By Bernie Whitmore
There was a time when the neighborhood took Eddy’s Pub for granted, a place we could flop into after a long work week, order a beer (while munching on the gratis basket of popcorn) and plateful of cheap-but-decent homemade cuisine from a menu that offered more options than we’d have time to enjoy in a lifetime. We suffered no allusions; this was as far from haute cuisine, but it filled an important niche and we were crestfallen when we found it abruptly shut down.
The taste of that bitter pill began to fade months later when the location started to show signs of new life. With the opening of Wild Willy’s Burgers, there was tentative elation. They must have used a nuclear device to clean the old place out, open the labyrinth of alleyways and, yes, redo the ancient bathrooms. This transformation alone brought them instant goodwill which they’ve gone on to earn in spades with tasty burgers.
This West Boylston Street location is the latest for the growing Wild Willy’s chain. They employ a system for ordering through meal-delivery process ~ and for those who might feel a bit queasy about hamburger mass-production, their kitchen is exposed for viewing. While waiting in line to place my order, I enjoyed observing their onion-ring machine and the posse of cooks flipping burgers on a huge grill, an inferno of flames and smoke.
After you’ve paid for your order, they give you an oversized playing card which you carry into the dining room and place in a wire holder at the table you select. Within minutes, someone brings your drink order (soda, beer or wine) to the table. When your meals are ready, someone from the kitchen carries them into the dining room and searches for the table with the corresponding card. It’s not a perfect system, but it can be amusing to observe.
Wild Willy’s offers a dozen different burger combinations, but the star attraction is the “Willy Burger®” that comes with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion, mustard, ketchup, and pickles. I’ve also tried the “Bubba’BBQ” (bacon cheese, onion, pickles and sweet barbeque sauce) and “La Bamba” (spicy salsa and Jack cheese). Each of them features a high-quality beef patty with rich just-from-the-grill flavor; the seared-in char lines are proof. There’s none of that mushy-in-the-middle stuff the national chains pass off as hamburger meat.
For half the money they’ll whip up a Grilled Cheese that uses the same burger buns, soft on the outside and grilled buttery-crisp on the business side. Willy’s also offers Chicken, Steak and (during Lent, anyways) Fish sandwiches. Try the sides of “Country Fair Fries” and Onion Rings and wash them down with a draft root beer served in a frosty glass mug; other fountain drinks are “bottomless.”
The Western-themed dining room is wide-open with plenty of tables and booths available. One wall has a mural of “The Cowboy’s Kitchen” and there’s a scattering of remnants from the Chisholm Trail. The back wall has a view of Indian Lake and the once-verdant hill that developers buzz cut the trees from, leaving just a swath like a Mohawk hairdo.
Alrighty now partner, giddy up over to Wild Willy’s, the best place in town for fun and a burger. It’s family-friendly without coming off like a cloying Disney attraction and you’ll leave having enjoyed a good ol’ fashioned, filling meal.
Wild Willy’s Burgers
317 West Boylston Street