In the world of Wahlburgers, there’s the burger joint you see on TV and the one you get in real life.
On “Wahlburgers,” the A&E reality show, you watch as the celebrity brothers from working class roots recast the foods of their childhood.
It started six years ago, when singers-dancers-actors-producers Mark and Donnie Wahlberg added “burger moguls” to their résumés.
Now there are 14 Wahlburgers locations, with agreements in place for dozens more, including 20 in the Middle East and several more here on Long Island.
On TV, the two famous Wahlbergs often clash with their more cautious brother, Paul. A trained chef, Paul is the brains behind the menu who often frets about consistency and quality. “Every single burger that goes out,” he says, “reminds me of who we are.” Finally, there’s mom, Alma, who’s there for both comic relief and a maternal perspective.
In Port Jefferson Station, who the Wahlbergs are can be seen everywhere.
The walls, including those in the bathrooms, feature movie and TV posters and album covers of Mark (“The Other Guys,” “Three Kings”) and Donnie (New Kids on the Block and “Blue Bloods”). TVs located throughout the space, show looping video clips.
Ultimately, Wahlburgers succeeds more as a shrine than as a restaurant.
The dining room is divided into three sections: one for ordering at the counter, another for table service, and a large sunken bar area that welcomes a sports-watching crowd with a fine tap list of more than 30 beers, including several quality brews from Long Island.
Have a beer. The liquids at Wahlburgers fare better than solids. On the soft front, frappés, Boston slang for milkshakes, are optimally blended to a thickness that keeps a straw standing straight up, but allows a suckable flow. The chocolate-mint is a winner. Among the harder shakes, the s’mores is a boozy whip of chocolate ice cream and marshmallow vodka that arrives in a pint glass streamed on the inside with chocolate syrup and topped with graham cracker dust.
Among the foods, there are some islands of competence in a sea of fiasco.
A basket of the onion rings have crunch. The Melt benefits from thick slabs of butter-grilled toast (instead of a bun) cradling a modest patty, a slice of “government” (American) cheese, bacon, pickles and a mustardy sauce.
The O.F.D. (Originally From Dorchestah, named after Dorchester, the Boston neighborhood where the boys grew up) is one of the menu’s most straightforward options. It’s a half-pound burger served with Swiss cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and tomato jam triumphed over its bun.
But more often, the food stumbles.
On the show, Paul preaches the gospel of quality ingredients and careful execution, but his message has found few adherents in this kitchen. Over the course of a few meals, I was served cold French fries, potato buns past their shelf life and Tater Tots that seemed to hail from the grocery freezer aisle. More often than not, burgers ordered medium-rare showed up with little to no trace of pinkness.
I hope Alma Wahlberg does better at home than the restaurant’s “Mom’s fave,” an open-faced sloppy Joe sandwich, with its greasy meat, soggy “toasted” bread, too much sauce and a garnish of limp ribbons of crispy onion rings.
The BBQ bacon burger, advertised as “Donnie’s fave,” is a mushy patty whose excessive list of toppings — bacon, jalapeños, barbecue sauce, Cheddar cheese and avocado spread — make you wonder about Donnie.
Yet Donnie knows the stakes: “In a movie you get take, after take. If you screw it up . . . you redo it,” he says on the show as Wahlburgers is just beginning its expansion efforts. “In the restaurant business, you can’t redo it.”
Wahlburgers fans may give the restaurant a second chance, but with so many other excellent burger spots on Long Island, star power will only get the boys so far.