Ben Pion from Providence, R.I., has started quite the controversial food series on the Islanders Talk Facebook page with his Islandwide burger reviews. The 29-year-old’s reviews have drawn attention from food lovers, burger fanatics, restaurant owners, and anyone who wants to have their favorite burger on-Island reviewed. But what started on Facebook as a side hobby driven by a fondness for burgers doesn’t end there. As of this week, Pion was picked up by This Week on Martha’s Vineyard, a summertime entertainment newspaper, for restaurant reviews. Pion’s future reviews will exclusively be found there.
Originally, Pion was geared up to do a weiner tour in Providence, with a YouTube series lined up to review hot wieners, a Rhode Island staple. Pion moved to the Island for the summer before starting filming, and admitted he has developed a serious love for the Island, and might not be leaving anytime soon, especially now that his food critic side gig is taking off.
While Pion was familiar with food reviews prior to coming to the Island, he says a trip to the Ritz in Oak Bluffs is what turned his focus onto burgers. At the restaurant, a friend with Pion tried the Dilly’s burger, and claimed it to be the best burger on the Island, to which Pion said, “I’ll be the judge of that.” From there, he started privately ranking all the burgers he tried.
One night, Pion decided to post the start of his reviews and rankings. “Originally, I just threw it out there because I thought it was going to go away, and no one was going to notice it,” Pion says. That post alone got 200 comments, and drew enough attention that even restauranter JB Blau commented, and asked Pion to review his burger. In response to the new support and attention, Pion started to transition to more formal, written reviews, saying, “I wanted to treat them with the respect they deserve.” So, when Pion went to review the Chowder Co. Mix Up Burger, he “walked in there with a notepad and a pen, and actually reviewed the burger like a critic would.” This set the scene for reviews to follow.
Since mid- to early June, when these reviews really started, Pion has not only shifted his writing style to be more formal and thorough, but he also changed how he approached the tasting part of the critique. In the earlier stages of Pion’s claim to burger fame, he went into his reviews thinking he was going to do a Dave Portnoy-esque cheese pizza approach: all burgers cooked medium, with no toppings, for consistency purposes. Very quickly, Pion realized that wasn’t going to cut it; as he said, “The best burgers on the list all have special condiments … I had to adjust to that. So now I just take everything the restaurant gives me.” By taking everything from the restaurant, Pion gets a true test of what they offer, as he comes in on his own time and dime.
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty review of each burger, the patty and bun come first on the list of importance to Pion. “A good bun will always do well in reviews,” Pion said. He recalled, for instance, Chef Amy’s smashburger being very wet, because of how juicy it was, especially with a lot of sauce on it. However, Pion said, “She had a really good bun that supported that, so I bumped up the review a bit because she picked a good bun for that type of burger.” Even though Pion tells The Times his personal favorite is a traditional smashburger, one where the patty is smashed down thin, giving it a crispy edge, he said he was willing to score it better because she is picking the right ingredients — an important distinction.
Another thing Pion has had to consider as he has taken on the critic role is how to — or how not to — include price in his review. On an Island plagued by inflation and seemingly absurd prices, much like any other place these days, it is hard not to take this into account. Especially when a $16 burger doubles in price within a couple of years. Pion told The Times, “I take the ‘critic’ part of food critic really seriously … I don’t walk in expecting anything other than to just eat the burger and review it accordingly.” Part of that “accordingly,” he decided, is including price in his review, but not accounting for it in his point system, so at least people know how much they are paying for a score (Pion scored Atria’s $32 burger a 7.7 out of 10).
The Times couldn’t talk to the burger man without asking, “What is your ideal burger?” Pion said, first and foremost, he would have a Portuguese sweet roll for his bun, toasted of course. For the patty — no surprise considering his qualms with Chef Amy’s version of a smashburger — Pion said he would have a double cheeseburger, using traditional ground beef smash patties. But for toppings, the moment of truth, Pion said he would just take all the toppings from the Obama burger from Sandy’s Fish and Chips. Makes sense, considering it is No. 1 on Pion’s list.
Pion’s future in his growing career, in light of his partnership with This Week, includes more traditional food critiques, broadened to restaurant reviews. Pion will try a selection of food items from each restaurant he reviews, aimed to give him a good scope of the menu. While burger lovers may be disappointed by this shift, they will be happy to hear that Pion plans to finish his list of burger reviews on Islanders Talk by the close of summer, though he expects he will not be posting as frequently. “I made a commitment to review every burger on the Island, and I’m sticking to it.”
Current top 5 burgers on Island (subject to change):
- The Obama Burger, Sandy’s Fish and Chips
- Mo’s Leo Burger
- Chowder Co., Mix Up Burger
- Atria Classic Burger
- Bobby B’s