When waxing poetic about burgers, the veggie versions are usually little more than a punch line. It’s understandable — most restaurants offer the same old over-cooked Boca or Gardenburger, or they think that veg-heads will be sated with any patty that contains beans or soy, even if it’s crumbly, pasty, or flavorless.
But there are exceptions to this rule, and I have three “best-of-the-best” local examples to prove it. Of course, “best” is a subjective term and I’m sure there are plenty of people who would disdain the ranking of my choices, or the fact that they exist on my list at all. Please feel free to comment and tell me how terribly wrong I’ve been.
1. The Farm Café: Farmhouse Veggie Burger ($11)
The patty in this veggie burger “sandwich” is an intoxicating combo of eggplant, breadcrumbs, cheese, and spices. Served on an airy rustic bun with caramelized onions, lettuce, thick slices of heirloom tomatoes, Dijon mustard, and seasonal pickles, it just has “such good flavor! Each bite is exciting!” as my sister-in-law put it. Eggplant is unusual in veggie burgers, but this meaty vegetable imparts a fabulous rich, umami quality. Perfectly caramelized on the outside, the patty is moist without being oily — it’s almost like a heartier eggplant parmesan in burger form. It also comes with fries or a salad. I like the meaty fries because they necessitate The Farm’s house-made ketchup, which contains curious and yet lovely flavors like curry and clove.
On a recent excursion, I paired my burger with a glass of medium-bodied 2008 Willamette Valley pinot noir from the NW Vine Project, an ultra-affordable secondary label from highly-regarded Northwest winemakers like David O’Reilly and Andrew Rich. This fresh, structured pinot has an initial bite but quickly becomes smooth, and doesn’t get lost once you attack your burger.
2. Veritable Quandary: Heather’s Veggi “Burger” with Lentils, Wild Mushrooms & Hazelnuts ($14)
This veggie burger may be the priciest I’ve eaten, but it’s also the biggest and the fanciest. Lightly seared on the outside, the patty is more like a dense hunk of meatloaf, expertly seasoned and earthy. It’s topped with buttermilk blue cheese, caramelized red onions, and truffle aioli and served on a thin grilled focaccia that tastes like the buttered toast you might find at a diner (I mean that as a compliment!). At first I was weirded out by the lack of fresh veggies, but for some insane reason, the lemony truffle aioli made me forget about it. This is the kind of sandwich that really sings when all the components are consumed together.
It comes with a mix of mostly bitter field greens in a light coat of salt-and-pepper vinaigrette, a fitting foil for the decadence of the burger.
3. The Observatory: Quinoa-Mushroom Veggie Burger ($8)
This version seemed to be the town favorite when I did a cursory search on Google, but I just don’t think it’s as interesting as the first two. Regardless, it’s certainly tasty as well as the most “real burger”-like. The crisp patty mostly maintains its structural integrity, and offers a deep, almost mineral flavor, reminiscent of molasses. Dished up with fresh lettuce, tomato, and onion on a Grand Central sesame seed brioche bun, you can also add cheddar, Swiss, or blue cheese for a dollar. And a generous portion of thick, salty house-made fries ensures you won’t go home hungry.