Thurston’s Wicked Goood Burgers (Portland, ME)

by chubbywerewolf on 22 June 2014

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Quick Note: In my original posting, I misidentified Thurston’s as sitting near Nason’s Corner rather than Woodford’s Corner. (As I live not far from either, I’m prone to confuse them). Thanks to reader Rachael for catching this error, which has now been corrected.

In the eight years that I’ve lived in Portland, I don’t think I ever once visited the now-defunct KFC which sat at 699 Forest Avenue. Mostly, because I’ve never really been able to stomach the food churned out by the nation’s leading provider of greasy skin and morning-after diarrhea. But also because—from a driving standpoint—I really, really hate the Woodford’s Corner area of town.

If you are unfamiliar with it, this little chunk of the city features what equates to two 5-way intersections—the more frustrating of which is Woodford’s Corner itself—within 100 yards of one another. Consequently, it functions as a Hellmouth from which Portland’s worst, most idiotic drivers seem to emerge. (Sure enough, on my visit to Thurston’s this weekend, a blue Mazda sped right through a red light and came within six inches of clipping my vehicle.) As such, I’ve historically regarded the entire area as less of a destination and more of something which I should do everything in my power to avoid. (The key exception is Bayou Kitchen, which is sits right in the belly of the beast, but which is accessible from one or two of the less heavily-trafficked streets, and close enough that I can walk to it from my home in just 20 minutes or so.)

That being said, it is with some degree of bemused skepticism that I regarded the the impending opening of Thurston’s Wicked Good Burgers (which is purported to be owned by Fred Thurston, the owner of the KFC previously occupying the space). As the building’s facade transformed from KFC’s brand standard PMS 187 red to solid coats of green and yellow (making it strangely evocative of the Wally’s Burger Express that sits a mile away from my office in Austin), I wondered if the restaurant’s location would help or impair its success, if (and how) it would be welcomed into the neighborhood, and frankly, whether or not Portland can tolerate yet another burger establishment in the vein of Five Guys and Elevation Burger.

thurstons-wicked-burgers-4Fueled by these questions, I decided to stop by Thurston’s during its opening weekend for a meal. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m generally not a fan of opening day/night/weekend/week reviews, even when they are clumsily masked by the author as a “first look review.” But I figured that as long as I regarded my Thurston’s experience with a not-too-critical-eye, offering up some observations would probably be okay. And, lets face it, we’re talking about fast food hamburgers and custard here, not sweet bread appetizers and craft cocktails.

Having now performed the mental gymnastics necessary for absolving myself of my hypocrisy, I’m pleased to tell you that my experience at Thurston’s was generally pretty great.

The menu is, wisely, limited to hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, onion rings and frozen custard. A veggie burger and a few salads—one of which is available in the combo meals in lieu of french fries—are offered as well.

Like the aforementioned Five Guys burger chain, Thurston’s approach to burgers basically involves charging a flat fee for a “single” (the 1/4lb. burger) or a “double,” with unlimited free toppings like tomatoes, lettuce, sauces, pickles, onions and mushrooms. There is an extra charge for cheese ($0.50 for your choice of cheddar, American, Swiss or blue cheese) as well as bacon ($1), but if you opt for one of the three combo meals (sandwich, side, pickle spear and a drink), you’ll find that the prices are pretty comparable to what you’d pay at Five Guys. Cola drinks aren’t your standard “monster gulp” size (not necessarily a bad thing) but refills are free.

thurstons-wicked-burgers-2For my first visit, I ordered the double burger combo, with bacon and cheddar cheese added. I opted for fries over the salad. While it wasn’t offered, I did find out later that you can ask to substitute onions rings as well. I ordered my burger with pickles, sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions and the zesty house sauce (a combination of Thousand Island dressing, ketchup, mayo and horseradish).

About eight minutes after placing my order, a fabulous-looking burger was delivered to my table by a sweet, grandmotherly-type of woman.

The griddled burger patties, forged from Certified Angus Beef, were nicely browned, a good size for the bun and more juicy than greasy. As they are of the thinner variety that has been repopularized in recent years, I doubt you can ask to have them cooked to temperature as you would with a thicker burger, but they were tasty nonetheless. (As an aside, as the kitchen staff becomes more acclimated with their griddle, it might be fun to ask them to experiment with a “crust” on the burger, like the ones found at SmashBurger and Shake Shack.)

I loved the combination of toppings on my burger. The mushrooms and onions were especially well-prepared, and the sight of that thick carpet of cheddar cheese provides a pretty great visual, along with the two huge sandwich-size slices of pickle. I enjoyed the zesty house sauce (the horseradish imparts a nice zing) but wished I had a bit more of it. Next time, I’ll ask for extra or to have it on the side.

The hamburger bun appeared to have been lightly buttered and griddled. I sought out more information about the bun from one of the employees, but wasn’t very successful. She first said that it was homemade (a term that I take to be synonymous with house-made) but then mentioned that it came from a local bakery. My query about whether it was a potato bun just seemed to confuse the matter further, so I dropped it. In any case, it was just fine, supporting the burger and toppings right up until the last bite.

French fries are pretty much irrelevant in that they will almost never make or break a place for me on their own, but the hand-cut fries at Thurston’s (made from Maine potatoes according to the menu board) were crispy, golden and well-seasoned. (That said, I did get a “bonus” onion ring in my fries which was good enough that on my next visit, I’ll ask for rings as my side, along with the cup of the zesty house sauce to dip them in.)

