Tried and true

Where to go for the ultimate summertime burgers
By BRIAN DUFF  |  May 13, 2009

tried true main

A NICE MIX Rapid Ray's onion rings, burger, and fries.

The greasy, informal meals of summer lead to lots of uncouth mouth-cramming and finger-licking. It is best not to look. For this reason, many purveyors of the quintessential summertime burger are set up for shoulder-to-shoulder eating. Whether you are on a daytrip north or south, or staying in town, Maine offers a classic burger you can eat with company and still gaze off into the distance. It's a formula for longevity: Rapid Ray's in Saco, Fat Boy Drive-In in Brunswick, and Vivian's Drive-In have all been around since the 1950s.

RAPID RAY'S | Pepperell Square, 189 Main St, Saco | 207.282.1847 | Mon-Thurs 11 am-12:30 am; Fri-Sat 11 am-1 am; Sun noon-10 pm

VIVIAN'S DRIVE-IN | 948 Forest Ave, Portland | 207.797.7077 | Mon-Sat 10:30 am-3 pm

FAT BOY DRIVE-IN |111 Bath Rd, Brunswick | 207.729.9431 | Sun-Thurs 11 am-8 pm; Fri-Sat 11 am-8:30 pm

At Rapid Ray's you eat standing at a narrow shelf exactly the width of the box your burger comes in, and stare out onto Saco's Main Street. Ray's started as a burger truck over 50 years ago, and is still little more than a few windows opening onto a red-tiled hallway of meatiness. Founder Ray Carmine's children and grandchildren still grind beef every day for burgers they serve up lickety-split. That leaves little time to joke with customers, so the cashier skips pleasantries and goes for the throat — teasing a regular about his spoiled trophy wife. "I say it so you don't have to," she told him.

Most regulars order "the big one" — a double cheeseburger. Ray's shapes their fresh-ground meat with an industrial uniformity: perfectly round and flat like they used the top of a peanut butter jar. The burger is so tender and juicy, and so finely ground, that it is almost like eating a sort of hot pâté. The American cheese is obliterated by the heat between the burgers and seeps out the side. Even when ordered with "everything" the burger is remarkably simple: mustard and relish on an untoasted bun. Fries are thin and passably crisp. The onion rings were better — with good thick breading and a nice mix of fat and thin rings.

Vivian's has the same sort of shelf for stand-up eating. You do it in what feels like a beachy shack plopped down on a busy section of Forest Avenue. When it's not busy the room fills with the sound of the sizzle from the modest griddle. You can gaze at the street if you want to, but you need to bend pretty low to see out from under the building's green awning. The double cheeseburger was remarkably similar to the Ray's version. There is a bit more chew to the meat, and lots of diced grilled onion to complement the mustard and relish. The white cheese contributes more fatty texture than actual flavor. It comes with a bag of chips instead of fries or rings.

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