The food arrives upright in little cardboard half-boxes, carefully wrapped and packaged. The wood walls, reclaimed Monterey Cypress from California, are mostly bare. White tables and seating are as modern and minimalist as anything designed by Eero Saarinen, he of the Tulip chair.
There's a certain deliberateness to Larkburger, whose origins lie in Vail with Thomas Salamunovich and the beloved burger found at the bar in his restaurant, Larkspur. Inspired by its singular success, the Paul Bocuse-trained chef and his partner Adam Baker dotted Colorado with seven "fast casual" locations in six years, the newest between a Sprint store and a GameStop in the Southgate Shopping Center.
It offers a lot to like. The hand-cut fries are cooked in canola oil that's later reused as auto fuel; the cups and salad containers are biodegradable, and the utensils made from vegetable starch; and the restaurant is entirely wind-powered, through credits purchased from Renewable Choice Energy in Boulder.
Which is why it's confusing for a company that says on its website it's "driven by an eco-friendly philosophy and health-consciousness" to serve commercial hamburger meat, and all its related additional hormones and antibiotics, from National Beef Packing Co. Larkburger tries so hard in other small areas that for it to fall short in its biggest one is disappointing. (Calls for comment on this story were unreturned as of press time, but in a previous conversation with the Indy, Baker said grass-fed beef is the goal as soon as it's feasible.)
Regardless, though, these are damn good burgers: greasy and full-bodied, accurately cooked to order and eaten far too soon. The medium-sized Larkburger ($5.95) comes standard on a dense bun with crisp vegetables and a mayonnaise-like "house sauce," while the Truffle Burger ($6.95) adds a strong, earthy aioli; either can be ordered "little" ($3.50). For extras, cheese, like cheddar from Tillamook, costs 50 cents more, while truffle-and-Parmesan shoestring fries that tend to cluster in little savory clumps of salt and oil are $2.95.
Sides-wise, this is the first burger spot where I've ordered edamame ($2.50), but the little salted soybean pods are as fresh and fun to eat here as anywhere. The side salad ($3.75/small) offers a clean make-up of greens, while the Larkburger Red Chili ($5.75) goes for a little smoke and spice with its various beans, ground beef, cilantro, hominy and crispy masa de maíz chips.
Other burger options include chicken ($6.50), turkey ($6.50), tuna ($7.75) and a portobello mushroom called the Amy Burger ($6.50). The latter is a great choice for meatless-heads, but the others are of varying worth. The turkey burger is pretty dry, while the tuna steak and its wasabi-ginger sauce is a pleasant enough choice, if very mild. The adobe chicken breast with jalapeño is best.
Quick criticisms: The burgers tend to soak the bun and wrapper; the air-conditioned dining room could almost store frozen food; and the gluten-free buns are more solid than soft. These are offset, however, by a high level of customer service that includes the delivery of a free replacement for a misordered sandwich, and a careful walk-through of each ordered item to make sure all ingredients are known.
So let us know when that better beef's squared away — the rest is all set.