A fast-food cheeseburger is like a drunken assignation with a stranger met at a wedding reception: momentarily delectable but often leading to shame, nausea, and possibly even health issues. The mall food court should also inspire foreboding: it's just a smorgasbord of briefly alluring, ultimately bad ideas. So when a respected fellow food writer praised the burgers at Flat Patties, a fast-food joint in a Harvard Square mini-mall food court, I felt blind-date jitters. However heartfelt the advance raves ("She's the paragon of the griddled, thin-patty West Coast style — and has a great sense of humor!"), these things usually don't end well for me.
I'm relieved to report that sometimes Phoenix contributor Kenji Alt's plaudits for the burger ($3.50) are merited. The thin patty is griddle-pressed to achieve a bit of a meat crust, still faintly pink in the center, and fatty enough to be dripping and thus full of beef flavor. The grilled bun, advertised as "brioche-style," mercifully lacks the rich sweetness that characterizes a lamentable trend in Boston burger rolls: it's more like a bulkie, and not too soft. Cheddar (40 cents) and complimentary lettuce, tomato, and a zippy Thousand Island–ish "house sauce" balance the flavor and texture equation. This might be the best cheap/fast burger I've had in Boston, one of the few that didn't afflict me with sick regret 30 minutes later.
And the kitchen's not just a one-trick pony: I was similarly impressed with the shredded pork sandwich ($3.75) topped with sweet BBQ sauce and cole slaw, the juicy grilled chicken-breast sandwich ($3.75), and a grilled portabella-mushroom sandwich ($4.25) as rich-tasting as steak, especially with grilled onions (50 cents). Fries ($1.75/small; $2.40/large) are skinny, crisp, excellent; ditto the onion rings ($2.25; $3.25). An Asian chopped salad ($3.90) was well-dressed with a fine sweet soy vinaigrette, if a bit unappealingly monotone and chopped too uniformly small. Fried banana cheesecake ($3.25), the bastard offspring of a McDonald's fruit pie and a cinnamon-sugary cheese Danish, nearly induced a post-prandial nap. Drink options include mostly cane-sweetened bottled sodas, juices, and waters ($1.10–$2).
While I reserve my right to loathe most fast-food joints purely on gustatory grounds, Flat Patties has an undeniable charm: every ingredient tastes fresh, free of chemical flavorings, relatively wholesome. I don't foresee a long-term relationship, but the occasional spontaneous nooner or late-night booty call are distinct possibilities.
Flat Patties, located in The Garage at 81 Mt. Auburn Street, in Cambridge, is open Sunday–Thursday, 11 am–10 pm, and Friday and Saturday, 11 am–12 am. Call 617.871.6871.