Paul Shoul photo
Max Burger: a cheese burger with fried onions and sweet potato fries
The premise behind Max Burger in Longmeadow is pretty simple: people like burgers. “Burgers are an American institution, like apple pie,” Tim Taillefer, general manager, explains. In a time of economic downturn, casual fare can make for a satisfying meal that doesn’t break the bank and constitutes good value, something many people especially appreciate these days, he argues.
“People can get a fantastic meal here for $15 bucks,” Taillefer explains. “They aren’t going to go out for a fancier and much more expensive meal very often. This is the kind of place customers can frequent.”
Besides, burgers seem to rank high on the list of go-to comfort foods.
Despite the virtues of burgers, the fare at Max Burger isn’t limited to them. Taillefer considers the broader menu options a key component of the formula that ensures the restaurant’s appeal. Yes, there’s a broad range of burgers—including chalkboard specials listed each day. The menu doesn’t stop there, though; on offer are chicken dishes, ribs, half a dozen salads and many appetizers.
Regarding burgers, the first thing is this: the basics have to be stellar. This translates to high-quality Angus beef and freshly baked buns. Quality, in the case of beef, means “humanely raised, environmentally sustained animals,” raised with “no antibiotics, no pesticides, and no added hormones,” according to the menu. Then there’s preparation to consider. “Kosher salt on both sides of the patty,” Taillefer explains, “and the griddle has to be hot enough to ensure a great sear on both sides.”
As for the bread, it arrives at the restaurant daily. The five-ounce burgers get a potato roll and the eight-ounce ones sit on an artisan roll. There are whole wheat rolls for the turkey burger and the Grateful Veg and a brioche for the Miss Daisy, a burger that adds Brie and applewood-smoked bacon. There’s a gluten-free bun available, too.
Classic burgers and cheeseburgers headline the burger selection. “Max sauce is the secret to our burgers,” Taillefer reveals. “People want it for their home barbecues, because they recognize Max sauce is the key to all the best burgers.” The restaurant is unwilling to rest on the laurels of a classic burger; there are many variations available that add signature twists to the familiar, and include different cheeses and other touches.
Daily chalkboard specials mean there’s an even greater range of burgers available, with snappy names—Sergeant Peppercorn, anyone?—and intriguing ingredients, such as Bernaise or barbecue sauces, or the combination of bacon and onion. Two specials pack heat: Slow Burner and El Diablo. Taillefer’s favorite chalkboard special is Big Blue. That’s no surprise; his favorite burger is the Fatty Melt—two grilled cheese sandwiches, crusts cut off the bread, around a burger. One grilled cheese sandwich has tomato, the other has bacon.
Beefburgers aren’t the end of the extensive range of burger options. You can order turkey, chicken, shrimp, tuna and two different vegetarian creations. Some of these burgers lead the palate to other cuisines, such as the shrimp burger with its sweet-and-sour glaze, Asian vegetables and soy scallion aioli, or the seared tunaburger with kimchi made in-house and ginger-orange aioli. For vegetarians, the Portobella “burger” goes beyond mushrooms and adds red onion and arugula to its roasted Portobella caps, roasted tomatoes and roasted red peppers. Provolone cheese and lemon asparagus aioli finish it off. The Grateful Veg is a house-made quinoa-sunflower seed burger. Vegetables include roasted tomato, arugula and avocado; other additions are cheddar cheese and green goddess dressing.
At Max Burger, accompaniments are decidedly fresh. Each burger comes with house-made pickles and hand-cut fries. Aoili and dressings are also made in the kitchen. The same level of care goes into every dish on the menu. Some change seasonally. The salmon is served with couscous in the warmer months, with ash-roasted root vegetables in a cider glaze in the cooler ones. “The dessert menu is fantastic,” Taillefer says. “It changes seasonally as well. For fall into winter we added a warm crumb cake. The chef can’t make that fast enough.”
The depth of the beer selection is another point of pride at Max Burger. “We’ve got 20 taps, and 60 in bottles,” Taillefer says. “Beer is a big part of what we do. We put an Autumn Maple on tap you’d probably have trouble finding elsewhere. It’s brewed with 17 pounds of yams per barrel, and has maple syrup.
“We try to keep our beer selection diverse. The selection rotates. We want to make it fun for guests. We’ve got quite a following.”
In order to help people sample many flavors, the restaurant offers Draught Flights—four pours of any four draught beers.
In Longmeadow, a community with relatively few restaurants, Max Burger is a welcome addition, as evidenced by brisk business from the start. Additionally, Max Burger has the distinction, within the expanding group of restaurants principally owned by Richard Rosenthal, of being the only one that has a twin: Max Burger in West Hartford. Taillefer spent about six months working at the West Hartford venue before the Longmeadow Max Burger opened. Many Longmeadow residents, he recalls, were willing to drive to West Hartford for a Max Burger meal. “They are so happy to be able to walk here,” he says, “rather than spend a half-hour in the car to get to dinner.”
For Taillefer, being at Max Burger completes a circle he began as a teenager. “I really fell in love with the food business,” he says, explaining that he left college for a job in the food industry. He’s been with the Max Restaurant Group for seven years.
Taillefer’s is a story about climbing the ranks. In the kitchen he’s washed dishes and captained grills and fryers. Beyond the kitchen, he worked as server and bartender before his move into management. “My first summer job as a 14-year-old was at Riverside Park, now Six Flags—Captain Rivi’s food stand,” he recalls. “Of all things, I made the burgers.”•