Boss Man Burgers’ signage shows a shadowy face in a gangster fedora, but inside their new location off East Main Road in Portsmouth, there is little menace. Instead, we found comfortable eats with some local character and without too much compromise. The room is wide open with the kitchen on display, with plenty of shoulder room for indecisive eaters to theory-craft their own burger.
Given the fairly generic bones in this plaza location, Boss Man adds some character for more of a “neighbourhood joint” feel. There are some sections breaking up the room, couches, benches, bar seating, and most importantly a couple of arcade games.
Straight after ordering, I headed to the “Fishtales” pinball machine, and into a world of analog retro gaming I scarcely knew I needed in my life. As my toddler fascinated himself with the Ms. Pacman table, I hit up my wife for a quarter, which bought me just enough play for the food to arrive. That’s much more a testament to Boss Man’s speed than my pinball skills.
Burgers are central here, but there’s a fairly large menu with all the hard-hitters from a Pepcid commercial – wings, rings, chili fries, and nachos. In addition, there are some real local flavors, with local fish and chips, crab burgers, chourico mac and cheese, and Portuguese steak. Good luck finding anything like that at a franchise burger joint.
While orders are taken at the counter, our food was brought out to us; a pretty ambitious procession. We went overboard, in service of the review, or maybe just our own gluttony. A Boss Man Shaved Steak and Cheese ($10), Custom Single Burger ($7), Chicken Parm ($10), and finally a Spinach Salad ($11) all arrived, the last because I’m clearly watching my figure. Of course, there must be fries ($2) with a burger, and that’s what I grabbed first. They use peanut oil on fresh-cut fries and double fry them, Belgian-style, producing a crispier, more defined surface. We went with the Cajun variant, which was bold but not overpowering. When in season, they’ll use fresh potatoes from Quonset View Farm, which is right on their doorstep.
The burgers are either loaded-up specialties, or make-your-own with a pretty complete list of toppings. I ordered a humble single cheeseburger with Swiss, red onion, mushrooms, and pickles.
I welcome any style of good burger, but with the recent trends toward medium-rare chubsters or the “smashed” burger, it was nice having the thin, old-school, handmade patty. Moist, medium-well with a good sear, the juices melded with a perfectly toasted bun. I might go for a double next time, if only for a little more meat, but all the toppings were on point, so if you are feeling more adventurous, go for one of the specials.
As for the Chicken Parm sandwich, little breaded mozzarella balls accompanied breaded chicken in the sub roll. The breading held up to the marinara for some crunch, and you never knew when you were going to taste an explosion of gooey mozzarella. The Shaved Steak and Cheese, on the other hand, flaunted its spice-flecked orange sauce. Draped over grilled onion and steak, it tasted down and dirty but not like pure whiz, which is a good thing. The best compliment I can pay to the tender-shaved ribeye is that my toddler’s seven teeth were enough to nom it down.
Finally, the Spinach Salad: a great, heaping plate of it. The salad could easily serve as a main course for a vegetarian; it was carefully prepared with nicely sliced apple on top, crumbled blue cheese, both red and caramelized onions, candied pecans, and a balsamic drizzle. I can’t say this place is a destination for veggies, but with good salad, veggie burgers, and various sides, they’ll be happy when they are an accessory to the crime. For omnivores like us, it’s an offer you can’t refuse.
Boss Man Burgers
1965 East Main Road, Portsmouth • 401-619-5705