For the inaugural entry in the Chubby Werewolf BurgerWatch, I thought I’d profile Wild Willy’s Burgers.
Wild Willy’s has a half-dozen locations—or “outposts” as its web site refers to them—throughout Northern New England. The South Portland location that I visited was one of two in Maine and is, I believe, the newest of the six. The location has a Cowboy/Mining town vibe to it, and I suspect that this is the also the case with its five sibling restaurants. The theme—which includes a old timey player piano—is a bit too “Medievel Times” for me, so I generally get my burgers to go.
The menu at Wild Willy’s is fairly straightforward and consists mostly of burgers. That’s a good thing, as too many burger places make the mistake of trying to offer too much variety, causing the burgers to get lost in the shuffle. In addition to french fries, onion rings and frappes, Willy’s menu does feature a handful of non-Burger sandwiches (chicken, steak and a BLT), chili and salads… none of which I’ve ever seen ordered by other patrons… and all of which seem to exist solely for the sake of the appearance of variety.
Willy’s burgers feature names like the Rio Grande, Annie Oakley and the Bandito. A burger called the “Wicked Good” is tossed in to give the Menu a New England flair. Although Willy’s does not advertise a “build to order” burger (like what you’d find at a chain like Five Guys) but I’ve never had issues with asking them to add or remove an ingredient or two.
Of the burgers that I’ve tried, the Bubba BBQ Burger (zesty BBQ sauce, hickory-smoked bacon, Cheddar cheese, onion, and pickles) and the Wicked Good (sauteed onions and mushrooms with Swiss and Cheddar cheeses, plus bacon which I asked to have added for $1.00 extra) are my favorite. On the Bubba, the barbecue sauce brings just the right amount of zip to the burger without being too sweet or smokey. The combination of bacon, sauteed onions, mushrooms and two kinds of cheese on the Wicked Good is almost divine in its excess.
Great french fries are almost as hard to find in New England as great burgers are. Unfortunately, Willy’s french fries don’t quite hold up to the burgers in the quality department. The web site says that they are made from hand-cut Maine potatoes which are cooked in vegetable oil, then lightly salted. More often than not, my fries come to my looking soggy and unremarkable, and in dire need of proper seasoning. I’ve also had a couple of instances where the smell of the fries suggested that to me that they were cooked in oil that was less than fresh.
Wild Willy’s does stumble in a few other areas. First and foremost, their burgers are charbroiled, which is my least favorite burger cooking method. While many people like the charbroiled flavor, I find that too often, the meat gets dried out. That’s especially true when you’re cooking with lean meat (I’ve never seen signage to suggest what Willy’s meat grind is composed of, I suspect that it is primarily beef that is 90% lean or leaner). If you’re going to charbroil, 80% lean would be a much better choice.
Charbroiling can also pose issues for inexperienced chefs and cooks, causing burgers that should be rare to leave the kitchen in a well-done state, or vice-versa. For the most part, I’ve been able to avoid this. But every now and then I get a burger home to discover that its been far more or far less than instructed.
Another area of concern is the staff which, while friendly and helpful, can be also be a bit slow at times. Though signage in the store and on the web site warns patrons that Willy’s is “not fast food” and that burger prep time could take 12-15 minutes, there have been a number of instances when I’ve waited as long as 25 minutes for an order to emerge from the kitchen. Its not the worst thing in the world, but its worth keeping in mind if you’re in a hurry. That said, any time that I’ve had to wait, I’ve been offered a free glass of water and, on one occasion, a complimentary soda. I appreciated this extra little touch.
<a href=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/259/1182388/restaurant/Portland/Wild-Willys-Burgers-South-Portland”><img alt=”Wild Willy’s Burgers on Urbanspoon” src=”http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/link/1182388/minilink.gif” style=”border:none;width:130px;height:36px” /></a>
All in all, a trip to Wild Willy’s is likely to net you a decent—albeit not outstanding—burger experience. I’ll stop short of calling it a diamond in the rough, but it is my “go to” destination if I’m in South Portland, and in want of a burger. I do feel that management could turn a decent burger into a very good burger if they would re-think their grind, and perhaps provide a little more training for the guys working over the broiler.
I give Wild Willy’s (South Portland location) THREE MOONS (out of five).