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John Golden

John Golden writes about food and has a highly opinionated blog, The Golden Dish.

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Posted: June 30, 2014

New in town: Thurston’s Wicked Good Burgers

Thurston’s Wicked Good Burgers are good but not “wicked” and worth the drive to Forest Ave

Written by: John Golden

It’s no surprise that the former Forest Avenue KFC reopened last week as the heretofore unknown Thurston’s Wicked Good Burgers.  That’s because the largest franchiser of KFC/Taco Bell in Maine is none other than Fred Thurston—voila his eponymous burger joint.  His company is Conifer Industries of New Gloucester.  And this is his first foray into Maine’s burger world.

At the corner of Vannah and Forest, Thurston's is convenient to get to

At the corner of Vannah and Forest, Thurston’s is convenient to get to

Will more be on the way to replace existing KFCs with kitschy Thurstonettes serving burgers instead? Maybe so.

We have a lot of burger chains in downtown Portland.  Five Guys, Elevation Burger and B. Good all are within a several block radius of each other.

The most egregious in my book is Elevation Burger.  They beat the drum to being 100 percenters, touting 100 percent grass-fed-organic-free-range-beef ground on the premises.  With all this you’d expect one helluva burger.  But they’re no better or worse than the others

Yet, they had the audacity—smarts?—to move into the most prominent spot in the Old Port, the corner location where the lovely Farmer’s Table presided.  They’re sure to capture the shuffling tourists coming off the cruise ships this summer and fall.  Then, again, maybe not. Tourists flock to our numerous fried clam and lobster eateries that line Commercial Street.  But, hey, a fast burger with fries, a soft drink and all the condiments you can gather is universal value at $10.  (The sweet spot is the $10 figure at all these places, including Thurston’s, for the basic burger order that include fries and a drink.)

B. Good is probably the best of the lot.  They make an excellent burger served in an attractive space that isn’t all plastic furniture and Formica tomfooleries of design.  What all these burger joints miss, however, is what burgersmeisters achieve: a crusty char that develops when a thick burger oozing juice and goodness is cooked correctly.  Instead fast-food burgers—no matter their claims of excellent quality– are cooked to shoe-leather brown; a medium or rare burger is not plausible in a fast-food chain because of health fears of undercooked meat.

The comfy dining room

The comfy dining room

Thurston’s, however, does make an excellent burger, though it’s a thin patty.  It’s 100 percent Angus beef and a blend that uses various cuts of chuck including brisket and short ribs–all ground on the premises.   The fries were good but could have been crispier. The onion rings, however, were standard issue.  They come pre-made ready for the fryolator.

The line moves quickly, the staff is super friendly and there's plenty of space to find a table

The line moves quickly, the staff is super friendly and there’s plenty of space to find a table

The frozen custard—another name for ice cream because that’s what it is—is excellent made on the premises with eggs and local cream.  It’s available for take-out too in pint-size containers.

The interior is what you’d expect, the usual fast-food chain décor.  With a separate eating area called the Portland Room they’re attempting to be slightly upscale.  But it’s just a series of tables and high tops away from the activity.

Everything is local.  Thurston himself is a Mainer and all the ingredients are from Maine farms and food suppliers–even the onion rings are prepared by a Maine company using Maine-grown onions.

The classic: burger with all the fixings, fries, soft drink and onion rings

The classic: burger with all the fixings, fries, soft drink and onion rings

Ultimately fast-food burgers have a distinctive taste no matter what’s in them.  Thurston’s offers a decent burger, great ice cream and a comfortable place in which to have a quick, inexpensive meal.

The Thurston Burger

The Thurston Burger



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