I know that people love Wahlburgers.
How do I know? Because since the brothers Wahlberg -- yes, those Wahlbergs -- opened their first location in Hingham, Massachussetts, in 2011, the place has spread like a grease stain on a napkin. That Walgreens-looking logo is now plastered on buildings in a dozen states from coast to coast. There are Wahlburgers in Canada. Then, of course, there's the A&E reality show, which is now in its eighth -- its eighth! -- season.
And this summer, according to a press release from the Mall of America this morning, Wahlburgers will open its first Minnesota location inside the Bloomington mega-mall.
Look, I get it. This place is popular. Maybe I'm in the minority, here. (As always, you can direct your furious tweets to @biketrouble.) But folks, I love burgers. I love them! And Wahlburgers burgers, they're ... they're fine. They sure are burgers. They are meat and cheese and assorted other toppings sandwiched in a bun.
I have been to that Hingham flagship. My friends and I made the sojourn from Boston shortly after it opened -- a group of hungover college kids jacked up on energy drinks who had almost definitely watched The Departed within the last 24 hours.
We were, in essence, primed to love Wahlburgers. We were its target audience. We called shotgun; we crammed our five bodies into a compact car. We were ready to make this our new favorite place.
Here's how my friend Ross, who drove us to Hingham that fateful autumn afternoon, reacted when I told him the chain was expanding into Minnesota:
A fair question!
Paul Wahlburg explained in that statement this morning: “Families will have a great time, and hopefully share a lot of laughs and love when they enjoy my family’s delicious recipes at our new Walburgers in one of the top tourist spots in America. Along with Hy-Vee, my family is committed to offering a unique culinary experience that goes beyond the basic burger, with customer service that will make you feel like family.”
Wahlburgers is kind of homey, in the way that any restaurant chain creates a feeling of comfortable familiarity that can be copied and pasted throughout geographic regions. And again: The burgers are fine.
Ross's take: "I think what surprised me was that no one advised them to make it at least a little different. It's not that it's bad. It's just like a Five Guys that costs twice as much." (Would he ever go back? "Maybe at an airport. Just absolutely trapped with few options.")
So by all means, go eat one! You might like it! They really are OK! Maybe our problem was that we went in with too-high expectations. We were hoping for the Boogie Nights of burger joints; what we got instead was The Happening.
Still, you might go and experience the same hollow feeling a collection of wide-eyed young Bostonians -- New Kids on the Block fans, all -- felt on that autumn day years ago: somehow emptier after downing a double cheeseburger than before.