What Makes a Great Hamburger? Naked Good Burgers: Bareburger of NY

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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

Pasha Restaurant Review

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Here is the second of four NYC restaurant reviews featuring spots where OTK dined during a recent excursion outtathekitchen.

 PASHA

Turkish Cuisine

70 W 71st St, New York 10023

(Btwn Columbus Ave & CPW)

 (212) 579-8751 

Enter Pasha and step into a sultan’s ante-room. The bar, an elliptical oasis surrounded by deep-cushioned easy chairs upholstered with geometric designs, is bathed in a golden saffron light.  Paprika red walls, warm and energizing, quickly conquered the chill of the damp Manhattan night and put my taste buds in overdrive. I was eager to indulge in Turkish cuisine inside this carpeted lair from the Ottoman empire.100_2905

The dining room was a cozy square with a comfy, surrounding wall bench. Small tables with candles skirted the room.  Above was a ceiling of sky lights and beams which reflected the snowflakes falling out of the city sky, and leaning against each pillar was the waitstaff, impeccably attired and at the ready.  Immediately, two gentlemen presented themselves at our table with water, bread, an olive-y herbed dipping oil, menus, and a richly accented explanation of the specials.

Pasha’s menu was very manageable and reminiscent of Greek, Arabic, and Mediterranean fare. They also offer a lunch and a brunch, and I made a mental note of that. My sister and I shared two appetizers: a zucchini pancake which was a frittata of baked egg and shredded zucchini and herbs, and the Zeytinyagli Enginar ,fresh artichoke hearts braised in lemon juice and olive oil with garden peas, potatoes, and carrots. These Mediterranean flavors atop tangy and lemony vegetables along with the herb-infused oil for the rich ekmer bread were great openers– just the right combination for a first bite of  Turkish cuisine.

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Sitting room in the bar at Pasha

In my entree, a Hunkar Begendi, cubes of baby lamb cooked in tomato sauce with rosemary and oregano were served over a charcoal roasted eggplant puree.The charcoal flavor of the eggplant was deep and earthy, and I enjoyed it spread over the rich flatbread. The tomato sauce was sweet and light with well-developed flavor sof sumac and cumin; the lamb cubes just melted in my mouth. This herbaceous stew of tender meat and vegetables cooked over coals brought me to a world of very ancient flavors.  My sister’s entree was Sebzeli Guvec, a vegetarian combination of green beans, eggplant, zucchini, okra and celery root baked with tomatoes in an earthenware casserole. It was served with a tender rice. The okra was perfect, not gummy or overcooked, and the vegetables made for a great mix of texture, sweetness, and color in a light sauce. Portions were plentiful, too.

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        Welcome to Pasha

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Braised Artichoke Heart in Lemon and Oil with Carrots, Peas, and Fresh Dill 

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Stew of Cubed Lamb with Charcoal Roasted Eggplant Pureé  

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Okra, Zucchini, Greenbeans and Celery Root Braised in Tomato Sauce

Everything on the dessert menu struck my fancy.  I have a hard time turning down pastries featuring walnuts, pistachios, phyllo dough, honey, fruit, and cream combinations. There are also several options of sherbet and ice cream. We opted for the rice pudding and a Turkish coffee– both tiptop.

Service was outstanding, probably because we were there at an early hour, so our extremely polite servers were happy to accommodate our whims and to chitchat.  The action eventually picked up, and Pasha was soon humming with diners, clearly fans of the establishment and local neighborhood folk– no touristy feel here. If you love the traditional kebabs, pilafs, kofte, and stuffed grape leaves, you can find these at Pasha, too.  (For an excellent Turkish dish you can cook at home, click RECIPE .)

Pasha is not fancy, but just exotic enough to be a great combination of fun and fantasy.  Food is comforting as is the warm setting. It was a quiet dining experience, something I had missed in the city restaurants of late. My sister and I were able to have a great visit over special food on our magic carpet ride.

Going outtathekitchen in NYC

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It was fun to step outtathekitchen and into some new eating establishments during my latest visit to NYC.

While the food was quite enjoyable, the company trumped the cuisine in most cases.  

