? Would it help if I told you that this is the fourth Burtons Grill — the others being in Hingham and Andover, Massachusetts, and in South Windsor, Connecticut? Are the words “corporate” and “bland” coming into focus? Corporate might be an accurate description, but the food is rather good and not entirely predictable. The chefs (four are credited on the Boston menu) know their stuff and have wangled some top local seafood. Appetizers are inventive, entrées competent, and desserts solid if a bit conservative. The only real letdowns on my visit were side dishes. If there is a hidden agenda, it is that of a “steakhouse,” and there is an accompanying disdain for vegetables that must be addressed.
The breadbasket has hot rolls with a bit of crust, and there is warm herbal butter with lots of garlic. This isn’t brilliant, but it’s awfully good eating — better than a lot of brilliant things. Our waiter on one visit touted the sautéed shrimp ($10). It doesn’t read like much on the menu, but the shrimp were nicely handled and tender, and the mix of feta, grilled Italian bread, and stewed tomatoes was very effective. I also liked the addition of grilled shrimp ($9) on a wedge salad ($9). The five large shrimp picked up a bit of char flavor without becoming rubbery, and the wedge of iceberg with a blue-cheese-and-balsamic-dribble dressing is an old friend, revived nicely with the addition of bacon. The same bacon in a confetti of corn kernels and finely diced peppers makes a flavorful platform for four succulent pan-seared scallops ($11).
The clam chowder ($6) was above average, with the taste of real clams in the broth and a creamy texture without too much cream flavor or starchy shimmer. Mushroom risotto fritters ($9) are very similar to arancini, but with a mushroom-sauce core in the middle of the fried rice and a bread-crumb crust that helps preserve the fritters’ football shape. A few real porcini in the mushroom center might add more flavor than the pool of marinara sauce in which the fritters were served.
Besides adding protein to a salad, the other way to dine inexpensively at Burtons is to choose from the all-day sandwich menu. I tried a Reuben ($12.50), which was close to ideal, with excellent seasoned French fries. Chefs usually try to put their own twist on this sandwich, with the understanding that there’s one unbreakable rule: a Reuben should be grilled. The chefs at Burtons understand this. However, they’ve made a few other tweaks. Substituting marble rye for traditional pumpernickel? Sure, I can deal with that. But heaping on corned beef while skimping on sauerkraut and Russian dressing? It may make this sandwich more upscale, but I’m not a fan.