The sunburger is back, but this time it’s served on the surface.
Wendy Murray, owner of the former Underground Café, is back in the Exchange District and now bringing out her signature veggie burgers from the kitchen of the Royal Albert Arms. The concert hall is a stone’s throw from its former location on Arthur Street.
To say she’s happy to be back is an understatement.
“I love this neighborhood,” says Murray, sitting in the sunny atrium of her new dining room. “After closing the restaurant, I was too depressed to come here.”
“I love this area. After closing the restaurant, I was too depressed to come here.” – Chief Wendy Murray
She had been running the Subway — a basement cafe with bright murals and mismatched chairs — for 23 years when she made the decision to close shop in the fall of 2016. Murray had hit a financial wall and administrative.
“I was opening, working all day, closing, doing all the paperwork, all the business meetings and I couldn’t take it anymore,” she says. “One morning I was brushing my teeth and I was like, ‘It’s over.'”
Murray spent the next few years baking sunburger patties for friends, cooking at a seniors’ residence, and working at a large hotel restaurant.
The corporate kitchen world was the antithesis of his approach to cooking.
“I’d rather go back to making a little less money, being on the stock market and doing what I want to do,” she says. “No more crappy, pre-made frozen food.”
The opportunity to return to his old stomping grounds came from Royal Albert manager David McKeigan, who also owns the Pyramid Cabaret. McKeigan took over the historic hotel and concert hall in 2019 after the building suffered a series of closings and reopenings. The pandemic has been about hosting shows when restrictions allowed and restoring the space’s heritage features to their former glory.
“I’d rather go back to making a little less money and being on the stock market and doing what I want to do. No more crap pre-made frozen meals.” – Chief Wendy Murray
Murray opened the 40-seat restaurant overlooking the street last Thursday, just over a week after she and McKeigan decided to team up.
For now, she’s serving a clean Underground menu with plans to bring more vegan and gluten-free items in the future. Old regulars should be delighted to see the return of favorites such as the sunburger, a seed-filled vegetarian patty served on a bagel with a creamy dill sauce; the Wendy, an egg salad sandwich; and the spicy tuna and chicken salad sandwiches.
“I’m kind of anti-food inclined,” Murray says. “I believe in well-made comfort food, freshly prepared daily with whole ingredients, and who cares if there’s butter and cheese in it?”
The new cafe opened with an equally pared-down staff, with Murray in the kitchen, until traffic in the neighborhood picked up.
“Maybe, you know, the record snowfall is melting and warming up and after two years of COVID…you’ll start seeing people on the streets again and the (area) will come back to life,” she says.
Working at the Royal Albert, a place where she spent many late nights in her youth, feels like a real homecoming. “I don’t know if it’s the neighborhood or these old buildings with their creaky floors, I feel so comfortable here,” Murray says.
The Royal Albert Restaurant, located at 48 Albert Street, will be open Wednesday through Saturday for lunch, dinner and late night service. Visit royalalbertarms.net for more information.