(Having already overdone it this weekend, I didn’t attempt any of the frozen custard, but I will be sure to give it a try on a future visit. In fact, it will be a good incentive to walk, rather than drive.)

As I was finishing my meal, I was pleased to see that Thurston’s was doing fairly brisk business, with plenty of folks coming in to eat for the first time, and many others inquiring about take-away menus. By the time I departed, the small’ish parking lot was filled to capacity. Provided that the meal and level-of-service I enjoyed is representative of the Thurston’s experience over the long-term, I don’t think they will have any trouble surviving and thriving in this little corner of the universe.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Racheal Doyle June 23, 2014 at 11:46 am

Nason’s corner is on outer Brighton Avenue. Thurston’s is located right after Woodford’s Corner. You called it Nason’s twice, which says it’s more than a typo, and perhaps you’re not from here.

I had a burger there this weekend, and it wasn’t great.While the sides were fine (albeit small servings), and the ingredient toppings seemed fine, the burger meat was tasteless, dry and gritty, which says they don’t season the burger meat (if you don’t use superior meat, then you need to season it before cooking, at least with some salt and pepper), and they are either using a burger with too little fat content and then overcooking it, the burger patties are frozen (and carelessly so), or the quality of their beef is not what they are stating, I also disliked the romaine lettuce for a burger topping (while iceberg lettuce really has no flavor, it has the kind of crunch I want on my burger – save the romaine for my salad).

I’ll give them time for a learning curve, although if they had their website up and running (or at least had an email address), they could receive some feedback from folks and learn what they are doing right/wrong in time to actually fix it.

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chubbywerewolf June 23, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Rachael,

Thanks for reading and for the clarification on Nason’s Corner vs. Woodford’s Corner. Being that I live on a side street off Brighton this is close to both, I momentarily confused the two, as sometimes happens. I’ve corrected the post… and please rest assured that I do live here. (As mentioned in the very first sentence of my blog, I have for eight years now.) 😉

Sorry your burger wasn’t up-to par. I had hoped to inquire about the blend used in the burgers, but—as I learned when attempting to ask about the buns—it was just a little too chaotic at the time to press the staff for too many details. That said, a comment I saw elsewhere online that stated they were using chuck, brisket and short rib, a combination which ought to result in anything but a dry burger. But who knows if that is true… this is the Internet, after all. I’ll seek more details on my next visit.

I do agree with you that romaine is not something I’d seek out as a topping on my burger. Just curious…. did you inquire whether iceburg was an option when placing your order?

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Racheal Doyle June 24, 2014 at 10:51 am

My order was take-out, as I live nearby, so I didn’t realize until I got home with lunch that the burger had romaine on it, and I didn’t think to ask because it is rare to find a burger place using romaine instead of iceburg. Next time (as I’m sure to give them another chance after they’ve had a chance to work out the kinks), I’ll be sure to ask.

chubbywerewolf June 23, 2014 at 12:42 pm

One other quick note for Rachael. If you open the job application on the Thurston’s web site, you’ll see that there is an email address which you could use to send feedback. I doubt that this company is so large that your comments would not make it back to the right people.

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Racheal Doyle June 24, 2014 at 10:53 am

Thank you, I will open the application on their website to find the email. I would like to give feedback so they have a chance to address issues. It would be nice to have a decent burger place in the area and not have to travel through Portland to find a place to grab a burger once in a while.

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Dan Zarin June 23, 2014 at 9:29 pm

Nice review! Sounds worth checking out. I pass Harmon’s every day, though, so my thin-patty burger business doesn’t come easy.

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Ashley S. July 11, 2014 at 1:53 pm

First time eating at Thurstons! We had a pick up order for our office and when we arrived the Customer Service was amazing, two smiling faces at the counter, polite employees, very clean and and even an offer to help carry bags out to the car. We ordered two #1’s with fries and onion rings!! My burger was delightful!! Fresh veggies, lovely presentation, soft bun perfect amount of sauce! Now on to the ONION RINGS!!! To die for!!! They are shoe string like, sweet, melt in the heaven they create in your mouth! HW Staffing and it’s employees will definitely order from Thurston’s again!

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EllaMinnowPea October 21, 2014 at 11:56 am

OH, the days of growing up in Virginia eating KFC Chicken Littles (the original version with mayo on a soft dinner roll), and Hardee’s chicken biscuits & heart-stopping “Monster Burger.” Pre-calorie counting days for sure! No wonder I was such a fat kid! Haha.

So once in a while I still have a craving for KFC and made the mistake of visiting the Woodford’s Corner location. One time… and that was enough to turn me off nearly forever! Drive Thru service was lousy (I recall having to shout at them through the intercom — “hello?” hello?”), and somehow the whole thing felt sketchy, and the food (I wanted a Twister wrap, which they no longer make by the way!) … eww, tasted old & bland — even for guilty fast food pleasure.

I was glad to see KFC go and replaced by cheery, bright Thurston’s Wicked Good Burgers. I’m scared to think that dreaded KFC has ANYTHING to do with Thurston’s now regarding its ownership, but so far so good. I’ve been to Thurston’s twice and had a great experience both times — friendly & professional customer service, food comes out quickly considering they are NOT a true fast food chain, and the burgers tasted fresh and “homemade” in the best way possible — like my dad may have just brought them in off the grill in our backyard. LOVE. Whatever they are doing, please keep it up! Will definitely be back!

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