Larkburger soars above the average burger

As reported by Lori Midson, Larkburger opened its doors last Friday at 2525 Arapahoe Street and immediately started bestowing big burgers and truffled fries on Boulder.

Back in August, I'd moved just a few blocks from the spot where Larkburger was to roost, and I'd eagerly awaited the day the casual burger place would start serving. Fortunately, Larkburger was worth the wait.

On my first visit, I went for the Larkburger: 1/3 pound of black Angus beef with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, cheddar and a special sauce, all on a bun crisped with butter (one of the essential parts to a winning burger). Although there's nothing unique about any of these ingredients, the technique and process turn this burger into something worth trying.

The first bite brought a tidal wave of clear, clean beefiness to my palate, with the sauce an undertow as I went down for another bite. The Tillamook cheddar is probably the perfect burger cheese, with a distinct tanginess balancing the mass of meat.

When I was almost through with the burger, I finally dug into the truffle-and-parmesan fries. These hand-cut little bastards were stunning; I went to bed that night dreaming about them. And then I woke up and thought more about the crunch, the perfect amount of salt, the earthy truffle and heady parmesan individually high-fiving each of my tastebuds.

I was still thinking about them when I sat down with Larkburger president and partner Adam Baker to talk burger mechanics.

We skipped over all of the environmentally friendly stuff, because since Larkburger is in the People's Republic, where, if you DON'T use canola oil for your fries and subsequently recycle that oil for car fuel (as Larkburger does), then you need not even open your doors. Everything made from scratch, extensive use of eco-friendly packaging, efficient cooking equipment -- I get it.

I was, however, interested in hearing more about the "minimalist" decor. I'm used to hearing "minimalist" and then seeing a single piece of progressive artwork or some ironic bathroom fixture. But not this time. Here, "minimalist" means wood paneling (from salvaged timber in California, no less), tables, chairs...and that's about it. Remove anything more and you a) don't get ketchup on your burger, b) won't be sitting on anything, or c) won't be eating on anything.

Baker is very proud of the look."It's minimalist," he proclaimed. "This is it."

The burger is much less minimalist. Together we deconstructed the whole thing down to the few, minor quibbles I'd had. First, Baker said, you are supposed to be asked for the desired temp on your burger -- and the default is medium. I wasn't asked, but loved my mid-rare creation and considered it cooked perfectly.

I wasn't as fond of the excessive use of salt. Baker told me the kitchen uses salt in three separate places: on the burger, on the tomatoes and in sauce.

I asked if the burger was salted before it was cooked, and he replied in the affirmative. That means they are pulling moisture to the surface, concentrating flavor within the meat. But salt from this would have a distinct crustiness, which it didn't. Tomatoes are hoisted up by salt as well (try a tomato on its own and then with salt; you'll be amazed), and its use there is also very noticeable.

That left just the sauce, which turned out to be the culprit. Less salt in the sauce, and Larkburger comes damn close to the perfect burger.

Baker is proud of his place and says he chose Boulder with a "why not" mindset. He may even move close by soon. But then, he also thinks the concept is ripe for expansion, falling on the lucrative, upper-end of the fast-casual price range. Larkburger may have to fight to pick up the college crowd, since a meal here could run about $10. But I'd happily pay the few extra bucks when I'm jonesing for some cooked ground beef.

I walked out with a vanilla shake in hand, yet another delightful Larkburger creation. Made with Breyers ice cream, this shake embodied what makes Larkburger work: good ingredients, good technique, good execution -- and a great overall product.

Larkburger's Boulder location is 2525 Arapahoe Street; hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. Call (303) 444-1487 for more.

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