by Stett Holbrook on Aug 17, 2011
The cheeseburgrer is a rather ignominious symbol of American food. I love a good burger, but given the environmental, social and health costs associated with industrial beef (antibiotic resistant bacteria, E. coli, global warming, brutal working conditions, water pollution and inhumane treatment of animals come to mind) fast food burgers cause me to lose my appetite. But that’s changed with the opening of Steak Out in Mountain View.
The Castro Street restaurant serves grass-fed beef. And not just any grass-fed beef. Steak Out is the exclusive retail outlet of Morris Grassfed, a San Juan Bautista-based family run beef operation. Rancher Joe Morris runs cattle in the hills above Watsonville and in San Juan Bautista and is an eloquent spokesman on the environmental benefits of grass-fed beef.
If properly managed, animals that live all their life on grass can help improve the quality of the soil, sequester carbon in the soil, increase biodiversity and even improve water quality. The meat is generally of higher nutritional value as well. Grass-fed beef means you can have your cheeseburger and eat it, too.
Morris was busy selling his meat directly to customers and had no interest in selling to a restaurant, but the owners of Steak Out persuaded him. The restaurant was previously Bodrum Cafe, a Turkish restaurant.
Mehmet Delgri, one of the original owners of Bodrum, is now a partner at Steak Out along with first-time restaurateur Mike Finley. Finley approached Delgri about opening a new restaurant and they settled on the burger-joint idea.
“I had a real desire to do something straightforward and honest but that was also high quality,” said Finley.
Unlike most restaurants where the beef arrives at the restaurant in the back of a truck, Finley has to pick up the beef in San Juan Bautista. He buys whole animals and has a butcher process and hang the meat for nearly two weeks. Dry aging the meat adds flavor and complexity to the burger, a process that is unheard of in a casual restaurant like Steak Out. What is more, the meat is ground from virtually every part of the animal, not just sirloin or chuck meat.
“I have no idea who else is doing this,” he told me. “This not a push-button operation at all. It’s superhard work.” I’d say no one.
Most grass-fed beef is seasonal. When the grass dries up, cattle get skinny unless you offer them supplemental feed. But that’s when things get expensive. But Finley is looking at possibly bringing in another small-scale producer from Tomales Bay that is able to grow grass year round because of the cool and fog-irrigated climate.
As good as the actual beef patties are, the buns deserve a special shoutout, too. An inferior bun undoes many a good burger. Too crumby, too soft or too dry-;here are many ways for a bun to go wrong. Not here. Steak Out creates its buns from a special recipe developed by one of the partners and made by a local baker. The yeasted rolls are made from a natural starter and have a great fresh-baked taste with a beautiful light-brown glaze. They’re moist, springy, vaguely sweet and lightly toasted and hold up to the burgers.
“The big hole in the burger industry is the bun,” Finley said. I think he has successfully plugged that hole.
The burgers ($8.50) come three ways: the “experience,” with sharp Cheddar cheese, Steak Out sauce (essentially a better-than-average ranch dressing), lettuce and tomatoes; the “euphoria,” with caramelized onions, horseradish mayonnaise and Cheddar cheese; and a simpler version you can built to your own specifications.
The “experience” burger is a solid choice. The third-of-a-pound patty is cooked medium unless you tell them otherwise. Medium rare is a better way to go, as Morris’ beef is lean, and longer cooking means a drier burger.
In addition to Morris Grassfed burgers, Steak Out used to serve a cheaper burger made from a Sonoma County grass-fed beef supplier, but the restaurant dropped them because of what they said was inconsistent quality.
The restaurant’s menu is small. In addition to the burger, Steak Out serves grass-fed beef hot dogs, a crab-cake burger ($9.25), a grilled cheese sandwich ($4.50) and a veggie burger ($6.75) made from deep-fried garbanzo beans. The vegetable burger is good, but a little doughy inside.
Steak Out serves good fries ($2) and a small but thick gelato milkshake ($4). They offer breakfast, too, but I didn’t check that out.
Steak Out also boasts some good beers ($4), from the likes of Anderson Valley Brewing Co., Green Flash Brewing Co. and the Lost Coast Brewing Co. Sit on the outdoor patio with beer and burger in hand. It’s much nicer than the staid dining room.
Is $8.50 too much to pay for a burger? If you don’t want a heaping portion of externalized social and environmental costs on the side, I say it’s a bargain, much “cheaper” than anything you’d find at Burger King or McDonald’s.