Bareburger comes to Great Neck, and it’s a winner, as long as you go in with the right expectations. The meat may be a little drier and less flavorful than you might be used to, but there’s a reason for that.
It’s a little surprising that a town with so many culinary choices has so few places where you can grab a good burger. Juliebelle’s and Bruce’s have gone to that big restaurant row in the sky, and my experiences at Cheeburger Cheeburger were less than stellar, despite high expectations.
I’ve heard a lot about Bareburger since the first one opened in Astoria back in 2009. Usually, the conversation centers around one of two things: that they use organic meat, and that they serve exotic meats like ostrich and elk. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I walk into the restaurants and encounter a bunch of beatniks smoking something other than their burgers?
Visit #1: June 4
Happily, when we first went to Bareburger a few days ago, we walked into what looks like a great neighborhood burger joint. You could see the grill all the way in back, with a number of booths in the middle of the restaurant and tables and chairs toward the front. The weather was beautiful outside, so not only was the front door open–the entire front wall was open so that the patrons could enjoy the weather or even sit at one of the seats overlooking Middle Neck Road.
I’ll admit, the first time we went, we were a little underwhelmed by both the food and the service. It was on a weekday night, and while we were seated with a smile, we ended up sitting next to the open window. Unfortunately, there were some young people loitering outside of the vacant Bruce’s next door and smoking pretty heavily, to the point where it became unpleasant for us. I can’t blame Bareburger for this, of course, but I can’t say it didn’t affect the experience.
It took forever for someone to come and take our orders. When the server finally came, he had his face buried in his iPhone, which we found odd until we realized that they actually take the orders on the iPhone and it’s transmitted directly to the kitchen. Which was really pretty cool.
It turns out you can actually construct your own burger, 5 Guys style, or you can choose 14 pre-defined burgers. We asked the server what the most popular burger on the menu was, and he wasn’t quite sure what to say. He rattled off a few burger names and told us it “changes from week to week”.
I went with my gut and ordered the “Maui Wowie”, a $12.15 burger with smoked mozzarella, turkey bacon, grilled pineapple, fried onions, fire roasted red peppers, and buttermilk ranch sauce.
With any burger, you can choose either a meat or a vegetarian patty. Among the meat, you can choose beef, turkey, panko crusted chicken tenders, buttermilk fried chicken, or grilled or jerk chicken. Among the vegetarian options you can choose a black bean burger, a mushroom burger, or a farmers veggie burger. You can also choose exotic meat for a dollar or two extra. These include lamb, wild boar, elk, bison, or ostrich. I was a little worried when I also saw Grizzly Bear, Panda, Polar Bear, and Koala on the menu, but I quickly realized those were cute names they gave to the kid’s menu (whew).
You can also choose from a number of breads; I chose the brioche bun, while Lisa chose the multi-grain roll. For the more carb-conscious among us, there’s also a wheat flour wrap, iceburg lettuce wrap, or taipoca rice bun.
I went with the suggested meat for the Maui Wowie (wild boar). Lisa ended up ordering the Original. We also ordered their “Rings and Fries” combo. They asked if we wanted it out first, and we said yes.
Here’s what the rings and fries combo looked like:
The onion rings were excellent with a crispy outside. In all honesty, the fries were a little too greasy and a bit soggy and uneven.
However, the sauces they provided (special sauce, curry ketchup, smokehouse sauce, and smoked paprika mayo) were all excellent and turned the dish from the level of so-so diner fare to a really great appetizer.
As for the burger, here was my Maui Wowie.
I have to admit, I wasn’t really “wowed” at first. I should say that my expectations were really, really high, as the last two times I had wild boar was at luaus in Hawaii, where the boar (complete with apple in his mouth) was really juicy and succulent. Here, the ground wild boar meat didn’t have much flavor at all, and while I’d asked for it to be cooked medium, it was decidedly well done–brown throughout and very, very dry.
Lisa’s experience wasn’t much better. She’d ordered the the “Original” but instead got the “Classic”. In fairness to our server, when we read the order back to us, he did say “Classic” back and neither of us caught that it was different than what she ordered. Still, she did ask for the “special sauce to be on the side”, and since the Classic didn’t have special sauce (it had ketchup), this is something the server probably should have noticed. But it seemed that he was still getting used to using the iPhone, so I’ll give him a pass 🙂
Her burger was also a bit on the drier side, and the beef taste was not as strong as I’m used to.
Admittedly in my head I have a pre-conceived notion of what a good hamburger is, having been to dozens of burger places, including some of my favorites including All-American Hamburger in Massapequa, Shake Shack in the City and in Garden City, and Burger Joint in the City. Those are burgers where you bite in, grease drips all over, and intense meaty flavor envelops your being. You also leave more often than not feeling like you’ve just injected Crisco into your arteries–but it was worth it.
So I have to admit, my first impressions of Bareburger were that the burgers just weren’t up to par compared to other “burger joints” in this area. But then I read the little card that they put on each table, right behind the bear-shaped bottles of mustard and ketchup:
Among other things, here’s what it says:
Why Organic? It’s better for you. It’s important to remember that whenever you eat a meat product, you’re eating everything ingested by that animal. Eating foods raised in modern, factory-like settings means ingesting growth hormones, pesticides, and a myriad of antibiotics. None of these have any place in your body or in our restaurant
It goes on to say:
All of our organic and all-natural, free-range meats are grass-fed and pasture raised, giving them a melody of robust, hearty flavors that simply cannot come from animals reared in an industrial feedlot. When an animal is raised in its natural environment, it’s going to taste better. Organically grown fruits and vegetables tend to be juicier, sweeter, and riper.
