It takes a certain temerity to open a burger joint in Cambridge, a city that’s home to Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage, Miracle of Science, Flat Patties, the Druid, Atwood’s Tavern, and (just over the Somerville line) R.F. O’Sullivan & Son. That’s pretty fierce competition in the burger sweepstakes. What is Four Burgers’ edge? For starters, the minimalist menu features, literally, four burgers: beef, veggie, salmon, and turkey. The dining room is similarly stripped down, with bare tables and stainless-steel walls. The owner favors sustainability-minded suppliers of all-natural ingredients. A proper Cantabrigian note is struck immediately with the unusually good veggie burger ($7), built on a guacamole-dressed vegan patty from Blue Mango of Portland, Maine, with black beans, rice, panko crumbs, onions, and spinach, the last of which produces a shocking green interior.
Sides are equally impressive, like a mound of house-cut French fries ($2.50) from Idaho, not Maine, potatoes. (Locavore instincts were presumably trumped by culinary considerations.) These are excellent: thin, well-crisped, a bit stubby, and served blistering hot. Even better are the sweet-potato fries ($2.50), another heaping helping of fine frying that achieves crunch without carbonizing the tuber’s ample sugars. A chocolate milkshake ($5.50) uses Toscanini’s ice cream and an old-school DrinkMaster-style blender. It’s thinner than a frappe (as it should be), though perhaps a bit short for a $5 shake. A nice surprise is the availability of beers like Narragansett ($3.50) — a revitalized local brand now brewed in Rochester, New York — and a few modest weekday wines ($7/glass).
What about the beef? A burger with cheddar ($7) boasts a cooked-to-order Brandt beef patty that’s just outstanding, proving that corn-fed Holstein beef raised sustainably can deliver massive flavor impact (even if it ships all the way from California). A slice of good tomato is welcome, but I’m less thrilled by the use of shredded lettuce and a sesame-seed bun that, even toasted, is far too fluffy and insubstantial to hold up through my last bite. These are tough corners to cut when you’re all about burgers and your star attraction costs seven bucks. Still, with good options for your non-beef-loving friends and enough craft and hospitality to trump the less-than-gourmet touches, Four Burgers is a useful upgrade from planet-destroying fast-food joints, if not the likeliest contender for Cambridge’s burger crown.
Four Burgers, located at 704 Mass Ave, in Cambridge, is open Monday through Saturday, from 11 am to 10 pm, and on Sunday, from 11 am to 9 pm. Call 617.441.5444.