Mark and Donnie Wahlberg have managed to make a name for themselves both in the music and acting business – Donnie most recently with his work on CBS’s Blue Bloods and his ongoing participation in New Kids on the Block while Mark is of course a movie star (Boogie Nights, Shooter, Ted, The Oher Guys) and producer (Entourage, Boardwalk Empire) whose humble beginnings started in Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. The siblings have decided to further expand their empire by going into the restaurant business with their brother Paul for the burger joint Wahlburgers. The restaurant is also a subject of an A&E reality show by the same name. I watched a few episodes of the show out of curiosity and while reality TV really isn’t for me, it was mildly amusing. By reality show standards it’s pretty tame and it feels pretty staged, but the interaction between the brothers, their other siblings and their mother Alma is generally relatable and fun. It’s mindless entertainment, but it’s still entertainment. I don’t watch the show regularly, but if I happen to come across it while surfing the channels, I’ll stop and watch a few minutes before moving on to greener pastures. Both Mark and Donnie are consistently featured on the show – the latter more than the former – which was a little surprising, as I figured their presence would taper off over time. You’d think that neither of them would have a lot of time or interest in a reality show on A&E, but family loyalty (and brand recognition) runs deep with this crew.
My friend Staci have been discussing for a while making the road trip to visit Wahlburgers; while the restaurant has plans for a rapid expansion into various new locations, currently the only spot that is open (according to their website) is in Hingham, MA (the family hails from Dorchester). It seemed like a win-win for us: we’d get to spend some time together while Staci would get a little NKOTB fix and I’d get to try a new burger. I could pretty much live on burgers if that was permissible without ever getting sick of them, so the opportunity to have a burger with a side of some pop culture made the three hour drive to the restaurant seem like an excellent way to spend a day. We hit the road at 8 am on Saturday to get to Wahlburgers shortly after it opened for lunch; we had bundled a visit to a spa in Boston in as part of the road trip as well, so we weren’t just driving six hours roundtrip to go to a casual dining establishment (though I have done dumber things).
Wahlburgers is located in a small plaza that is the home to many other restaurants, a movie theater, a brewpub and some retail stores. It was a little cooler and more overcast than we would have liked, but I’m guessing on a warm Friday or Saturday night the plaza would have been really hoping. It would be a nice one-stop shop for dinner and a movie and the plaza is located near a dock filled with either large boats or small yachts (I am not a nautical person). It was overall a pretty location and while it’s hard to make a plaza feel very exciting, it wouldn’t be a bad place to spend some time.
Wahlburgers is located directly across from the family’s other restaurant, Alma Nove. We arrived shortly after 11 am, when they opened, and it was already fairly crowded. The restaurant was slightly bigger than I anticipated; one side was for “quick service” where customers order at the counter and pick the food up and the other side had wait staff that took care of individual tables. There is also outside seating with a fireplace. We opted for the full Wahlburgers experience and the hostess directed us to a high top to await our server. We were over by the bar and there were plenty of TVs to watch, though that early on a Saturday, there wasn’t much on other than soccer (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Since I wasn’t driving, I decided to go all out and have one of the restaurant’s adult frappes. I opted for the Fluffanuttah: vanilla ice cream, peanut butter, marshmallow vodka and crème de banana. It was a little pricey at $12, but since it’s not like I can go to Wahlburgers all the time I decided to go for it. I’m always a little wary of the dairy and alcohol combo – I still have PTSD from one too many Girl Scout cookie cocktails at a sorority formal in college – but the Fluffanuttah was pretty darn tasty. My only complaint was that there was a little bit of an alcohol after taste, so while the drink went down pretty smoothly, I was quickly reminded that this was not a frappe for kids. It was pretty filling as well, so one was more than enough, though I would have liked to try the s’more frappe as well.
Though Wahlburgers is primarily a burger joint, the small menu does offer patrons plenty of options. In addition to the generic house burger, there are four specialty burgers on the menu as well as a burger of the month that rotates. The menu also has several sandwich and salads choices as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options. So while the menu isn’t extensive, they manage to offer meals that would appeal to most people. The burgers don’t come with any sides, but those can be added a la carte. It dawned on me during the ride to Wahlburgers that in the 20+ years that we’ve been friends, I wasn’t even sure that I’d ever seen Staci eat a burger. So it would have been kind of hysterical if we drove all the way to Hingham and she ordered a salad. It turns out that she doesn’t have a beef with burgers (ha!); Staci ordered the “Originally from Dorchester” burger (1/2 lb burger with homemade tomato jam, bacon, Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms) with a side of fires. I opted for “The Melt” burger (1/3 lb burger, served between thick-cut bread and grilled with government cheese, pickles caramelized onions, bacon and mustard sauce) with a side of sweet potato tots. Because reading comprehension is not always my strong suit, I completely skipped over the part of my burger’s description that discussed the bread, so I was super confused when my burger came out. It’s amazing that I did as well on the SATs as I did.
My main concern about Wahlburgers was that we would have driven all that way for a sub-par burger, which would have been a real drag. Thankfully, that was not the case; while my burger wasn’t the best that I’ve ever had (I love you In-N-Out), it wasn’t too shabby either. As confused as I was about the bread, it definitely added something to the burger; it was like having a burger inside a grilled cheese, which is not a bad thing in my book. My whole burger was tasty, but the pickles particularly stood out. They were just the right level of crispy and tangy. I’m a big fan of tater tots and my tots were also very good; I like my tots on the crispy side (rather than mushy) and these fit the bill. Staci enjoyed her meal as well, so it the trip was overall a success. We didn’t have any actual Wahlberg sightings, which I wasn’t really expecting anyway. Our timing probably didn’t help, since we were there so early; I’m guessing out likelihood of seeing at least Paul or Alma would have been better in the late afternoon or evening. Staci and I have both already met Donnie and it’s probably for the best that we didn’t run into Mark since I would have had to ask him for my money back for his movie Pain & Gain. Man, I really hated that movie. The staff that we did interact with were all nice and helpful; before we left we stopped by the counter to pick up some souvenirs – a Wahlburgers t-shirt for Staci and a Wahlburgers pint glass for me (because – of course).
All in all, it was a nice way to spend a Saturday, other than our close proximity to Fenway Park when we went into Boston for our spa visit on Newbury Street. I don’t know that I’d ever feel obligated to make a special trip to Wahlburgers again, but if I happened to be in the vicinity of the restaurant locations I would definitely stop in again. I wouldn’t put the Wahlburgers burger ahead of In-N-Out or Five Guys, but it’s way better than a lot of burgers that I’ve consumed in my travels. Good company and good food is not a bad way to spend a Saturday.
The full Wahlburgers menu is available at http://www.wahlburgersrestaurant.com. The Wahlburgers reality show has wrapped its third season on A&E.