That’s when it struck me–I’ve definitely had a natural “bias” towards burgers that are loaded with fat or loaded with salt or both. So when I ate a burger that wasn’t loaded with salt and not dripping with grease, my first instinct was to be disappointed. But I did notice that I felt…dare I say…healthy afterwards, something that doesn’t happen a lot after I eat a cheeseburger.
Overall my first experience at Bareburger was about a 4 out of 5. But I promised myself I’d come back, this time with the right expectations.
Visit #2: June 8
Saturday rolled around and we thought we’d give Bareburger another try. This time, we were bringing Lisa’s mom with us. She’s a very healthy eater, who rarely eats out because she doesn’t like how dirty and unhealthy most restaurant food is.
The restaurant was jam packed, being a Saturday night, and yet we got a table right away. I noticed that the staff was extremely efficient at cleaning tables and turning them over to new guests.
We were brought water in a glass bottle. I just assumed that the water was water straight from the tap, but reading the bottle, it looks like they run it through a filtering system first, a nice touch.
Our server this time was Alyssa. She was outstanding. She had her iPod Touch in hand, but made eye contact with us. She reminded us right off the bat that the fries are cooked in peanut oil, something our previous server didn’t do (not a problem for any of us, but good to know if I should ever bring my niece, who has peanut allergies).
Lisa bombarded her with questions, all of which she answered quickly and accurately. What’s in the mushroom burger (a patty made of three kinds of ground mushrooms: crimea, button, and portobella, with panko breadcrums as a binder). What has less salt, the mushroom burger or the black bean burger (mushroom). Is the quinoa burger salty (no, it’s actually kind of sweet, with sundried tomatoes and raisins).
Lisa’s mom ordered the mushroom burger on a multigrain roll, while Lisa ordered the mushroom burger and then changed it to the Original burger she didn’t get last time, with beef. This time she knew to order it medium and not medium well. Then, she asked for sauce on the side. Alyssa was keeping up on her iPod Touch masterfully.
I ended up getting the Western, one of the ones our previous server had recommended as he was ratting off burger names. I went with their suggestion and got it with bison meat. Not watching my health as much as I should, I got the brioche bun. I also ordered the Sweet Potato Croqs for us to share. They asked us if we wanted those to come out first, and we said yes.
But in amazingly quick time, the Croqs came, followed immediately by our three burgers.
The sweet potato croqs were basically deep-fried balls of mashed sweet potatoes.
The outside was crispy, like onion rings. The inside were almost liquified sweet potato mixed with cheddar cheese. And the funny thing is, it worked, especially when dipped into the habanero chipolte mayo or the stone ground honey mustard on the side. I know it was deep fried, but there was enough goodness to make me at least thing I was eating a little healthier.
Lisa’s mom’s burger was the mushroom burger:
I tasted a little bit of it. What I liked about it is that it tasted like mushrooms. They didn’t go the way of a lot of ‘vegetarian’ restaurants and try to add spices to make it taste like fake meat. It was a wonderful, earthy flavor. The texture was smooth, and the patty stayed remarkably intact because of the bread crumb binder.
Here was Lisa’s burger, The Original:
While her burger last time was dry to the bone, today it was cooked much better. The outside of the burger was a nice, slightly crispy char, while inside was a nice medium pink. Again, the burger wasn’t excessively greasy and not very salty–for Lisa’s taste buds, the Colby Jack cheese provided the perfect amount of saltiness. As for the flavor, the way Lisa described it, it was light: “the taste isn’t very strong, but you can tell it’s beef”.
Here was the Western Burger I ordered:
That’s a fried pickle on top, and it was amazingly good (it also comes as a separate appetizer). The outside was the same crunchy-type breading on the onion rings and the sweet potato croqs. Inside was a pickle that was both soft (due to being deep fried) but still maintaining crunchiness, with all the pickle flavor bursting with every bite.
The burger itself, as with the Original, was perfectly cooked. Here’s what it looked like.
Bison meat definitely had a distinctive taste that I can only describe as tasting like beef, only more natural and, if this makes sense, a bit “beefier” than beef. Again, the meat was a little drier than I otherwise might be accustomed to in a burger, but the combination with the mozzarella, bacon, slaw, and smokehouse sauce was outstanding.
And again, I felt that odd feeling that I usually don’t get after downing a whole burger–the feeling that I actually ate something healthy. There is something comforting about eating food that’s not dripping with salt and grease–and knowing that the animals were humanely raised, allowed to roam free in a pasture, and free from antibiotics or hormones or genetic modifications. Whether or not the science eventually proves that those things are harmful, there’s just a part of my that appreciates eating things the way nature and God intended.
This time, I went in with the right expectations, and I have to say I was blown away by both the food and the service. Perhaps being a bit busier on a weekend and having their full staff on hand helps–I was impressed that everyone from the busboys to the servers were busy and always attentive to all the guests. I also noticed that someone I assume was the owner or manager of the restaurant was also pitching in, wiping tables and setting up silverware, something that impressed me immensely (unlike what I experienced at that other burger place).
And so, while it was touch-and-go my first visit, after the second visit I have no qualms giving BareBurger the 5 out of 5. It’s an instant neighborhood gem, and a happy addition to Great Neck.
Great Neck, NY 11021
Sun-Sat 11:00am – 11:00pm
Price Range: $ (around $9-$14 for an entree)
Takes Reservations: No