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For the Love of “My First Husband” Donnie Wahlberg: “Wahlburgers in Brooklyn”

I have this very vivid memory of being somewhere between ten and twelve years old, hanging out in my backyard under the tree in my driveway on a crazy hot summer day chatting with my sister-cousin. We were showing each other the flavors of Kissing Koolers we had. If you don’t know what a Kissing Kooler is than I feel sorry for you. I also will take a point from the lyrics of “Block Party” and tell you to Google it my little Juans.

While we had this very adult conversation we began discussing our collection of dolls designed as the original boy band “New Kids on the Block” ( Thanks to her father I had the complete “street” clothes version and she had that as well as the “stage” versions. I was always so jealous. There is never a day you don’t need to see your favorite NKOTB member dressed up and down.

Naturally my favorite was Donnie. I would swear he would be my husband one day. Needless to say he was the appointed bad boy of the group and even as a preteen I knew that was drawing me in. Too bad I didn’t also develop a taste for men with a lot of money. Mr. Wahlberg still looks like a pretty good catch to me even all of these years later. It can be argued that he is even more successful now than at any other point in his career. Both Donnie and his fellow Wahlberg’s are spreading their recipe for Boston love all around the world. And now Brooklyn has even caught the bug.

For many years just the name Coney Island would bring up fond memories for countless people that had spent their youth filled summers on the boardwalk, eating at Nathan’s (, and of course riding the Cyclone- one of the oldest roller coasters still in existence. In fact the track is still made of wood just like some of the escalators found in Macy’s at Herald Square, which is the reason I will never go on either of them ever again.

During the last couple of years, Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York has begun a revitalization of the area. Partly because of the damage done during Hurricane Sandy and partly because of its prior gentrification, the blocks surrounding the boardwalk began to breathe new life. There are many new stores, a museum, and a historic walking tour I want to take part in this spring. One of the fairly new residents is a popular eatery known as Wahlburgers, in a prime location across the street from Nathan’s Famous.

Wahlburgers is the creation of Paul Wahlberg, the chef in the family. He opened the first location of this renowned franchise in the family’s hometown of Boston. With the initial success he opened an Italian restaurant in the same district named for their mother Alma. Alma had nine children and it is safe to say that her boys Paul, Donnie, and Mark (formerly of the funky bunch) are the some of the most famous members of any celebrity family prior to the Kardashians. To this end they have two reality shows to help you  “keep up”, both on A & E. For the first is Wahlburgers and follows the progress of their brand of restaurants, and the second is Donnie Loves Jenny, which follows Danny and his relatively new bride Jenny McCarthy.

Since this particular Wahlburgers opened I have occasionally thought about checking it out but I was in no rush. I had been to the original one in Boston even though now there are more than a handful in that town.

On perhaps the coldest day NYC has experienced this winter I of course had plans to go to this seaside restaurant. The wind alone was enough to make parking and getting inside seem like a feat only for trained athletes. Despite the frigid temperature that was more ideal for snuggling under your covers, it was also the best time to hit this up. There were no crowds, no lines, and I think only one or two other patrons while I was there.

In many ways this location had the most to offer me. The décor here was elevated. The ceilings were made up of black and whites slabs citing all of the movies, television shows, and music that consist of this family’s lore. Even the music playing was mostly NKTOB or other tunes of that area. My amazing waitress Sara told us there is even a roof top bar that gets a lot of action from early summer through late fall. That sounds like a great vantage point to enjoy food and beverages. The personalized details do not stop here. The menu takes it to another level.

The original premise of the Wahlburgers brand was to recreate the delicious but affordable meals they ate growing up as a family with nine children. Alma, as the matriarch of the family would make burgers with the “government cheese” they received. It was hearty food that kept them full and satisfied. The kids apparently never forgot that.

Here the burgers follow a simple formula: beef patty (or turkey), cheese, caramelized onions, pickles, and Wahlburger special sauce, which is a combination of every condiment you can think of. Simple yet effective, a recipe for their success.

I had previously tried the BBQ Bacon Burger and loved it despite the bacon, which was not cooked too well and was too plentiful. This time I went for The Melt but no bacon. I did not really care for this. The mustard sauce they used created a flavor I didn’t quite get. I also felt the meat had an extra meaty flavor which bothered me. It is like the meat version of when fish is too fishy to eat. You know it when you taste it. I think I would have done better with their standard burger. However you can not go wrong with any tater tots or fries. The skinny onion strings were also high on my list. 

I seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere more than anything else and for that night it made me happy. I doubt many of those loyal to Wahlburgers are there mainly for the meat.

For the record the next husband on my list is LL Cool J. It is important to note that I still swoon every time I see a photo of one of these men. Like I said I have good taste. As a side note, if you have not seen “Finding Your Roots” on PBS you are missing out. It is like another TV fav of mine “Who Do You Think You Are?” Anyway LL was on the PBS show last week and his episode was bananas!! You absolutely have to watch it online.

Since we are talking about the same area I feel obliged to remind you that there is an amazing restaurant/ party venue within walking distance of Wahlburgers. That would be the one and only Gargiulo's ( It’s amazing how much food and the variety you can find in such a compact area. I have to say that I am thrilled to see the old restored and the new thriving. It is even better than when I was a kid.

Another good joint would be Grimaldi’s pizza, which opened down the block and across the street from Wahlburgers. I have only been to the original
( but this place looked nice and big which is an improvement from the long lines you are bound to find at their Brooklyn Bridge location.

The one place that will follow you even while you are eating in Wahlburgers is Nathan’s. Yes, that Nathan. The story goes: Charles Feltman, who began selling sausages on a roll in Coney in 1870. He had an employee named Nathan Handwerker who then began selling hot dogs from his wife’s recipe on the spot where Nathan’s Famous still stands today. It has been over one hundred years and has attained worldwide success. In an event that would lead to the annual tradition, there would be a hot dog eating contest. This was first held on July 4, 1916 and has taken place every year since. It is the highlight of that day’s celebration in Coney Island and across televisions nationwide. From where I sat in Wahlburgers I could actually see the countdown clock on their exterior. That is always how I eat: enjoying one good meal already craving something else. I suppose that what makes me a foodie.

The adoration of hot dogs it seems has no bounds. Supposedly
Jacqueline Kennedy was a fan and served them at the White House. My dear old friend FDR loved them so much he served them to the King and Queen of England when they visited his home, Springwood (, in Hyde Park. Even departed actor “Walter Mathau requested Nathan’s hot dogs to be served at his funeral – they were!”

It appears that the Coney Island Wahlburgers, in such close proximity to Nathan’s, is keen to follow in their steps for the next one hundred years.

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