Health Food on a Bun?

Yippee! It’s okay to eat burgers again!” This is our neighbor Lisa. She’s yelling it from the balcony of her apartment.

Us burger-loving burghers, Carla and I, gather ’neath her balcony.

“Burgers are back!” Lisa says. “Really. Grass-fed.”

“Burgers fed on grass?” Carla asks.

“Cattle — fed on grass,” Lisa says. “Which means they aren’t stuffed with corn. That’s what the Burger Lounge uses. In Kensington. I’ve just been. These burgers could actually be good for you!” Then she mysteriously adds, “Thank Bill Kurtis — Little House on the Prairie.”

I’m about to ask what da heck she’s talking about when Linda’s cell phone starts blasting out “Hello, Moto. Hello, Moto…” She gives a little “for you to find out” grin and disappears inside.

One thing I do know: Lisa’s into organics. It’s kept her out of burger joints for the longest time. And as it happens, I’m headed Kensington way, after popping into San Diego State. I’m interested, and so’s Carla. “Why don’t you try it?” she says. “It could be our secret to a healthy life.”

So, at San Diego State I board my stretch limo — okay, the #11 bus — and jump off ten minutes later smack-dab in deepest Kensington. Just beyond the liquor store, Glenn’s Bottle House, I spot a wood-and-aluminum sign: “Burger Lounge.”

Burger Lounge

4116 Adams Avenue, Kensington

It’s new, but in a not-so-new building with two levels of arched passageways. Down here on the sidewalk, half a dozen tables with white umbrellas stand empty, except for one. It’s early, around 5:00, Friday afternoon. A lone customer sits hunched over, holding a pretty awesome-looking burger in both hands. He looks worried. Like, is he man enough to take this thing on?

“They good?” I ask.

“First time,” he says.

Inside, it’s a different story — I have to join a line waiting to order. The place looks fresh, cool, like it was designed to feed Kensington’s understated middle-class carnivores. White walls, mostly, with orange stripes scootin’ ’round the place. Chestnut-brown-stained concrete floor, a dozen counter stools, milky acrylic tables, rainbow-striped Formica chairs, and lime-green and brown settees.

’Course, I should be studying the wall menu, not the walls, except it’s pretty simple, and if you’re here for burgers, there is only one choice. It’s the grilled Lounge Burger, with “Tallgrass” grass-fed beef, plus the usual: bun, lettuce, tomato, raw or grilled onions, melted cheddar or American cheese, and a splot of “house-made” Thousand Island dressing. Costs $6.95.

That’s it, except for a turkey burger or a veggie “quinoa” burger (each $6.95) and “crispy chicken tenders on a stick,” with BBQ or ranch dipping sauce (also $6.95) — plus a couple of $7–$8 salads. But come on, who’s not here for the grass-fed beef?

I order my Lounge Burger from Jessica at the register. “Cheddar or American?” “Cheddar.” “Raw or grilled onions?” “Grilled.” “Anything on the side?”

Oh, right. This is what all the “premium” burger places are doing now: making the fries a separate order. Good marketing ploy. “Twice-cooked” fries are $3, or a cardboard pot of half-and-half fries and onion rings is $5. Okay, $4.95. But they say one’s born every minute. So I’ll be a sucker. I order the half-and-half. Right now my burger’s costing $12. Gonna have to be good.

By the time Jessica has brought it all out, the place is bulging with people and the line’s out the door. All the sidewalk tables buzz with Friday-night fervor. Here inside, a guy and a gal sit down next to me. Matthew and Kristina. He’s a sound engineer, she’s an artist. He’s ordered onion rings ($3.95), she’s ordered the veggie burger and a Bundaberg ginger beer ($2.95).

“I’ve been vegetarian,” he says. “But Kristina’s got me on to fish, to give me more energy. Except, no fish here, so I’ll stick to onion rings.”

Jessica brings my burger on a white, squarish china dish. Aha. Kind you’d see in a sushi joint. The burger patty is one big chunk, squarish, too. I chomp in. There isn’t any one distinct flavor — except good and meaty. Mostly, it’s juicy. Ooh. So juicy. Very sexy. The slippery grilled onions help, and so does the bun, baked from their own recipe, they say. It tastes a little yeasty, of molasses. That’s good.

Tall guy named Sky — coincidence? — brings my tower of fries and onion rings. I have to ask, “Are these burgers really good for you?”

“Well, the meat all comes from the Red Buffalo Ranch in Kansas,” he says. “The cows roam the prairieland, 10,000 acres. It makes a difference to the meat. It’s definitely much healthier. Lower in cholesterol, higher in vitamins, 25 percent higher in protein than the grain-fed cattle they raise in feedlots.”

Huh. The more I hear, the more I like. Turns out the Red Buffalo Ranch is owned by Bill Kurtis, the crime-TV investigative guy (American Justice). And guess what? His ranch was once the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote Little House on the Prairie and all the other “Little House” books. So that’s what Lisa was talking about. Whatever, Kurtis has been converted to the grass-fed-beef idea of cattle roaming free. Got involved with a couple of geneticists. Seems they tracked down some of the few cows left bearing genes that hadn’t been screwed up by the corn-feeding craziness that’s reigned since WWII. In Montana, they found a “pure” herd of cattle descended from Mayflower-era English breeds. Result? Cattle producing meat that’s much nearer to the ideal balance of omega-6 fatty acids (“bad”) to omega-3 (“good”): one to one. Other meat can be more like 10, even 20 omega-6 to 1 omega-3. It’s killing us with the wrong fats. But just as eating cold-water fish like mackerel helps reverse that, says Kurtis, so can meat from cows who spend their lives simply doing what comes naturally — eating grass, getting exercise.

Whew. Hamburgers as health food? I stumble out onto Adams. Man, that’d be so-o cool. Who doesn’t hate the sight of cattle packed into stinking yards, being pumped with antibiotics and hormones just to make them grow fast and be less chewy on our plate. I head home to report the good news. What’s next? The FDA advising, “A grass-fed burger a day keeps the doctor away”?

The Place: Burger Lounge, 4116 Adams Avenue, Kensington, 619-584-2929; also at 1101 Wall Street, La Jolla (858-456-0196), and soon (around August 11) at 922 Orange Avenue, Coronado (619-435-6835)
Type of Food: Burgers
Prices: Lounge Burger (with grass-fed beef, raw or grilled onions, melted cheddar or American cheese), $6.95; turkey burger, $6.95; veggie “quinoa” burger, $6.95; chicken tenders on stick, $6.95; Caesar salad, $6.95; vegetable salad with ricotta, $7.95; fries, $2.95; half-and-half fries and onion rings, $4.95
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., daily
Bus: 11
Nearest Bus Stop: Adams at Kensington Drive (near Kensington Library)

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