Published February 16. 2012 4:00AM Updated February 28. 2012 11:01AM
Central question: Mo's Burgers & Brew in Gales Ferry certainly has its charms but, truth told, unless you live there, you've sort of got to want to go to Gales Ferry. So, despite the impressive, sprawling and somewhat "novelty act" quality of the Mo's menu - with almost 30 designer hamburgers - is it worth a special trip to GF just for burger-ness?
What's it like there? Mo's is the sort of mid-sized nightclub where I played hundreds of beer-scented gigs through the first half of my adult life. It's more drinker's hangout than not: a dark bar at the end of a main room featuring two pool tables, big-screen televisions tuned to sports, a darts area, and a large house sound system.
At lunchtime, there are almost always a few folks imbibing liquid nutrients at the bar. A lot of diners choose to eat in a small auxiliary room hard to the kitchen and tiny lunch counter, though you can also sit at one of the scattered booths in the larger area. On three visits, the clientele was strongly represented by happy military personnel from the Sub Base down the road. This should indicate a Big Affirmative in the Burger Assessment.
Service is friendly and attentive, though each burger is cooked to order and a bit of a worth-it wait might be in order.
The menu: Burgers to the fifth power and beyond - and they range from eight-12 ounce selections ($6.49-$9.59) with a 32-ounce "Mo-Fo Burger," one of those Adam Richman, "Can you eat the whole thing?" constructs ($24.99). The burgers break down along a variety of creative and "Does this really work?" combos.
A Dallas Burger has cheddar cheese sauce and Texas Red chili, while a Seattle Burger includes pinot-noir glazed 'shrooms, provolone, sauteed onions and coffee-spiked mayo. A Johnny Appleseed has Wisconsin cheddar, maple bacon, sauteed apples and onions, and mustard. A New Orleans boasts spicy beef, peppers, and fried shrimp (!).
There's also a modest menu of grinders and pizza ($4.99-$10.49) and salads and appetizers ($4.99-$11.99), but those seem almost afterthoughts to the central culinary idea.
How's the food? The most important thing to know is that the beef is of terrific, fresh quality. The misshapen quality of each burger indicates Mo is hand-crafting the patties per order. They're perfectly cooked, too, with the requested medium sporting a proper crust and pink interior.
Some of the toppings combos work better than others; again, it's almost a novelty deal with some of them. Subsequently, we wanted some intriguing originality without being too overboard. The apples and cheddar on the Johnny Appleseed were a clever touch, but the mustard canceled out the maple of the bacon. The Dallas burger's problem - to my native Texan eyes - was that the chili was so-so.
The Farmer Mo - a half-pound burger on house-baked French bread - was a triumph, augmented with hash browns, onion rings and two cheeses. Hilariously great.
All burgers come with slaw or regular fries, both of which seem the sort you'd get in a dorm cafeteria. In fact, an appetizer of Bacon Baked Fries, with special seasoning, bacon and cheese, was very disappointing: a perfunctory drizzling of ballpark-nacho-style cheese and a stingy crumbling of bacon.
Oh, and we also tried an Italian grinder. A nice mix of salami, ham and pepperoni with lettuce, tomatoes, oil and provolone on the in-house bread. Nothing exceptional, particularly in this grinder-happy part of the world, but certainly tasty.
The verdict: Mo's is essentially a valued neighborhood bar - and, yes, the "brew" part of the concept includes plenty of craft beers - that serves some of the best and most creative burgers you'll find. Whether you do a sure-thing basic burger or gamble a bit and try one of the creative variations, it's certainly worth a trip.