Our fast-food nation was hatched in Southern California in the 1950s and soon spread across the country. Hamburgers and fries are to this day a mainstay of our collective American diet. With the proliferation of burger joints came the rise of factory farming in an effort to meet our insatiable appetite for cheap, fast food.
Fortunately, in the past few years, the conversation around factory farming has been elevated to a national level, and producers of local grass-fed beef are becoming more plentiful. Richmond's newest burger spot, Boom Boom Burgers in Shockoe Bottom, gets its beef from Shenandoah Valley's Polyface Farms, a multigenerational, organic, family-owned farm. Boom Boom's vision is to bring a holistic business model to the masses with local, naturally fresh food.
On a recent Friday night visit to Boom Boom, we're the only customers — and are told that the lunch crowd is much bigger. The space has an industrial feel with an attractive mix of old and new, with exposed brick walls and stainless accents. Red metal stools line counters on each side and two long wooden tables take up much of the room. Boom Boom's promotional literature, the Grass Fed Gazette, is framed on the tables, extolling the virtues of grass-fed beef, with its disease-fighting properties and vitamin E content.
A blackboard menu lists the daily offerings: four choices of grass-fed burgers, a few vegetarian sandwiches and seasonal sides. The Boom classic ($8) is a beef patty dressed with grilled onions, pickles and a tasty house-made aioli. Served on delicious, locally made buns from the Flour Garden Bakery, it's a seriously good burger, with a true meaty flavor and without the greasiness of traditional corn-fed beef. My only complaint is that it's a bit small for the price. I understand the economics of grass-fed production, and I'm willing to pony up the extra cost knowing that the burger is not only healthier, but also much kinder to the environment. For a heftier meal, customers can add an extra patty for $3.
The BBQ Boom ($10) packs a serious spice in its homemade barbecue sauce and includes bacon and Gouda cheese. The Shroom Boom ($10) offers an extra layer of sustenance with meaty oyster mushrooms. They're from the local Dave and Dee's Mushrooms; the swiss cheese is from Mountain View Farms. Mini Boom burgers ($6) are available for the younger set, and come with macaroni and cheese, one of the featured sides.
It's difficult to imagine a burger without fries, but according to the restaurant's website, a desire to avoid deep-frying food pushes the kitchen to come up with new side dishes that are driven by seasonal harvests. The sides ($2) leave me wanting more, both in variety and imagination. A very average macaroni and cheese has been precooked and heated to serve. Collard greens with bacon are good, but the sweet potato with butter and brown sugar needs more thought. It's literally just a half of a sweet potato served with a trace of brown sugar. Beverages are of the nonalcoholic ilk, and include local favorites such as Route 66 juices and Dominion root beer.
Because of the way they're raised, grass-fed cows produce a very different beef from their corn-fed brethren. I did a test at home to compare taste and cooking methods, and found real differences. I used some grass-fed beef that Belmont Butchery gets from Crozet's Gryffon's Aerie. Grass-fed beef should be cooked at lower temperatures and it tastes much earthier than beef from corn-fed cattle. It sometimes seems a little less juicy because it's a leaner product.
After just a few months on the scene, Boom Boom Burgers has added a welcome dimension to Richmond's burger landscape. I admire its vision and philosophy, and hope that Richmonders will embrace grass-fed burgers with the same enthusiasm that they bring to the farmers' markets each week. S
Boom Boom Burgers
1703 E. Franklin St.
Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
(Credit and debit card only; no cash)