Featured Restaurant: The Abbey Burger Bistro
After eating at the Abbey Burger Bistro, I have to agree with the citizens of Charm City; this dive bar in Federal Hill definitely serves up some of the best burgers in Baltimore.
Too bad the service there makes a mockery of what I consider to be the city’s already questionable nickname.
Continuing on my month long odyssey through National Burger month, I stopped into the Abbey last Friday with frequent GrubGrade reader and commenter ChrisLad. Friday’s have become my burger “splurge” day, and after hitting up Salt Lake’s ACME Burger the week previous, I was looking forward to another high-end gourmet burger. The Abbey is well known for its diverse burger selection, and bills itself as having the “Best Burger” in the city. While Kooper’s Tavern would likely dispute that title (which, given my knowledge, is an unofficial claim), the reviews on the Abbey were solid according to Yelp.com, and made a late afternoon lunch worth seeking out. The Abbey is famous for offering a plethora of fresh and locally sourced protein options, which aside from including Roseda Farms Angus Beef also include Gunpowder Falls Bison (a favorite of mine), Lamb, Turkey, and even exotic meats like Alligator and Ostrich. Combining a ‘regular’ menu with a fully customizable build-your-own-burger checklist, the Abbey has a little something for everyone, including vegetarians.
This place is definitely more bar than restaurant, and is literally tucked in an alley in the heart of Federal Hill. Walking in, Chris and I were greeted by a grand total of no one, and mozzied behind several patrons at the bar and found an open table. After a good five minutes or so the bartender came out and gave us menus, then quickly returned to his duties of doing absolutely nothing. Content to go through the build-you-own checklist, Chris and I went to town, filling in bubbles with all the eagerness of a six year old voting for his first MLB All-Star team.
While the option to go with Alligator or even Ostrich was tempting, I went in knowing exactly what I wanted. Dubbing my creation “The White Man’s Burden Burger,” the combination of Wild Boar ($12) with lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, whole grain mustard and ketchup on a toasted English muffin seemed too good to pass up. I mean, how often do you see a meat as exotic as Wild Boar on a menu? According to the waiter/bartender, the Boar comes from a farm “in western Maryland” and is ground fresh at “around 90/10 or 89/11.” While he seemed to almost rush my inquisitive questions about the menu, I do give the guy credit, as he promised a truly unique flavored meat which defies the “it tastes like [insert other animal here]” description. While I requested the meat to be cooked to medium, I was told that it had to be fully cooked to 170 degrees by law. Also, wanting to experience this supposedly amazing and all-natural meat flavor, I opted to forgo cheese.
Now, this is where I start to complain. I understand that freshness doesn’t (nor should it) equate to fast food, but the wait for the burgers was ridiculous. A good 25 minutes passed between our order and the time the burgers were brought out, with the few other patrons of the Bistro getting their food before us. This one only one of several questionable practices in the service, which also saw the lone cook botch an order to the only other table occupied in the establishment. For his part, our waiter/bartender seemed enthusiastic about the freshness and quality of his meat, but he was reluctant to engage us in conversation, and seemed disinterested in attending to Chris and I during the wait.
Thankfully, the burger spoke for itself. When it finally arrived, the griddled burger was served alongside a heaping pile of old-bay spiced, house-made chips. The burger itself was still fairly juicy despite its cooked to temperature status, and oozed juices with my first bite. The toasted English muffin came with a generous swab of butter after being placed on the griddle, a sign that the burger had quite a bit of fat added to it to keep it moist during cooking. Even so, the flavor was amazing. The bartender had bragged about the meat’s freshness and he wasn’t kidding – I received strong notes of an earthy and nutty flavor in the meat, complimenting a subtle gaminess that was quite pleasant and complex (this Venison). There were also notes of the red meat kind of sweetness you find in beef sirloin and Bison, but at the same time it had a distinctly white-meat element that almost rivaled a roasted pork loin. Basically, this was a zoo of umami flavors in my mouth, and really benefited from a better than average griddled crust that gave the burger a nice crispy exterior to contrast with the moist and flavorful interior.
What really helped to bind it all together was the whole-grain mustard. With a liberal application that graced the bottom and top of the patty, the mustard had a robust and full bodied ale taste that worked in perfect unison with the meat. Veggies were good in their complimentary roles, although the bottom heavy construction ultimately doomed the otherwise efficient English muffin. Chips were a mixed bag; some were incredibly crisp with a great snap and flavorful Old Bay taste. Others were soggy and over-saturated with oil, and lacked the necessary pepper for my taste. Still, I downed the entire order with the help of a bottle of ketchup.
A great burger? No doubt, but as far as I’m concerned the Abbey still has its flaws. The service sucks, for starters, while the sides suffer from inconsistency. Being served the burger by the cook in person wasn’t a great sign, especially when he served a similar party a botched order and didn’t seem to acknowledge his mistake. All of this at 4 PM on a Friday afternoon! I can’t imagine how this place operates during ‘peak’ hours. These flaws notwithstanding, the Abbey Burger Bistro’s customizable options, coupled with the bar’s commitment to freshness and quality of ingredients, help to make it one of the most unique burger eateries on the east coast, and a stop-in for any one looking to indulge in an exotic meat with a taste that just cannot be replicated.
- Recommendations: Do yourself a favor and get the Wild Boar. The addition charge is worth it.
- Food: 9.00/10
- Menu Variety: 9.50/10
- Atmosphere: Bar/Tavern/Burgers
- Price: $$-Moderate= $7.01-$14
- GrubGrade: 8.00/10 (Very Good): Points deducted because of poor service.