When Mark Twain said, “Sacred cows make the best hamburger,” he probably had no idea that a lot of meat-lovers, culinary cool cats, and organic farmers would take him on his word. The meat that is going into the modern American patty has been undergoing a radical transformation of culinary and ethical dimensions.
Terrific burgers aren’t found only in local diners and favorite greasy spoons anymore.Today they stand as the acid test of any good bistro. Even the infamous Julia Child was a burger fiend. When she passed through the Upper Valley a decade ago, her meal of choice at our local Norwich Inn restaurant was a burger and a beer. I should have been paying attention, Julia.
Until this winter, I hadn’t eaten hamburgers for years. Whenever I got hamburger hankerings, the sandwich just never delivered. Between the charred and chewy grilled burgers I was eating at summer gatherings, the handful of horrible on-the-road fast food versions, and the hockey pucks that my old George Forman grill produced, I was off burgers. Bad timing and a maturing palate, I told myself. Frankly, I couldn’t seem to cook one right, and I couldn’t find one that satisfied, either. I was turned off to the classic American meat sandwich.
At restaurants, my dining companions often remark, “…and they have a good burger here, too.” Translation: “You can always get the burger if none of the other stuff appeals to you at this very cool eatery.” Right. I was never willing to stoop to the burger option, that selection lurking at the bottom of the menu food chain. Ordering a hamburger just never seemed like the right choice when dining out. Plus burgers came with fries, cheese, and other fattening temptations. Nope. Burgers were off my radar– until a recent dining adventure in New York.
While there is no ham in hamburger, there seems to be every other kind of meat in burgers these days. The all beef patty isn’t just for lunch anymore, and it isn’t all beef. And if you don’t believe me, stop by one of a dozen New York area burger bistros called Bareburger, the brainstorm of the Brooklyn-based Euripedes Pelekanos. Now a decade old, Bareburger has garnered raves from Zagat and Michelin. With a wide selection of meat choices to build your custom six ounce burger (beef, lamb, elk, bison, ostrich, wild boar, turkey, chicken), Bareburger lets hamburger lovers go wild. But it’s meat with a difference. All the meats at Bareburger are locally sourced, humanely raised, and are of the highest quality available. Simple and pure, this naked goodness comes free of hormones, chemicals, and gluten, too. The result is a burger that is high in flavor and, well, “earth friendly” in its production.
And that goes for all the other produce served there, too, as well as the restaurant decor. Built with sustainable, recycled or reclaimed materials, Bareburger’s interior design has a brown paper bag feel about it with wall art consisting of woven sticks and rough stones. The bear cave theme is present along with a Portland-West Coast vibe. Entering the bear’s lair, I enjoyed the best piped-in music at a restaurant in years. Something about eating a hamburger to the likes of Hendrix, Joplin, Neil Young, Zep, the Stones, and Dylan was just right. I felt like Goldilocks.
Navigating the Bareburger menu is fun. You get to construct a burger by starting with the protein selection. For the bun, there are both flour-based and gluten-free options such as wheat, buttery brioche, multi-grain, rice, tapioca, and even a lettuce-wrap. Then it’s on to choices of crazy good pickles, over fourteen different sauces, and slaws that add crunch, a spicy bite, and a cooling finish to your burger. The french fries are handcrafted and crispy. For a lighter bite, choose sliders. Kids get a menu, too– the “cubby” in your family can choose burgers named after five different cuddly bears. Yup. Bareburger can be a bit of a family hangout. But it’s no Chuck E. Cheese or MacDonald’s. When I ate at the Forest Hills branch, it was kid-free, but we were there well after 8:00 pm and the wine and beer crowd was in the groove.
I went for the elk burger classic on a brioche bun topped with slaw and fries on the side. I have been a fan of elk meat for a while now, having cooked elk tenderloin and smoked my own elk jerky on a handmade pinewood smoker (like northeastern woodland paleo-Indians). I am mad for elk, and the meat I used was wild game brought back to me from Montana. But an elk burger was a new option. Every bit as delicious, the farm-raised Bareburger patty, seasoned with just salt and pepper, was amazing. The burgers have none of the charcoal-y sear on the outside, but even cooked to a medium level remain intensely juicy and flavorful. The price for a burger starts around $9.00 with game meat adding a buck or so, and toppings can add another $3.00-$5.00 dollars. Sides run $5.00-$7.00, but are large enough to share.
Health Note: Wild game as well as farm-raised elk both contain a mixture of fats that are actually healthy for you, and while higher in cholesterol, elk is overall lower in the unhealthy fat than beef.
If you are hanging Paleo these days, Bareburger is a great option. And non-meat eaters, don’t fret. Vegetarian selections abound, including black bean, portobello, or veggie burgers as well as plenty of wholesome dishes and creative salads featuring locally sourced produce. Great smoothies, and an ample beer and wine selection are available.
The cheap, fast-food burger is a thing of the past. Whether you like to eat America’s wild beasts that have been farm raised with kindness, or wish to support the locavore movement, you’ll find that Bareburger offers something to satisfy every healthy diet. It’s the place where meat-eaters and vegans alike can commune and chow down in good conscience. –MELorden