Nibble scribe Vera Vidal finds burger bliss and a surreal night of open mike comedy at Sally O’Brien’s.

I was craving a burger the other night. I hadn’t had any since I came back to the US (I’m from France, the land of baguettes not burgers). My recent healthy diet – salad, salad, salad – was leaving my stomach growling for more. So when I heard Sally O’Brien’s had some of the best burgers in Somerville, I headed over there the other night with my friend Paul.

I found the place reasonably full for a Monday night. Subdued lights, beautiful wooden liquor display case, high ceilings—Sally O’s has atmosphere. And enough space to avoid hearing your neighbors’ conversation. I found Paul already sitting at the bar among the regulars, watching a game on TV while sipping a pint of beer. In the main room, the stage was set up and much of the crowd — mainly 20- and 30-something males scattered at various tables — was focused on notebooks, writing and re-writing. Something was about to happen.

We were intrigued but then our burgers arrived and our attention shifted to our plates. A few bites later we knew the local burger buzz was accurate. Slightly toasted soft bun, an 8 oz. tender patty grilled to perfection, melted cheese,  caramelized onions, crunchy lettuce and fleshly tomato, served with a pickle and crispy fries that melt in your mouth—these burgers were delicious. I was deliriously happy. You can also add bacon or mushrooms, or even guacamole, chili and salsa. And if you don’t feel like having fries, you can sub some onion rings or slaw. So what’s is Sally O’s burger secret? Johnny, the friendly bartender, says the key is very fresh, good quality meat. Apparently the cooking process is also important. “The window between juicy and overcooked is very small, ” says Johnny.

We then noticed the “On Air” sign above the stage had flickered on. A few moments later, the show had started: comedy open mike. I was not prepared for what was about to happen; I had never seen an open mike before. A puzzling succession of 2-minute long performances ensued. Topics ranged from anger against MBTA fare increases to divorce and unemployment. The stories were told in a rather crude, sometimes funny way. Apparently, the chocolate box metaphor does not only work for life but also for stand-up comedy. In the meantime, regulars kept watching Keno or the game on two big screens.

All in all, it was an interesting night with a friendly but motley mix of characters. We wondered what Johnny thought of it all; so we asked him. “Sally O’Brien’s is a neighborhood place,” Johnny told us.  “it’s not like other neighborhood places where they’re going to look at you funny if you step in for the first time. You don’t feel uncomfortable here, everybody gets along, there’s no nonsense.“

Beyond burgers, Johnny informed us that customers particularly enjoy the seasonal menu:  Shepherd’s pie, beef stew or homemade soup-of-the-day are winter specialties; fish specials, marinades and salads the summer ones.

Sally O is also well known for its music programming, which attracts a diverse crowd depending on who’s playing. Bands like the Family Jewels, the Pennies and One Happy Island often hit the stage. You’ll find music here every night, except on Mondays, which is open mike, and Wednesdays, which is free poker night. And if you drop by in the afternoon, maybe you’ll get a chance to play cards with some of the locals while chatting with the bartender. Whether its cards, Keno, bands or burgers, we know we’ll be back.

The burger on the picture is an Irish burger. It comes with Irish bacon, caramelized onions and Irish cheddar.

Sally O’Brien’s is located at 355 Somerville Ave. They are open every day from 11am to 1am. Check out their menu and their music schedule on their website.  If you go, tell us what you think of their burgers! Are they the best in town?

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