I haven't been into Flat Patties for a couple months, because I'm rarely hungry when I'm in Harvard Square. But this afternoon was so freakishly nice that I kept walking after running my bank and post office errands and found myself in Harvard Square and famished.
But first, the backstory: by both birth and family roots, I am a Texan. Texans are born with a certain set of core beliefs, and most of them have to do with food. (One important non-food one is that no one born in New Haven, Connecticut who went to Philips Andover and Yale can pass as a Texan, no matter how much brush he clears.) Foremost among these beliefs is what constitutes a hamburger, and the Platonic Ideal for Texans is different from the Platonic Ideal for New Englanders. (In my own case, the PI would be the cheeseburger at the late, lamented Navajo Inn in Menard, Texas.) The burger patty itself must be wide in diameter and, crucially, flat: flat enough we find the ongoing Boston Board debate about whether this restaurant or that will serve a rare burger is ludicrous. This is a burger that's going to be cooked medium no matter what. So, obviously, Flat Patties has been on the right track from the very beginning.
The bun, like the burger, must be a minimum of five inches in diameter. It should also look like a hamburger bun. (And frankly, here is where FP's primary competition for my burger ideal, Grille Zone, falls short: that's a sandwich roll, not a hamburger bun.) Crucially, the bun must be toasted, preferably on the same griddle the burgers are cooked on. (Yes, griddle. Grills are fine, but the most ideal burgers are griddled.) The condiment is basic yellow mustard. No ketchup, mayo or secret sauce. The vegetables are lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles, preferably in that order of application. The cheese is *maybe* a mild cheddar, but ideally a basic deli-style American, and it is melted onto the top of the burger after its final flip.
The resulting burger is subtly but crucially different from the Boston standard, and as a result, I hadn't had a truly transcendent burger since moving here about five and half years ago. Several have come very close, but until this afternoon, not one has had the Proust's Madeleine effect. But today's cheeseburger, ordered with mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and pickles, was just exactly it. From the first bite, it was exactly the burger I've been missing all this time.
I feel a certain pride of ownership on this point, because at my last visit to Flat Patties minus one, sometime last spring, I had a long conversation with the guy who runs both FP and Felipe's (which, eh, but that's another story), and we talked at some length about my Platonic Ideal of burgerdom, and how he could help bring that to fruition, and on my last visit, I was happy to see that some of my suggestions had been implemented. This visit, after an absence of at least three months, shows tremendous further improvement, and it has taken Flat Patties from a good burger with strong potential to, so far, the single best burger I have yet had in New England. Naturally, other folks have different conceptions of the Burger Ideal, but this place has successfully filled a desperately necessary niche in the local market.
Now to convince someone to open a New Mexican restaurant and an okonomi-yaki house...