By Gretchen Kurtz
By Mark Antonation
By Cafe Society
By Kristin Pazulski
By Chris Utterback
By Cafe Society
By Jamie Swinnerton
By Jamie Swinnerton
I cared not even a little bit.
Five minutes later, my order was up. I walked out to the patio, then past it — to a pleasant grassy rise between the parking lot and the road. I sipped my milkshake, and it was exactly what I'd hoped for. For me, a milkshake is traveling food — something I learned from my dad long ago, on interminable car trips in a succession of used cars with bad shocks and no air conditioning. Chocolate, always, and the thicker the better. Even though I'd skipped the truffle oil and shake of parmesan cheese, the fries weren't as good: hand-cut, but only single-dropped and not cooked enough, leaving them a bit limp and greasy.
Then the burger. I took a bite, and it hit me like a hammer in the forehead, a lightning bolt straight to the pleasure center in my brain specifically reserved for cheeseburgers. Perfectly medium rare, fat but not too fat, seared on all sides, set on a toasted bun with beautifully fresh and thick-cut toppings. It was a brilliant cheeseburger at just the moment that I needed one. I ate it the way you always do when you are handed such a burger, taking another bite before I was done chewing the previous one, rushing my way through because I couldn't eat it any other way.
8000 E. Belleview Ave.
Englewood, CO 80111
Region: Southeast Denver Suburbs
2539 S. College Ave.
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Region: Northern Colorado
It was not the best burger ever, nor did it rate that charmed pantheon of second-best burgers. But it was certainly the best burger at that moment, no doubt the best burger in Edwards, and probably in the top five for Colorado, maybe even the top three. It was a burger with a lot of potential.
Two weeks later, I was at Larkburger's second location, which opened in Boulder this March. The space here is almost identical to the one in Edwards, with a scene reminiscent of (if not quite as overwhelming as) the original. This time, I made a more formal tour of the menu, trying the turkey burger (okay as far as turkey burgers go, though not nearly as juicy as the cow-flavored version and not as well balanced in terms of flavor, either) and the tuna burger (slabs of seared tuna instead of beef and an alleged wasabi-ginger sauce and cilantro, none of which I taste at all, in place of the secret burger sauce), and a beer because, yes, Larkburger has a license, thank God. I again steered clear of the truffle fries because, as far as I'm concerned, I can go the rest of my life without ever tasting another truffle fry and die a perfectly satisfied man. For that matter, I can skip the turkey burger and the tuna burger and the veggie burger and the squirrel burger, too: They've never going to be better than a bit of ground cow, grilled and made into a sandwich.
So when I return to this Larkburger, I order simply: one Larkburger, medium rare, one side of plain fries, one chocolate milkshake. And then I stand aside to wait.
The kitchen loses my order. In the depths of a late-lunch rush (third hit in a day that could easily see Larkburger serving 200 or 300 or 400 customers), my ticket — number 225 — somehow gets passed over, forgotten in the melee of burgers and shakes and fries. I stand there waiting while order number 230 is called, then 235 and 240. When they get to 250, I'm pissed and hungry and tired of waiting for the house to realize its own mistake, so I call a cashier over.
I'm apologized to by the cashier, then by a cook and then by the manager, who actually comes out, looks me in the eye and says it's all their fault and they'll fly me my order as fast as humanly possible. I'm given a $15 gift card. Most important, though, I'm given my fries (fried right this time — a ball of shoestrings nicely crispy and lightly salted), my shake and my burger. And when I bite into the burger, once again I'm overwhelmed by the ideal balance of the thing — by its heft in my hand and the lovely, perfectly seared patty not at all overpowered by the bread, the onion, the secret sauce. By its looks, which are good enough to be a porn-y food-mag centerfold. By the smell, all beefy and delicious.
It's a great burger. Not the best, not the second-best, but again, with the potential to someday rise into the territory of legendary. And for the moment, it's exactly the burger I want. I forgive everything — the waiting, the annoyance — with that one bite.
Of course, I'm also really hungry — as hungry as I was when I was coming down the mountain — and serious need, serious hunger, might be the secret to having the best possible Larkburger experience. Sometimes the great burgers come to you. Sometimes, though, you have to really want them and, even when knowing they're not the best ever, love them just for what they are.