Check out the following accessible restaurants…

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I looked forward to dining out with my friends who were in town for Westminster at a  touristy and mutually convenient Italian restaurant on the west side in mid-town  Manhattan.  Trattoria Dell’Artesomehow manages to attract diners with an enormous plaster nose in the window facing Seventh Avenue.  Eeewww. The art inside the restaurant isn’t any better– gigantic sculptures of lips and enormous canvases with facial, torso, and limb closeups, awkwardly sketched in red pastel a la Da Vinci. Yeah. The meal, though only slightly above average, was a worthy adventure, for the most part.

When entering Trattoria Dell’Arte, be prepared.  You will be overwhelmed with smarmy, over-dressed hosts and hostesses.  I had three– the maitre d’, the floor drone, and the hatcheck girl.  They got the name wrong in the reservation,which caused momentary confusion, but  I was seated promptly at a table for two to await my two friends. Huh? I adjoined the neighboring table together with mine since the host who seated me did not do so.

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Our waiter was a lively, stand up comedic type, hyping each dish as his “absolute favorite.”  His loud and zealous rap was appreciated since the joint was jumping with the pre-theater crowd.  We could hardly hear ourselves think.

For starters, we assembled a build-your-own antipasto plate of a few vegetables, meat, and a seafood. Very nice. I had already scoped out some of the antipasto choices when I arrived  in the front of the house, and I briefly contemplated just going for the antipasto bar for my main meal, but I was just too hungry.

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For entreés, two of us ordered the Fennel Sausage Pasta with curly gramigna pasta, tomato, and pecorino cheese. The pasta, a kind of half-cavatappi (corkscrew) was freshly made on the premises. This artisanal sausage featured a nicely balanced rosemary and garlic flavor which combined well with the sweet fennel notes in the light marinara sauce. The pasta was cooked a bit beyond al dente, but not at all mushy. Another dining partner ordered a chicken parmesan– a flattened boneless and skinless leg, breaded, lightly fried and topped with excellent parmesan cheese.  Not pretty to look at as it resembled something that had been run over by a truck, complete with protruding leg bone– but the meat was moist, the breading crunchy, and it was neither greasy nor over-sauced. Everybody was happy with their main dish, sharing generously with each other.  The wine lubricated the fun.

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                    Fennel Sausage Pasta with Grimagna and Pecorino Cheese

During the meal, our colorful waiter kept marching by with various over-sized desserts. He started to push the cannoli as his hands-down favorite dessert that he always ordered as it was the best he ever ate. Dessert was definitely on our radar after all that salesmanship, and we went for the chocolate mousse, tiramisu, and lemon tart.  However, he brought a cannoli instead by mistake. When we asked him to exchange it, he generously suggested that we keep it and he would bring the third dessert right along. It never arrived.  So we dug into the cannoli and not reluctantly since we thought we had just scored a bonus dessert. Then we understood why he must have dumped it on our table.  It was truly inedible–  the shells were tasteless pizelle with the consistency of wet paper, the ricotta inside had turned and seemed totally devoid of sugar or marscapone, and the blueberry slop on the side was incongruous and tart on the tongue.  Bleah.  They must have been out of the tiramisu. The chocolate mousse was excellent, and the lemon tart got a B-, but the foul cream on the side was over-whipped nearing the consistency and taste of butter.  Very disappointing.

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Two Desserts to Avoid at Trattoria Dell’Arte: Soggy Cannoli and Lemon Tart with Side of  Whipped Cream 

Overall, the allegria  and raucous guffaws from the large tables around us made the dining experience a somewhat wild ride, but it was more fun than annoying.  Prices were a little high (Menu Trattoria Dell’Arte) and not unexpected; the quality of the fare was below par. I still can’t decide if the service was good or not. Everyone was plenty attentive, but I can’t help but wonder if a little benign neglect would have been preferable.

There is lots to chose from on the  menu, but I would recommend going for an informal lunch and trying the antipasto bar with some excellent bread, cheese, and wine.photo

NYC Restaurant Reviews

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Today you can check out the first of OTK’s four restaurant reviews from Outtathekitchen’s recent visit to New York City.  

Find out if OTK recommends eating at these spots in the Big Apple– or not.  

