A decent burger and scoop of custard from a Maine-based restaurant beats fast-food burgers from national chains any day.
Thurston’s Wicked Good Burgers gave me another lesson in just how crazy the food culture is here.
Driving into work one day a few months ago, I noticed they appeared to be disassembling the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Forest Avenue. I wasn’t surprised – that place never seemed to be wildly busy – and quietly wondered, “Hmmm, I wonder what will take its place?”
I (very) briefly contemplated sending out a quick tweet, but stopped myself, thinking no one will care about a tired old chain restaurant. Boy, was I wrong. Others began posting the news, at times with the same hint of drama usually afforded to the closure of one of Portland’s many chef-owned restaurants.
Then all the speculation about the future of the building was resolved and people began talking with a puzzling amount of gravitas about a new burger place going in there. It had “wicked” in the title, so it must be local. Does the city really need another burger joint?
What caught my eye about this new Thurston’s place was the sign that said it also would be serving frozen custard, which I love. The closest place I’ve found to get the real stuff is Mainely Custard in Freeport, so this would be a lot more convenient.
Reviews have already been posted by the “I must be there one second after the door opens” people, so instead of waiting for the place to get all the kinks out, like we usually do, I decided to go ahead and stop in. So take any criticism here with a giant grain of salt. It’s only fair.
Thurston’s Wicked Good Burgers is kind of like a half-chain, half-not-chain restaurant. You order at a counter like a chain restaurant, from a chalk board menu like the one you might find in a casual local restaurant. Instead of waiting at the counter for your order, the staff takes your name and delivers your food to you when it’s ready.
The burgers are made with certified Angus beef. A basic quarter-pound burger is $5, or you can get a double for $7. (They also have a veg burger for vegetarians.) It’s a flat fee, and you add as many ôfreeö toppings as you want. Toppings include the usual ketchup, mustard and mayo, but also barbecue sauce, relish, grilled or raw onions, sauteed mushrooms, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles and something called zesty house sauce, which is like a dressed-up version of Thousand Island dressing. Add cheese for 50 cents and bacon for $1.
Fries are $2.50, and chili cheese fries a dollar more. Onion rings are $4. There are also combo meals available. A double burger combo, for example, includes fries and a fountain drink for $9.50. (You’re basically getting a free drink.)
By the time I arrived for dinner one evening, most people coming in were there for dessert, ordering custard. I ordered a burger with the house sauce, mushrooms, grilled onions, tomatoes and pickles. The meat patties were thick and, while not quite as juicy as I’d hoped, did not fall into the greasy category. The bun was fresh and actually had some flavor û good quality for a fast-food burger.
My only issue was with the toppings. I’m not usually picky about this kind of thing – really, I’m not – but there was maybe half a teaspoon of the special sauce on the burger. I couldn’t even taste it, so I can’t tell you whether or not it was good or bad. As for the veggies, I doubt the number of sliced mushrooms on my burger would have added up to a whole little mushroom. Whoever put my burger together was also ridiculously skimpy on the onions.
And I was the lucky person who got the ends of the tomatoes, the tiny slices you start and end with when you’re cutting one.
There was really no need for the pickles because it turns out a pickle spear comes with the burger. I liked the pickles on the burger better, though – the spear was far too sour for me – so that was no big deal.
I had better luck with the onion rings, which were very thin, very crunchy and very good. A little greasy, but no one expects onion rings to be health food. These are a decadent treat, and I would go back just to order them.
I decided to order a milkshake after I asked if it’s made with the same custard that goes in the cones (I was told it was). The milkshakes come in chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and butterscotch.
This was one of those times that I forgot I’m north of the Mason-Dixon line and the word milkshake means getting a thin drink that has the taste, but not the texture, of ice cream. Because it was made with frozen custard, I imagined my butterscotch shake would be thick, maybe thick enough to need a spoon. It was thin enough to easily drink through a straw, and after a few minutes of melting was more like sugary milk filled with cloyingly sweet butterscotch syrup.
Next time I’ll try the regular custard in a cone (regular, sugar or waffle). Cones and cups are $2.50 for small and $3.50 for large. Sundaes are $4 and come with whipped cream, a cherry and your choice of sauces, including hot fudge, strawberry, marshmallow, pineapple and more. A concoction called a Maine Clipper (similar to the Dairy Queen Blizzard) blends frozen custard with toppings such as Heath bar bits, M&Ms, peanut butter cups, Peppermint Patties and so on.
Thurston’s has a good deal for parents called a Wicked Good Kids Pack for children under 10. For $4, they can get a mini-burger or hot dog, a small order of fries, a fountain drink and a single scoop of custard.
There’s a lot to like about Thurston’s, and I’ll probably go back. A decent burger and scoop of custard from a Maine-based restaurant beats fast-food burgers from national chains any day.
WHERE: 699 Forest Ave., Portland
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
OUTDOOR SEATING: No
WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE: Yes