The first time I walked into the curiously named Burger.org, I felt as if I’d stepped into some sort of live-action anime as rendered by the Swedes. The neon-bright greens and oranges, the mirrors, the brightly lit space, the Japanese-ish slats on the occasional table: If this is the kind of spot that nighttime revelers come for a drunken bite to eat, the colors, if not the food, would certainly sober them up.
Fortunately, after a widely discussed rocky beginning, Burger.org seems to have gotten its act together. And while the food isn’t going to change your life, it’s not intended to. And at the very least, I’m happy to report that you really don’t have to be five beers into your night to enjoy half an hour here.
The idea behind the place is spelled out on the massive sign above the counter, a dissertation-worthy piece of palaver extolling and explaining the many virtues of eating organically and with respect for the environment. It’s interesting reading while waiting for your turn in line, if a touch wordy.
Burger.org is an interesting idea for what is essentially a burger joint in nice clothes, and a reassuring statement on how respect for ingredients has trickled down the food chain. In general, the grass-fed cows, free-range turkeys and wild-caught flounder they serve have not died in vain: Though none of these sandwiches yet live up to the juicy, chin-dripping level of so many others in the city (most of them surely corn-fed, factory-farmed and plumped up like a guest on Maury) there also wasn’t one that I’d vow to never have again. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s actually a nod toward what the Org has accomplished: Inexpensive, house-ground, relatively ethical burgers that taste pretty good.
The fault I found consistently throughout the menu is the one I’d have least expected from a quick-turnaround spot like this one: Underseasoning. This was especially noticeable with the beef, as grass-fed meat typically has a less robust flavor than its corn-forced cousin. (Maybe it’s the antibiotics and E. coli in the corn-fed ones that taste so nice?) Still, the patties themselves, if in need of salt and a bit more moisture, did boast the distinct mineral tang of an actual healthy cow. And on a sandwich like the El Mariachi burger, it didn’t really matter: The guacamole, pico de gallo and gently spicy chipotle sauce were the focal points anyway.
Turkey also could have used a bit more love (and a minute less time on the grill), but a quick trip through, say, a puddle of thousand island will suffice for lubrication and salt. Wild-caught flounder burger wasn’t at all what I expected. Instead of arriving as a ground fish cake, it was a very nicely grilled fish between those buns. If the kitchen starts anointing them with a hit of lemon juice before sending them out, the cumin and paprika they’re seasoned with will really have a chance to set it apart.
Fries, unfortunately, were the Achilles’ heel here, a mortal sin in the world of quick burgers. And, as is the case with so many underperforming fried potatoes, they were cooked in oil that just wasn’t hot enough. It doesn’t matter how carefully hand-cut they are, or how thoughtful it is to dust the sweet potato vareity with cinnamon and sugar: Limp, oil-soggy fries are never the goal.
Fortunately, and surprisingly, the veg options here are some of the best choices on the menu. Hummus, though served with an awkward hamburger bun to sop it up with, was a finely pureed pleasure to snack on. And the veggie burger, made in-house and resembling a corn and pea fritter more than a burger, managed to be both unexpected and satisfying—two qualities not often associated with them.
It seems, then, that Burger.org (the website is actually burgerorg.com, and it’s under construction; the name is more a confusing reference to the organic pedigree of the ingredients here) has hit on an idea that has potential. I’m still not sure if I’d seek out this particular organic meat for all my burger-craving moments, but if I were in the neighborhood and hungry for a bite, I’d have no problem stopping by. Which, I think, is exactly what this spot’s all about.
326 South St.
Cuisine: Organic burgers and shakes.
Atmosphere: Bright colors, cheery space: Anime by way of Northern Europe.
Food: Good idea, decent execution.
Service: Appropriately attentive.
Note: Keep an eye out for Chicken.org, a Boston Market-like spot focused on organics, set to open shortly.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014