The economic malaise of recent years has prompted Americans to become more judicious on how they spend their disposable income (the little that’s left after all the usual bills, expenses and taxes are paid off). Instead of splurging on gourmet meals at high-end restaurants, Americans are going to those same high-end restaurants for a reliable old favorite that in years past would not have graced their menus. More than ever, Americans are turning to an American original, our ultimate comfort food and favorite sandwich–the hamburger–and not the “gobble and go” burgers proffered by the bastions of fast food.
American consumers have made it known through their wallets and purses that despite the current economic environment, the one luxury they are not willing to cut back on is a premium burger. Technomic, a food service industry consultant, confirms that “consumers are willing to pay more for a specialty burger, especially a premium burger, than they are for a standard burger, regardless of restaurant segment.” That’s why even high-end restaurants and classically trained chefs make sure there’s a premium burger on their menu.
In recent years, when restaurant traffic has consistently experienced quarter-after-quarter declines, the NPD Group, a market research expert, reports that the only broad food category to post growth in both full-service and quick-service restaurants is the burger and sandwich segment. More than 22 billion burgers, sandwiches and wraps were consumed across the fruited plain in 2010 and there appears to be no surcease to their popularity.
What gives the burger its timeless appeal? Restaurant & Institutions, an industry trade magazine puts it succinctly: “burgers represent the ultimate marriage of value and indulgence.” That is certainly not an assessment of the fast food burger genre, especially the ilk of which are constructed with a mystery meat amalgam of fillers and additives which would make Taco Bell proud. It’s an apt description of premium burgers, the type of which can now be found in Santa Fe’s Bumble Bee’s Burgers on Cerrillos.
If the appellation “Bumble Bee’s” sounds familiar, you’re undoubtedly acquainted with Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill which has been serving healthy Mexican food in two Santa Fe locations for nearly a decade. Just as owner Bob Weil discerned a niche opportunity for healthy Mexican food, he’s betting the national premium hamburger craze is a trend that will go over well in New Mexico, too. Early indications are that his gamble will pay off.
Rather than launch his burger concept in a new location, Weil converted one of his two Santa Fe Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill locations into a premium burger eatery. Bumble Bee’s Burgers also offers hot dogs (National Hebrew all-beef), shakes, malts, French fries, onion rings, bee-stings (battered, sliced jalapeños and onions), grilled cheese sandwich and a bee-L.T.
There are only six burgers on the menu, but with a little creativity and an enviable toppings menu, the number of flavor combinations seem endless. The first burger on the menu is New Mexico’s ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger which, frankly, requires no other toppings than those listed on its name. Also available are a bacon burger, a bacon cheeseburger, a vegan “Boca” burger, a cheeseburger and a hamburger. All burgers are constructed from 100-percent fresh certified Angus beef and are available at quarter-pound or half-pound sizes.
The toppings–all free–are Bee’s burger sauce (homemade 1000 Island dressing with a touch of chipotle), lettuce, tomato, pickles, relish, sauteed onions, chopped onions, ketchup, mayo, mustard and jalapeños. Green chile, cheese and bacon can be added to any burger for a pittance. You can also “crunchify” your burger by adding Bumble Bee’s homemade chips. Instead of “having it your way” as advertised by Burger King, you can have it “all the way” with Bee’s burger sauce, lettuce, tomato, sauteed onions and pickles.
The half-pound “all the way” green chile cheeseburger is formidable, a juicy behemoth that threatens to overwhelm the sesame seed buns which fall apart at the sheer moistness and volume of the toppings and beef. It makes for a messy, multi-napkin affair. The Bee’s burger sauce is terrific, better burger adornment than mustard, mayo or ketchup. The grilled onions are sweet and delicious, but the real surprise is the green chile, a blend of mild and hot green chile cultivated by a New Mexican farmer who hand-washes the crop. With a discernible piquancy, it’ll leave many of its competitors green with envy.
The homemade potato chips might make you think twice about ordering French fries with your burger. The chips are relatively low in grease and salt, perhaps a hold-over to the healthy food concept. One order is large enough for two people. Wash these chips down with a rich chocolate shake, made with ice cream and served cold. The chocolate is rich and delicious, a thirst-quenching, teeth-chattering blend.
After the 2004 launch of Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill, readers of the Santa Fe Reporter named it “best new restaurant in Santa Fe” two consecutive years against formidable competition. Based on the popularity of premium burgers, Bumble Bee’s Burgers may follow suit.
Bumble Bee’s Burgers
3777 Cerrillos Road
Santa Fe, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 12 February 2011
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Chocolate Shake, Homemade Potato Chips, Half-Pound Bacon Cheeseburger, Half-Pound Green Chile Cheeseburger