Go to On The Road with OTK and click to read today’s review on Trattoria Dell’Arte

YGEH_LogoDev_June07b_FINAL1Trattoria Dell’Arte                                                                                            

900 7th Ave  New York, NY 10106

Pasha Turkish Restaurant   

70 W 71st St  (between W Central Park & Columbus Ave)        

Crispo  Restaurant

 240 W 14th Street    

Bareburger 

71-49 Austin St 

(Forest Hills, Queens)

Getting Comfortable in the Kitchen with Chef Instructor Melanie Underwood

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As the the winter storm Nemo was drifting out to sea, chef instructor Melanie Underwood was on the phone doing damage control. The epic storm had delayed a major cookie dough delivery from Jacqueline’s Bakery in Massachusetts that she was counting on for the volunteers gathering to bake that afternoon for the international non-profit called Cookies for Kids’ Cancer.

100_2933Underwood, an instructor at New York City’s Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) and a volunteer for the global bake sale fundraising organization, was intent on tracking down the dough and re-scheduling the bake-off to later in the day. The cookies were a big thank you to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for its role in pediatric cancer research and care.  

This grass roots and now world wide organization is a perfect mirror of Melanie Underwood’s own passion for how powerful the act of baking can be–  a passion which eventually led her to a career as an instructor at the former Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School where she has worked for seventeen years.

Growing up on a farm, Melanie’s childhood of collecting eggs, milking cows, and composting gave her a wonderful appreciation of where food comes from. Life on a Virginia farmstead surrounded by extended family, especially a grandmother who prepared a dessert daily with the fresh ingredients from the farm, gave her a firm foundation in baking. At a very early age she could fashion a pie crust from memory and whip up a mean pâte a choux.

That joy of baking eventually blossomed into a job at a local bakeshop followed by brownie and cookie baking for the farmers market.  Post-college, Melanie made her way to a Washington DC area hotel where she apprenticed as a volunteer working under a pastry chef and entered a number of pastry competitions. With French pastry techniques under her belt, she moved on to broaden her culinary experiences at the Four Seasons Hotel, the Plaza, and Torre de Pisa in NYC during the early 90’s. Eventually, Melanie’s experience, talent, and knowledge led to a position as an educator at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education.

Her very popular courses at ICE offer instruction at every level of cooking expertise, from professionals to raw beginners, and include classes on soufflés, fish and shellfish, cupcakes, sweet and savory pies, cocktails, chocolate, and healthy cooking.  (For details about her courses at ICE  visit  Melanie’s Cooking Classes.)

Interviewing Melanie at her home in Queens, I was served a memorable slice of apple pie as well as a colorful fruit tart with English cream. After enjoying dessert first, we concluded the interview with lunch–  Melanie’s Pulled Pork and Kohlrabi Cole Slaw.  Both recipes are found in the OTK’s RECIPES menu link.

 

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Double Crusted Apple Pie with a Patee Brisee Dough

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Fresh Fruit Tart With Pastry Creme                                                                                                                                                    

Interview with Melanie Underwood

OTK:  What is one of your fondest food memories?

MUK:  I made eclairs for my dad. He was out on the tractor.  I prepared the pastry, the cream, and the chocolate sauce. I ran across the field and presented it to him on the tractor. I was so proud, and I think that was key.  Experiences like that build confidence. Many people are much better cooks than they realize.  Confidence in cooking is primary.

OTK:  How would you describe the students you teach?

MUK:  I teach adults mostly.  My mother and daughter courses are also very popular.  I often teach absolute beginners, couples, and career chefs, too.

OTKWhat do you think contributes most to developing a person’s interest and understanding of food?

MUK:  It’s starts at a young age. I wonder if people really let kids fully into their kitchen.  A lot of values are taught in the kitchen along with knowledge about food and cooking. I have two kids. My oldest is 15, and he often cooks for himself. He even makes cheese for his pizza. My kids are comfortable in the kitchen and are good eaters.  They’ve eaten anchovies out of the jar since they were little!

OTKWhat do you feed your own family?

MUK:  I make them pancakes practically every day.  I like grilling and braising, especially pulled pork. As much as I can, I go chemical and antibiotic free.  It’s better for the environment.  I grew up on a farm.  I’m not into starch much. My starch growing up was mostly lima beans!

OTK:  How would you describe the difference between cooking and baking?

MUK:  I trained as a baker, but I found that when I started cooking, it totally opened up another side of my personality.  With baking you have to measure, be precise.  Cooking is more flexible, even though I feel more creative when I am baking. I think cooking made me a better person and broadened my skills so I did not get stuck in a rut.

OTK:  What was it like working in the big hotels?

