Pastoral paintings of thoughtful, grass-chomping cows adorn the red walls of Albuquerque’s brand-new designer burger joint, bRgR. One painting of a particularly immense cow nearly takes up the entire west end. It'd be at home among the preposterously large paintings at the Louvre.
The restaurant occupies the long-vacant retail space directly beneath One Up Elevated Lounge, and it shares the same vertigo-inducing tilted windows. While you’re less likely to get that dizzy feeling on the first floor, the windows create an odd closeness to the passersby on the sidewalk outside, as if you’re in each other’s space. The interior is dominated by a horseshoe-shaped bar, and above the army of chandeliers is an unfinished ceiling with ductwork on full display. The dining room is bar-loud.
bRgR's lineup of burger names could double as the course catalog of a tantric yoga ashram, including (in order of the stages of spiritual growth) the Harmonic, Elation, Euphoria, Jubilation, Ecstasy, Nirvana and, finally, Enlightenment. The beef, which is grass-fed and grain-finished, comes from Heritage Ranch, a national beef company that matches local beef producers with consumers, state by state. Other meats on the menu manage to be both local and exotic at the same time. The kangaroo, which is mixed with beef because it’s so lean, is from Santa Fe. The yak, from Taos, tastes as gamey as a wild animal, but it’s tamed by a smothering of house-made BBQ sauce. There are exotic burger specials as well, such as ostrich or the juicy and robust wild boar burger with citrus sauce I had in my last visit. Burgers are available in a low-carb option with grilled romaine leaves in place of the buns.
Romaine is a favorite ingredient in the bRgR kitchen. The salads are a celebration of that lettuce’s stout body and long, straight leaves. Of these, the lentil salad is the most spectacular. Three romaine hearts are deconstructed and then reassembled with a mixture of firm red lentils, diced tomatoes, avocado and red onions in an herby vinaigrette.
Those lentils also make an appearance in the Elation veggie burger. The house-made patty combines lentils with risotto, and is served with marinated onions and balsamic reduction. Another veggie burger, the Harmonic, is a green chile and tomato falafel served with tzatziki sauce and grated carrots (that, at first glance, look like shards of unmelted orange cheese). Both of these patties are tasty. When combined with the bun and accompanying fixings, they provide a satisfying, meat-free burger experience.
The yak, from Taos, tastes as gamey as a wild animal, but it’s tamed by a smothering of house-made BBQ sauce.
While vegetarians are well cared for, omnivores have options that would require many visits in order to sample them all. The fixings manage to be creative, daring and uncomplicated at the same time. The Euphoria is one of four “kobe” beef burgers on the menu, and it combines Korean bulgogi (bLgG, as it were) seasonings with kimchi and a slice of pineapple. Another kobe burger, the Nirvana, features sautéed mushrooms and demi-glace.
At times, the combinations don’t work or don’t get a chance to work. The Ecstasy comes with black truffle foie gras, which the server had to help me find because I couldn’t locate the small, thin square myself. The Ecstasy bore a great thyme/oregano aioli, but the scallions it was supposed to harbor were harder to detect than the foie gras.
The thing about bRgR, however, is that even if a combination doesn’t work out exactly as planned, it’s probably going to be tasty anyway. That’s what happens when you use good ingredients. The buns are sturdy and easily support the burger right up to the last mouthful. The barbecue-like homemade ketchup has a bite. If you ask for aioli, you’ll have to specify truffle, pesto or one of the other flavors.
All of the $2 sides are worth trying, with the sweet potato tots being my favorite and the red chile onion rings, delicate enough to eat by the forkful, a close second. The wasabi coleslaw is noteworthy as well.
And then there are the liquid sides, which include 32 regional and local craft beers, five of which are proprietary. The bRgR IPA is hoppy and lively, with a slice of bitter. A vanilla bean java stout float is a flawless execution of beer as dessert. There’s a selection of N.M. wines as well, including the same Casa Rondeña La Sobrina’s Table they serve at the Corn Maiden, but for a third of the price.
The name bRgR bears an uncanny resemblance to the popular and acclaimed NYC burger joint, brgr, which makes a point of serving only grass-fed beef. “Go against the grain” is the motto at the Empire State’s brgr. The fact is, cows weren’t designed to eat grain, whether they’re in New York or New Mexico. In contrast, I was clearly designed to eat grass-fed hamburgers.