Portland’s newest burger joint has an older sister in Portsmouth, but now locals are getting the opportunity to see what has been so well-hyped for months. BRGR Bar has moved into the space on Brown St. that was previously a Margarita’s and just opened after what seemed like a very long wait. I made a solo trip to the restaurant which specializes in not only burgers, but also adult milkshakes.
They were only three days in on my visit, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. When I got there, there was a sign up high that alerted patrons to the location of the restaurant, but the actual door didn’t have any markings. I took a chance and entered and after a bunch of steps, was lucky enough to reach my intended destination.
Once I was noticed, one of the waiters saw me and asked if I wanted a table or to sit at the bar. I told him the bar was fine and pulled up a stool. Then I sat and waited for someone to approach me for quite a while, probably in the range of 3-4 minutes. It was a long time to be sitting alone without a food or drink list while multiple bartenders and waitpersons were milling about.
Eventually, I was handed a double-sided menu and asked if I wanted a drink. I hadn’t figured that out yet and requested time to decide. I finally settled on the Nutella, Marshmellow, and Graham Cracker Milkshake. It was the middle of the week, so I was avoiding the spiked shakes, but I did note a pretty thorough selection of them.
Once the beverage made it’s way to me, I had settled on an order of food. I started with the Vietnamese Fries – pork, sriracha, pickled daikon carrots and onions, jalapeno, cilantro, gochujang aioli, sesame seeds. Then I decided to go with The Mac Daddy Burger – beef patty with house made mac and cheese and BBQ short rib. I chose the house salad and gorgonzola dressing to go with it instead of the fries since I was already getting a full order of those.
I concentrated on my shake which had an ample portion of crumbs on the top. Working harder than a Hoover, I tried my best to upload the milk mocktail through a straw into the upper reaches of my brain. At my first sign of success, I was sold on the cold concoction. The sweet, Nutella-rich drink-ish was awesome. As I worked really hard to suck it down, I dreamed of a wider straw or a spoon to aid in my sprint of ingestion. It was not to be however, as the challenging shake made me toil like a dog with a Kong toy.
The end of my dairy dream came with the satisfaction of success and a couple moments later with the loaded fries I had ordered. They certainly looked the part with the fresh, bright jalapenos standing out from the crowd of toppers. At first bite, the sauces made their mark on my mouth. The gochujang and sriracha were an instant hit of magnificence. As I got a little further in, the pulled pork and pickled veggies added more, and the jalap and cilantro capped off the perfect combo. Lots of complimentary flavors amounted to a really well put together plate, turning boring fries into a high quality creation.
As I was making my way through the fries, a jalapeno caught me just wrong and created a coughing fit that could have been slightly embarrassing. I sipped a little water and the hack subsided allowing me to finish the rest of the dish. Happy but slightly full, I knew it would require some work to get through the remainder of my order without bringing any food home. Nonetheless, I was ready to make the attempt when my burger and salad arrived.
Some veggies were a welcome change from the food I had already eaten. My salad looked simple though super fresh and I was pleased that the lettuce was clearly coated in the gorgonzola dressing I had requested. The house made salad enhancer was impressive and donned in what I believed was the perfect amount. It was about as good as a garden salad could be, hitting all the important checkpoints.
Moving on to my burger, I noticed my mac consisted of shells, which in my world was a significant plus. There’s something about shells which just makes them better than most any other shape. It’s true. Put them next to another pasta and tell me the shells don’t ask to be eaten first. The only issue was that most of them had fallen off the burger. I didn’t worry about it and instead just took a fork and ate them like they might run away soon. Thick, creamy, and devastatingly cheesy, the edible exteriors were so, so good.
My last bite of non-burger topping shells had a bit of BBQ pork on it and the two went together like peas and carrots…cheesy, flavorful, heart attack causing peas and carrots. It was time to grab the burger and give it a go. The patty from Maine Family Farms looked initially to be on the small side, but was actually pretty thick. Additionally, I knew that while I wasn’t eating chicken breast and broccoli, at least it was grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone free beef according to the menu.
Steering my way into burgerville, I finally took a bite. All burgers were supposed to be cooked to medium, but mine was more medium rare. It wasn’t ideal, but it was still a really good sandwich. The shells and the pork added to the high quality meat definitely made for a pleasant combination that made me feel more hunter than gatherer.
It was a lot of effort, but my gluttony knows no limits and I did indeed finish my food. I was stuffed. I made a motion to indicate I was done, aggressively turned down any dessert, and offered up my credit card in a move that said “take what you want and leave the rest so I can eat tomorrow.” At $39 after tip, the meal was a little pricey – I seem to always say that lately, but it was a good meal, lots of food, and eating some better-than-average beef made me feel fine about it all.
On their third day, BRGR Bar was better than I expected though they have a few issues to work out. Waiting alone at the bar without a menu wasn’t great and my burger should have been cooked a little more. Neither is a fatal flaw and next time I’ll probably just ask for my meat well done. Also, I’m curious if there’s a way to get that mac to stay on top of the burger. Maybe put a crater in the middle to hold toppings? Either way, BRGR Bar felt good, tasted good, and came through for a place that just opened. The atmosphere is fun and I’ll be trying another patty and a shake sooner rather than later.
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