Beer bar with crazy good burger thrives on simplicity

There are a number of bars and restaurants that seem to fly under the radar in Portland and yet still maintain a steady business. While that might seem a little contradictory, it’s not. These establishments have a loyal following that keeps them busy, but with the more causal food and drink crowd, they seem to be resigned to the realm of the relatively unknown. Mush Tun is definitely one of those.

With the wife gone, I found myself in the Old Port with an unstoppable desire for a burger and a beer and immediately knew Mash Tun was the solution. I made my way there and found the signage in the front as I remembered it – touting extensive drink choices and inexpensive food. As I walked in mid-week and before usual dinner hours, I recognized that I essentially had the entire place to myself. That wasn’t a bad thing.

I started by quickly selecting an Allagash Victor from their 30-or-so beer options. The Victor is a sort of beer/wine mash-up brewed with grapes and fermented with wine yeast. Allagash is one of my favorite breweries and they knocked it out of the park with the limited edition brew. They rarely produce a less-than-stellar ale and fans are fortunate that the veteran brewer has wide distribution both locally and away.

After enjoying a few sips of the bold flavors in my glass, I took some time to figure out what to eat. I was leaning toward my favorites and finally went for those. I started with the Cheese Plate – BallyShannon cheddar, honey dijon, strawberry jam, toasted points – and added the Grass Fed Burger and an order of Fries. I responded in the positive as to whether or not I wanted cheese on my beef.

While I originally had a craving for a burger, the thought of my cheese plate had me ready to jump over the bar and make it myself. Fortunately, it came out quickly and I didn’t have to do that. Unlike my last visit, I was pleased to see that the number of cheese triangles matched the number of points. There were six of each, plus the jam and mustard, and a little pile of parsley/greens.

There’s something so good about cheddar and the BallyShannon was excellent. I topped my points with it, often adding mustard and greens. When I got toward the end, I decided to get a little crazy. I took the jam and spread it on the toast and then added a slice of the cheese. Don’t judge me, but it was absolutely awesome. Yes, a strawberry jam and cheddar grilled cheese is now in the works in the Portlandeater house.

Once the cheese plate was gone, my burger and fries were already waiting for me. The burger, automatically cooked to medium, had tomato, pickled onion, and cheese between the grilled bun and half of a small sour pickle affixed to the top. A bite – actually two, because on the first I only got bun – verified that their burger was as good as ever. Nicely seasoned, hefty, and with minimalist, but tasty toppings, it was a pleasure to eat.

Working the fries into the mix, I tried some in between burger bites. They were great, except that they could have been cooked a little more. They weren’t soggy, but they also weren’t crispy which seems to be a very common issue in these parts. I ate my burger and my fries , enjoying them both regardless of the slight potato misstep.

My food didn’t last long as my hunger dwindled down to nothing at the same time I ate my last morsel. For such a simple meal, I was really happy. Mash Tun doesn’t go out of their way to create a wild spectacle of food, but it’s hard to say that such delicious sustenance is merely an afterthought. While beer is clearly their focus, the food is a tremendous value, mainly because it’s just so good.

When I arrived home, I realized that my $27 tab prior to tip seemed high. In fact, upon checking, I verified there was $4 for which was unaccounted. Looking back to the last time I was there, I realized I had the same issue without knowing it. The only explanation I could come up with was that cheese on my burger was $4, though that wasn’t really clear from the menu. Hopefully that will be fixed in the future.

Expensive cheese or not, Mash Tun is killing it. Their beer list was perfectly curated with lots of locals and every beer category I could think of well represented. Their food, while basic, pairs perfectly with their suds, but certainly would perform well with a cocktail too. I don’t know how to say it any other way…Mash Tun offers nothing fancy, everything’s tasty, and it all feels like you’re getting a ridiculously good deal. I’m already dreaming of my next visit.

Stay hungry.

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Peter Blanchette

About Peter Blanchette

Peter Peter Portland Eater grew up in Lewiston, Maine and graduated from the University of Maine in Orono with a degree in English. After college, he left the state to work in Massachusetts, but the allure of a more comfortable life in his home state brought him back after eight years. Upon his return and after meeting his now wife – Mrs. Portlandeater, he slowly integrated himself into the Portland food scene by trying as many restaurants as he could afford. That and a desire to write for others again led him to start where he reviews restaurants and blogs about whatever Portland/Maine food topics he finds interesting.