It is often said that football is a game of inches. I think the adage might also apply to hamburgers. An overtoasted bun or a minute too long on the grill can make the difference between a burger that is just good, and one that is great. This is an idea which kept coming back to me as I dined on the Frog and Turtle’s Jalbert Burger, a burger with a lot of potential that, sadly, fell short of my expectations.
For the un-initiated, the Frog and Turtle is a gastro pub located at 3 Bridge Street in Westbrook, just feet away from the Presumpscot River. Owned and operated by James Tranchemontage (formerly of Uffa!), the Frog and Turtle features a cozy neighborhood vibe and a menu offering an eclectic mix of higher end pub-style foods. Despite a number of visits to its sister location, Tranchemontagne (formerly the French Press Eatery), I have never dined at the Frog and Turtle until now. (Its not for a lack of interest. I’ve just always had the misfortune of arriving a half-hour after closing or an hour before opening.)
On this note, I should mention that I owe my long overdue visit to the Frog and Turtle’s excellent online presence. In addition to the gastro pub’s official web site, Tranchemontagne and his staff have a presence on both Facebook and Twitter, both of which afford regular updates on specials and music. In a region with so many establishments competing for diners’ attention, those updates go a very long way in terms of saying, “Hey, remember us? We’re still here!” The Frog and Turtle stands as a great example of how social media can be exploited in all of the best ways, and one which many Portland area restauranteurs could learn from.
Speaking of its online marketing efforts, the Frog and Turtle is currently offering a deal on OpenTable, whereby patrons can spend $25 on $50 worth of cuisine. There are a few caveats: the deal is not valid on Fridays and the entire amount must be used in one visit. But still, if you are a fan of the Frog and Turtle, its an excellent value. (The deal expires at Noon on Thursday, March 31st, so—at the risk of sounding like this is a paid endorsement (its not)—I urge you to act quickly. Now, back to the review…
After fighting my way through Portland-to-Westbrook rush hour traffic, I arrived at the start of dinner service and was escorted to a small window booth near the bar. I was a little wary of the booth, at first, because there was a good amount of noise coming from the five or six people sitting at the bar. This would prove to be short-lived though, and to my relief, it quieted down quickly. As I made myself comfortable, the hostess poured me a glass of water and left me with the dinner menu as well as a drink menu. A moment later, a cheery waitress arrived and asked if I’d like to place a drink order. I don’t typically order beer with meals but decided to take a chance on Long Trail’s Centennial Red. She also advised me as to the day’s specials, which included a $30 seafood stew loaded to the proverbial gills with—among other things—shrimp, crawfish and a half lobster. Her enticing description of the stew made me seriously consider abandoning the burger for another day. I asked her to give me a minute to think it over and she went to retrieve my beer.
Though I had been seriously tempted by the seafood stew, I decided that I’d best stick with what I had come for: the Jalbert Burger. The Jalbert is billed as a six ounce all natural, growth hormone-free black angus beef burger with bacon, blue cheese, mushrooms, dijon mustard and bbq sauce. Though the burger comes with fries or onion rings, I asked if I might upgrade the fries to poutine and pay the difference. My waitress assured me that it was not a problem at all, and departed for the kitchen to put my order in.
While I waited for my meal to arrive, I sampled the beer. It had a beautiful red tint, somewhere in between amber and copper. The foamy head was about two centimeters thick, and faded quickly. As I sipped the beer, I picked up a taste that was slightly bitter with a hint of brown sugar (or possibly molasses). I enjoyed it, and—while I’m keen to try some of the Frog and Turtle’s other drinks—it is something that I’ll definitely try again.Before long, my burger arrived at my table at the hands of the hostess. While she went to refill my water, I scrutinized the burger and realized that something wasn’t right. Though I couldn’t remember all of the ingredients that were supposed to come on the Jalbert Burger, this clearly was not it. The hostess returned with my water and I asked her if I had possibly gotten the wrong order. She said that she thought it was right, but happily went to check with the kitchen. A couple of minutes later, my apologetic waitress emerged with a small plate loaded with bacon, blue cheese and mushrooms. The Frog and Turtle also offers what’s called the “F&T burger” (with lettuce, tomato and onion) and it seems that is what I had originally received.
These things happen, and the important thing is that the staff recognized the error and corrected it quickly. That said, “fixing” my own burger with the bacon, blue cheese and mushrooms was a bit of a messy experience. I probably would have preferred to that the burger be taken back to the kitchen where the chef could have dressed it and made less of a mess of the the plate than I did.
With my burger now “repaired,” I took my first bite. While I was happy to see a good bit of pink on the inside (of the burgers I have reviewed thus far, the Frog and Turtle is the only one to hit the nail on the head with regard to temperature), there was an odd consistency issue. Some bites were much firmer than others. What’s more is that an inspection of the meat inside the bun also revealed that it was less of a burger patty than it was several pieces of burger patty hanging together by a thread. (You can actually see where one piece is falling out of the bun in the photo at the top of this entry.) I’ve had burgers before that were a combination of different cuts of meat, but have never had experiences where the consistency was so profoundly different from bite-to-bite. It was odd, bordering on unpleasant. That said, the flavor was just fine (actually very good) and I finished the entire burger.
Also problematic was the bun. Though toasted perfectly, the bottom portion of the bun was not up to the task of supporting the burger and its ingredients. After a few bites, I found that it was completely saturated with the juices from the burger (and perhaps the dampness of the tomato and lettuce). My attempt to cut the burger in half just made things worse, and I eventually resigned myself to eating it with a knife and fork. While it afforded me the opportunity to see if I could figure out what was going on with the burger patty, it wasn’t much a “true” burger experience.
I must mention that I had some issues with the poutine as well. The crinkle-cut french fries were kind of a sickly color, reminiscent of store bought french fries cooked on a baking sheet. I found the gravy—described on the menu as a “classic Canadian gravy”—to be a little bit bland in terms of both color and flavor. I’m hardly an authority on poutine, but most of my experiences with it have involved a dark, beef gravy (or in the case of Duckfat’s stellar poutine, duck gravy). Fortunately, the dish was saved by the gooey cheese, which added much in the way of personality.
Though the burger and poutine combination made for a filling meal, it stopped well short of being a deeply satisfying one. That said, one of the things that I really liked about my experience was that the general manager’s business card came to me stapled to my receipt. I have not seen this done on many occasions, and I really like the fact that the Frog and Turtle staff is so outgoing. The Jalbert Burger may have left me wanting, but I’ll definitely be returning to the Frog and Turtle soon, thanks to the great atmosphere, the friendliness of the wait staff and the various other temptations found on the menu.
MY RATING: 2.5 MOONS (out of 5)