Here’s an example of a restaurant that just crept into town. I think that the manager has done everything that anyone in his position is meant to do to get the word out – there’s a whacking great billboard right above his shop – but it hasn’t taken and people aren’t talking about it. This is a huge shame, because Boardwalk Fresh Burgers & Fries really is worth a visit, and worth a lot of talk.
Admittedly, sometimes it takes a little while for word of mouth to build. Boardwalk has been building very slowly, with most of their business over thirty years confined to sports arenas and fry carts around the mid-Atlantic states. The conversion to a “fast casual” burger joint came in 2007, and they now claim nine restaurants in six states.
The french fries are definitely this place’s draw. Don’t get me wrong; they cook up some very good burgers, but Atlanta is, as we’ve established, more than awash in very good burgers and it is tough to stand out. But these fries, well, darned if I can think of any other burger joint in town to offer fries this good. There are better burgers in Atlanta, but I don’t believe that any of Boardwalk’s many competitors in the field have such good fries.
Last week, Marie and I met up with Samantha and with Neal, who had just returned from his California trip. We all drove separately, and Neal and Marie each mentioned something which might be blocking the restaurant’s hopes for success: nobody can find the place. Marie, using Google Maps and Neal, using GPS, each got bad directions to a place which should be incredibly easy to find. I just tried it myself on Google and it says, quite wrongly, “destination will be on the left” when coming from downtown Atlanta. That’s not true. Going north on Roswell Road from the perimeter, it is less than a mile on the right, just past the El Azteca in a strip mall in front of the Lowe’s.
Once you do find the place, you’ll find a menu board that’s not hugely different from the industry standard. Customers can order a basic burger with one or two patties and an assortment of toppings or one of a few different specialty items with the extra-priced toppings added. Honestly, I don’t see the need to pay for mushrooms or bacon when I have come to sample ground beef, unless I want something considerably different. Neal went with the chicken, but the rest of us just had single patties with basic lettuce and tomatoes. I had ketchup and their chipotle sauce on the side. This turned out to be the only disappointment of the meal; as a little bit on the bottom of my burger, the chipotle was unmemorable and brought out nothing, but as a fry dip, the sauce had no tang at all to it, and the flavor did not mix with the potato.
Five Guys is the obvious comparison point here. Despite the flashy design and colorful interior, Boardwalk feels like it is following in Five Guys’ shadow, but they excel in every way. I enjoy Five Guys, although I have not eaten at one in a very long time – they are big enough that they don’t miss me – and they provide a good baseline for acceptable quality in a good burger. Marie, Samantha and I all agreed that this was a better hamburger, and far less greasy than what Five Guys offers. It is certainly on a par with Cheeseburger Bobby’s.
But these fries, well, these are superior to Five Guys in every possible way, and miles better than the awful fries that the otherwise great Bobby’s makes. Unfortunately, I made the calamitously bad mistake of ordering chili cheese fries. These were not bad, but I assure you, these fries need neither chili nor cheese. The restaurant suggests that you eat them “Maryland style” with vinegar and Old Bay seasoning. Fortunately, Neal and Samantha each had more than enough fries to share for us to try those add-ons. I like Old Bay seasoning a lot – it’s basically celery salt with mustard, black and red pepper and pinches of another ten things – and if I’d ordered fries without chili and cheese, I’d have blanketed ’em in Old Bay.
Neal bought a dessert for us all to share, probably because he was still smarting from the funnel cakes that he didn’t get to try out in California. Boardwalk’s “funnel fries” are (and there’s no way to explain this without repeatedly using this word like a bad, novice journalist, hence this lengthy parenthetical comment to break them up) fried to come out in a fry shape and covered in powdered sugar. Because we’re all trying to find some compromise between watching our weight and eating the bejezus out of everything wonderful that comes our direction, one order of funnel anything is plenty for four people.
Besides, with the overeating planned for the weekend, nobody needed more than a quarter-order of funnel fries. More on that next time.
(Update 11/29/11: Sadly, the Sandy Springs store closed this month. Boardwalk is continuing to open stores in the New England states, and a second Atlanta location has opened in midtown’s Ansley Mall.)
(Update 3/25/12: But wait! Another franchisee has reopened this store! Better luck this time, fellows!)
(Update 10/15/12: Aaaaand, it has closed again.)