For nearly a decade, television viewers have been subjected to a very successful advertising campaign depicting contented cows talking and singing about the pleasures of life in sunny and warm California. The slogan for the “happy cows” campaign’ is “Great cheese comes from happy cows. Happy cows come from California.” The campaign would have you believe the cows are happy because they feast and frolic on a diet of delicious grass from verdant hillsides and not on troughs full of grains which don’t taste quite as good. I don’t know about cows being happier because they graze on grass, but can certainly attest to being a happier diner when enjoying a diet of grass-fed beef.
Generations of New Mexicans, particularly from the more verdurous northern villages, find the notion of grain-fed cattle heretical. All our cows are grass-fed thanks to open-range grazing laws which allow carefree cows to traipse up and down the streets in search of unfenced (or poorly fenced) yards in which the grass does appear to be greener. In the late spring when mountain snows have started to melt, many ranchers herd their cattle into the mountains where meadowlands near the timberline are abundant. In fall when the cows are returned, they’re more corpulent, their fatted frames more ready for winter’s angry bite.
For the first nineteen years of my life, virtually all the beef my family consumed was grass-fed. I was well into my teenage years before the first burger from the legendary McDonald’s crossed my lips. Despite the enthusiastic build-up on commercials aired by the three stations (KOB, KGGM, KOAT) picked up by our rooftop antenna back in the dark ages, the burger—especially the beef—was a huge disappointment. It was obvious the “beef” on my inaugural Big Mac wasn’t raised on high mountain pastureland. It didn’t have the rich, earthy-grassy flavor of grass-fed beef to which we were accustomed and it wasn’t nearly as lean and juicy. The difference was more than just discernible, it was significant.
Alas, most of the beef we’ve had since leaving Penasco has been of the grain-fed supermarket variety. Though we’ve become accustomed to it, it’s always a treat to partake of grass-fed beef. When we heard a new Durango-based hamburger restaurant by the name “Grassburger” had launched in Albuquerque’s Far Northeast Heights, my Kim thought she’d read my snarky little mind. She bet me a burger my review would center on another meaning for the word “grass,” a meaning our neighbors in the great state of Colorado use synonymously with a very popular, recently-made-legal cash crop that’s not fed to cattle. She even suggested I incorporate one of Colorado’s nicknames on my review—the “highest state.”
Though my Kim lost our bet, we both won. Grassburger is the real deal, a proud purveyor of 100-percent grass-fed beef procured from Rain Crow Ranch in Missouri, a haven for happy, humanely-raised, healthy cows. Grass-fed beef has all the qualities health-conscious diners value and the flavor burger aficionados crave. Not only does grass-fed beef have a lower fat content than its more heavily marbled grain-fed bovine brethren, it’s got a greater nutritional value and is replete with healthy Omega-3s, antioxidants and vitamins. Unlike grain-fed cattle which are confined to pens and fed a diet rich in corn (much of which is genetically modified), grass-fed cattle spend their lives feasting on hay in winter and fresh grass in the summer before heading to market.
There are five burgers on the Grassburger menu including a black bean burger sure to please vegans and a green chile cheeseburger New Mexicans will love. At the risk of being accused of snarkiness, the green chile is certified New Mexican true and through. It’s not that stuff Coloradoans call green chile. All burgers are served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, raw onion and Grassburger’s signature chipotle mayo on a potato bun. There are several add-ons for diners who wish to build their own burgers. Burgers are available in single- or double-beef sizes and are formed into four-ounce patties with an 80/20 mix of meat and fat.
Also on the menu is a farm-fresh farm salad constructed from seasonal greens and fresh vegetables and served with your choice of house-made, gluten-free dressings (lemon vinaigrette, tahini, buttermilk ranch). Three “like a grilled cheese, but way better” cheese melts offer a beef-free alternative to burgers. The menu also includes a BLT, a chicken hot dog and a house-made green chile stew made with 100% grass-fed beef and New Mexico green chile. Vanilla and chocolate ice cream shakes and floats are available as are Boylan’s fountain sodas in several handcrafted flavors (the black cherry and root beer are fantastic). Naturally you can’t have burgers without fries. Grassburger offers hand-cut sweet potato or russet potato fries made from potatoes grown in the region.
The green chile cheeseburger is…(drumroll please) outstanding! Order a double to maximize your enjoyment of the grass-fed beef which is griddled to about medium-well and has a discernible char. Though leaner and less marbled than grain-fed beef, the Grassburger is moist, rich and absolutely delicious. We went through so many napkins, it brought to mind Wendy’s “Hot and Juicy” commercials from the 1970s. Any piquancy (and there isn’t much of it) is as much courtesy of the chipotle mayo as it is the green chile. Other ingredients (tomato, lettuce, pickles, raw onion) are fresh and crisp. The potato bun is sweet and moist, a perfect canvas for a superb, high-quality burger. Though hand-cut, the potatoes didn’t do much for us.
Grassburger is the first expansion market for the Durango-based operation. It’s located at the Heights Village on Montgomery just east of Juan Tabo. It’s a destination all grass-fed beef aficionados and burger lovers should program onto their GPS navigation systems. Now, if only they served grass-fed steak.
11225 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 20 March 2016
# OF VISITS: 1
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Green Chile Cheeseburger, Boylan’s Fountain Sodas, Chocolate Shake, French Fries