By Analiese Paik
Fast-casual is the darling category of the restaurant business right now, and chains catering to consumers who want to eat locally and sustainably are the fastest growing according to a July 25, 2014 New York Times article. Chipotle Mexican Grill, the poster child for the fast-casual category, serves food we can feel good about. “Food with integrity” as they describe it. Although admirable, their sustainability bar is lower than some of us would like. Meat comes from animals that aren’t administered hormones or antibiotics, dairy comes from cows not treated with synthetic growth hormones, and the food is local and organic “when practical”. The company was the first chain to provide transparency about which ingredients might be GMO, and have pledged to eventually eliminate them.
Chipotle’s pioneering work is important, but consumers solidly in the fast-growing organic and Non-GMO space have been waiting for a fast-casual restaurant chain catering to their values to come along. According to a March 2013 Harris Interactive poll, 80% of US adults seek out green products and 30% are willing to pay a premium for them. A whopping 41% agreed with the statement “I think organic food tastes better/fresher than non-organic” and 55% agreed that organic food is healthier than conventional. Clearly it was time to raise the bar for restaurant food.
Enter Bareburger, a New York City- based, fast-casual restaurant chain that serves organic, grass-fed beef and exotic meat burgers, veggie burgers, and a full menu of salads, sides, sandwiches, shakes, beverages, and desserts that are either organic or all natural. Refreshingly, all-natural means Non-GMO at Bareburger. Even the canola oil they use for frying is Non-GMO. Dairy products are USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project verified and American Humane Certified. How’s that for raising the bar!
Bareburger just celebrated the fifth anniversary of the opening of their first location in Astoria, Queens and now has 18 locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Ohio. Recognizing the company for blazing sustainable trails in the restaurant business, Nation’s Restaurant News named Bareburger one of ten Breakout Brands of 2014. Besting Shake Shack and Five Guys, Bareburger was rated the best burger in New York City last year by the New York Post. And their milk shake – made with organic ice cream, organic milk and organic fruit – was voted among the best in the country by USA Today in 2013. Zagat has rated Bareburger a top burger destination since 2010 and last year voted their veggie burger a “must try.” New locations planned for this year and next include Washington, DC; Stamford, CT; and Hoboken, NJ.
Franchisee Chris Sturges opened the first Connecticut Bareburger in Ridgefield in December of 2013 with business partner Truitt Bell, a friend of two of the chain’s founders. Sturges recounted how Truitt approached him with the concept: “This is kind of cool. Maybe we should open one in Ridgefield.” Sturges left his job at an investment bank in Stamford in November, 2012 when they signed the lease for 38 Danbury Road, a building which would require months of renovations before opening. ”I wanted to do something for myself and the community, something more wholesome. I was born in town and my parents and grandparents grew up here” said Sturges.
“It’s amazing how aware people are of what they’re eating. Even high school kids” said Sturges of the young people, families and couples that dine at his restaurant to enjoy high-quality American food served in a relaxed atmosphere. “People who come in don’t want another greasy burger” he said. “Bareburger is a brand that puts a lot of emphasis on quality of service and quality of food. We have rigorous standards in place.”
Fresh food arrives daily from a commissary kitchen in Astoria along with Jim’s Organic coffee from Massachusetts, Maine Root soda, Harney & Sons teas (organic, Fair Trade), Blue Marble Ice Cream from Brooklyn, and award-winning Rumiano Cheese from California, the first Non-GMO Project verified organic cheese from grass-fed cows. Hot dogs, eggs, bacon, and most vegetables and fruits are organic. Beef, bison, and turkey are organic; chicken, elk, ostrich, lamb, and wild boar are pasture-raised and hormone and antibiotic free. A comprehensive list of ingredients can be found on an easy-to-read FAQ sheet available for diners.
Are Connecticut eaters really adventurous enough for ostrich burgers? “Yes, absolutely” said Sturges. “People are excited about it and are asking for it. We have some diehard ostrich fans.” Those adhering to a vegetarian, vegan or gluten free diet have a wide variety of options to choose from when ordering from a menu of fourteen Bareburgers or the style-your-own Barest Burger. No-meat patty choices include black bean vegan, farmers quinoa veggie and portabella mushroom. Light eaters will enjoy choosing from eleven salads, most of which are gluten free. Top a salad with a protein to skip the burger altogether. An employee at Bareburger is also president of the Ridgefield High School Garden Club and when he brings freshly harvested produce to the restaurant, you’ll find a Ridgefield High School Garden Club salad on the menu.
I took my order to go and the burgers were still warm and delicious by the time I arrived home in Fairfield.The Roadhouse burger, piled high with avocado, cheese, bacon, onions, peppers and mayo is a restaurant favorite, and was my children’s favorite too. The Classic elk burger had a pleasant gamey flavor and was my top pick. Shaped just like one of their meat burger patties, the full-flavored black bean burger didn’t crumble upon first bite, and unlike most veggie burgers, is not filled with rice. The fresh and tasty walnut ginger apple salad was large enough to be a meal in itself or a side for a few people to share.
Walnut Ginger Apple Salad of baby spinach, crumbled goat cheese, toasted crushed walnuts, apple wedges, applewood smoked thick cut bacon and honey lemon ginger vinaigrette.
Roadhouse Bison Burger with avocado, country bacon, pepperjack cheese, sweet apple grilled onions, red piquante peppers and smoked paprika mayonnaise on a brioche bun.
Black Bean Vegan Burger is a black bean patty topped with vegan cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and cilantro lime dressing served on a brioche bun.
Classic Elk Burger with garlic dill pickles, sweet apple grilled onions and ketchup on a brioche bun.
Bareburger is a kid and family-friendly destination for the most sustainable fast-casual food in our area. Nobody will go home hungry since portions are generous. To go orders are packed in recycled paper containers that can be composted. Since they’re open late, it’s a food destination to keep in mind while traveling. Sturges and his partner plan to open a Stamford location at Harbor Point in 2014.
38 Danbury Road
Website: Bareburger Ridgefield
Open Monday through Thursday from 11 am until 11 pm, Friday from 11 am until 11:30 pm, Saturday from 10 am until 11:30 pm, and Sunday from 10 am until 10 pm.