Sunday, May 19, 2024

A turkey burger at Tasty Burger. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Many still smart over the closing of the Tasty Sandwich Shop, the old-school, art-deco-styled diner fondly known just as The Tasty that was a Harvard Square fixture for more than 80 years, one of Cambridge’s classic late-night hangout spots along with Hi-Fi Pizza in Central Square. Rising near Fenway Park some 12 years after its demise was the inaugural Tasty Burger, named in the spirit of The Tasty and paying homage to it when opening in Harvard Square at JFK and Mount Auburn streets. A second Cambridge site opened Nov. 7 in Central Square on Prospect Street across from the newly relaunched ManRay nightclub in digs that formerly housed Cambridge Community Television.

The Central Square space is huge, open and inviting, yet has a bit of that 1950s diner vibe to it with the linoleum tiling and red-upholstered seats. There’s a spacious bar to watch sports at while washing down a burger with a beer, and a pool table should you need a mid-meal recreation break. It’s a vibrant space, good for play, good for work and right on for a quick nosh-and-go. There’s a veiled “Pulp Fiction” reference here – remember Samuel Jackson’s Jules asking, “Mind if I have some of your tasty beverage to wash this down with?” – that’s embraced by the Tasty folk; there are pieces of “Pulp Fiction” pop art hung in each of the local franchise’s five storefronts (now owned by the Franklin Restaurant Group, which also owns the Franklin Cafe in Boston’s South End, the Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar in Fenway, which opened at the same time as the first Tasty, and the recently closed Our Fathers Jewish Deli in Allston). It’s Jules sipping from that tasty beverage that hangs in Central Square.

The “Pulp Fiction” cameo at Tasty Burger in Central Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The menu at the Tastys are pretty basic: burgers (including double cheese, jalapeño, mushroom and a Rise ’N Shine with a fried egg), crispy chicken (chipotle, Buffalo or parm) and their “famous” turkey burger as well as hot dogs, a kids’ menu and shakes. On one of my recent visits I had the patty melt done turkey style. There was nothing to not like in this stack with caramelized onions and cheese on a grilled bun – it was good burger comfort, juicy enough in the middle and just the right amount of onions without overwhelming. I also tried that “famous” turkey burger, which was more to my palate’s sensibilities: just a patty, lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo on a light, airy bun that was not grill pressed – sometimes the basics done basic are the best.

Each time I opted for the surprisingly fresh house salad over fries. You get a big packet of Ken’s salad dressing to pour on (balsamic vinaigrette, please) to your liking. I also tried the mozzarella sticks, which were more triangles, and they passed muster – but I’m still searching and waiting to be wowed by fried mozz and zesty marinara to dip into.

My last Central Tasty stop came with a coincidence: As I noshed on those golden triangles, Susan Fleischmann, the former executive director of CCTV, saw me through the window and popped in to say hi. (I had been on CCTV’s board when it was housed there.) We hadn’t seen each other in some time, and it was she who pointed out the serendipity of us meeting up at that spot. 

The Tasty Central is a really neat space with many reasons to stop in, especially if you’re a burger freak. There’s near-limitless options to wash it down with, too. 

Tasty Burger (23 Prospect St., Central Square, Cambridge)

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.