MUK:  When I was at the Four Seasons, we all did everything. When I was in the bread bakery, I scaled the dough and learned to be exact each time. I was exposed to all levels of preparation of bread and pastries. The bakery tasks and production were all divided up based on the day’s pastry menu.  All the amenities were prepared as well as the specialities, and then on the pastry line every dessert was made to order and assembled with emphasis on food styling. There is a real hierarchy mindset, typical of training in a big hotel kitchen. The executive chef is like the CEO of the kitchen.

OTKWhat inspires you to cook?

MUK:  I draw my creativity from everyday life, but it is hard to pinpoint. Single ingredients can be inspirational.  When I was at the Four Seasons, we prepared a dinner where all the courses featured tomatoes.  I love lemon, especially preserved lemons and Meyer lemons. Citrus, in general is a favorite of mine.  And I am inspired by my microplane!  You can grate so many things with it– like lemon zest and grated chocolate. You can’t over zest.  I also love to go to the market for inspiration. Sometimes I put all the seasonal produce from my  CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) out on the table and come up with fun new recipes.

OTK:  Have you ever considered opening a restaurant?

MUK:  People ask me that all the time. Only if someone else will fund it and get up at 3:00  in the morning!  I love teaching and being a culinary educator.

OTK:  As a culinary educator, what are the goals you have for your students? Do you have specific expectations of your students in the kitchen classroom?  

MUK: First, I want my students to be respectful of food.  I insist that they try their wares.   I also want them to get over any performance anxieties and learn to work in teams. I  ask them to share why they are taking the class.  Some of my students are not really comfortable in a kitchen yet, and that is why they are taking the course. There are lots of group dynamics and sometimes people’s insecurities and anxieties can come out so I provide lots of positive reinforcement.

It can be fun to cook with others, but I also want them to have individual confidence and, most of all, to have fun.  Ultimately, I want them to learn to cook without using recipes, so I tell students in the 12 week classes that it is important to practice at home in order to get better.  It’s like learning a language. I give them various exercises to do at home.

Other advice is “clean as you go.”  Also, I tell students to invest in a good scale.

I just want them to relax and have a good time.  When you take the time to cook for others, they are not going to judge you.

OTK:  Do you teach much about the science of cooking and about technique?

MUK:  I do include some, but I really focus on hands-on learning.  Pastry classes often require more information about technique.  Some students really want (and need) to know why certain chemical reactions are happening and are quite interested in the science behind the art.  But experience is the best teacher.

OTK:  What are some of your favorite cookbooks?

MUK:  I  love the more traditional Fannie Farmer Baking Book.  I like instructional books.   I also like the Heidi Swanson 101 Cookbooks that emphasize healthy eating and Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything:  Simple Recipes for Great Food.  I prefer any cookbooks that are informational and have an instructional bend.

OTK:  If you were to write a cookbook , what would it be about?

MUK:  Cupcakes.  It would be recipe driven and technique based. Cupcakes are still extremely popular, and my class on cupcakes is selling out like crazy with waiting lists.

OTK:  Do you have a favorite style of cuisine?

MUK:  For eating, authentic Indian cuisine.  I have a lot of talented Indian friends.  I want to be able to cook Indian food and to use my new masala dabba and make my own curries.   I love southern food, but I don’t cook in the specific southern style.   A lot of my cooking is French based due to my training.

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OTK:  How would you sum up your philosophy for good eating?           

MUK:  I’m all for grazing.  I can be preachy sometimes because I grew up on a farm.  I   just want to get people excited about food. (Trader Joe’s is okay– especially if you don’t cook.)

There is a connectivity between cooking and life. When you grow up on a farm you see how growing, cooking, and recycling scraps into compost that you then use to plant more food or use to feed the animals is a life cycle.

Today it’s harder for kids to make this connection to where our food comes from, but they can find it, for example, at a farmers market. And I think teaching baking and cooking makes that connection for everyone.

Before my departure, Melanie  learned that the cookie dough was en route and would arrive in the late afternoon. The volunteers assembled at 5:00 to bake and package the treats for the hospital.  

I found Melanie to be an inspirational culinary educator who was dedicated to sharing her talents not only in the classroom but also in the form of community outreach. Nothing like a chef with a mission. Thanks, Melanie, for talking with Outtathekitchen.com.   –ME Lorden

Photos by MELorden