As much as those developments represent upgrades in the hamburger world, they also reveal the industry's glaring blind spot: Burger joints, large or small, don't talk much about the sources of their beef. They may say their meat comes from North America or the United States, but they don't drill down to specific farms or even to a specific state. They're the stubborn holdouts of the locavore movement.
Which is why the recently opened Red Apron Burger Bar in Washington, D.C., immediately stood out in the ground-beef market. The partnership between Neighborhood Restaurant Group and Red Apron Butcher promises to source all its beef from Virginia producers, including Leaping Waters Farm in Alleghany Springs, which raises Ancient White Park cattle exclusively on grass. If you’ve never had a burger made from the meat of grass-fed cattle, you’re in for a surprise: The patties boast a deeply beefy, mineral-like flavor, so different from the buttery roundness of grain-fed steers.
“We have both a grass-fed burger for the new place as well as a grass-fed, grain-finished burger,” says Nathan Anda, the chef, butcher and creative force behind Red Apron. “You can tell both of them have a good amount of age, and both of them are bringing more of a beefiness, more of a steak flavor, as opposed to kind of the taste of the grill or the taste of the flattop.”
It has taken Anda years to develop the network of regional farmers who supply his Washington-area butcher shops with all-natural, humanely raised meats. Even so, he couldn’t have launched his Burger Bar without the help of Ryan Ford, co-owner of Seven Hills Food in Lynchburg, Va. Ford is a wholesaler in fresh Virginia meats, which doesn’t begin to explain all the work required to build a system with such a regional focus.
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