Finishing up my road trip from Tennessee to New Hampshire last Thursday I’d pretty much had it with road food which is to say, two grinders, twelve hot dogs, four burgers, an evening of fine dining at Cracker Barrel in east jockstrap Virginia, enough Maalox to float an aircraft carrier and a partridge in a pear tree. So when my buddy John suggested we go to a “great” burger joint in a town just before getting to the finish line of this three day driving and eating marathon, I was weary but obliged. After all, I had dragged him through more dives and jerkwater towns than a buddy has a right to, and he came through with flying colors.
Just pulling into the parking area of this place made me smile as it consisted of about eight or so spaces. Then there was the name, Papa Joe’s Humble Kitchen… humble indeed as it was a small place with a very mom and pop quality to it that continued on into the limited country feeling dining area. The dining area consisted of exactly two tables (one covered in homemade pies and pastries) and perhaps six stools at a lunch counter, and another table outside on the porch that ran the width of the quaint building. There were four people inside and already it had a somewhat cozy feeling to it.
John and I stood in front of the ordering area and looked up at the menu board… POUTINE!? Damn you Chef Joe, why must you tempt me! I was thinking burger as John told me this is what they were good at so I went fairly simple and ordered the Humble Ken Burger. The “Humble Ken” is a six ounce burger that is scooped and smashed on the grill, seasoned, then served with lettuce, tomato, and pickles… I then added a slice of white American cheese. John ordered a “Skip’s Cardiac” burger (disliked the name as it smacked of Cardiac Grill, but a small point) a two scoop (two patties) burger (Cajun and Buffalo) with genoa salami, pepper jack cheese, onion rings, cheddar cheese, bacon, jalapenos, lettuce and creole mayo… he also got a side of fries.
We found a place at the counter and hunkered down to some conversation. I asked John how long this place had been here and when he told me two years you could have knocked me over with a feather. Two years I asked? “Yeah, two years or so…why?” I was thinking to myself, if I hadn’t heard of the place in two years how good could it be? I’m not saying New Hampshire is small, but if my mom were cooking lasagna on the other side of the state, I’d probably smell it. Restaurants getting good press or word of mouth are something you hear about immediately, especially in the cibo circles I tend to run in. But apparently a local television show “Chronicle” had done a segment on them and from all accounts it was quite flattering.
The food arrived and I cut my burger open to reveal a nice pink center. The burger had nice char to it and excellent seasoning…come to think of it… what is that great seasoning? Seasoning in a spray bottle, I’m digging it and thinking of doing something similar with the spray bottle I use to keep the cat from climbing my stereo speakers, just as soon as I get the barbed wire and electric fence in place. The brioche style buns were nicely toasted although somewhat small but this made for the perfect bun to burger ratio, and was just hardy enough to hold everything together. The vegetables were fresh, and properly portioned with tasty sliced pickles on top which set the tone of any burger for me.
John likes his burgers cooked to medium which is typically a challenge for most places but not for Chef Joe, the burgers were cooked to medium but remained juicy. This is however where the bun showed it’s weakness, it held together fine for one patty but didn’t do so well with two and fell apart quicker than the Red Sox after the all-star break. All the ingredients worked very well together in a symphony that even Mozart couldn’t have improved upon. Nicely crunchy onion rings, the bite of jalapeno, a bit of salami twang, smoky bacon and crisp lettuce played off each other well. As far as the bun is concerned I am a person who doesn’t mind a sloppy burger, especially one with so many ingredients involved, but I know this is an issue for others.
Do you want fries with that? Well sadly, not if you happen to have an aversion to frozen French fries. How can they offer poutine and not have hand cut fries? I don’t happen to mind frozen fries if they are the correct size as these were, but I would think they’d want to guild the lily a bit. No matter, as the onion rings are delicious, hand cut and coated for a nice flavor and crunch, plus they’re the correct size instead of going for the jumbo ring so many places are so wrong headedly aiming for. The price also stuck out as reasonable with regular fries at $1.75, onion rings for $2.99, my Humble burger being $4.50 and John’s top of the line Cardiac burger going for $6.99, everything else was priced in between giving you a good value.
Overall, Papa Joe’s is a great place to get a burger or two and some onion rings. On a nice day there are plenty of tables next to the restaurant to enjoy your meal. For me, even in the dead of winter I’d be willing to dive into the rugby scrum worth of people that ended up there to get my hands on another burger. I hadn’t heard of Papa Joe’s Humble Kitchen before now, but it seems as though a lot of other people have. I’m just hoping the rest of New England doesn’t hear about it or Joe will have to build a new industrial sized restaurant and put it out on I-93 next to the industrial sized liquor store to give easy access for the H2 loads of flatlanders looking for both cheap liquor and great burgers…on second thought, I wonder if he’d be open to franchising.
Papa Joe’s Humble Kitchen
237 South Street
Milford, NH 03055