Worthy Burger (South Royalton, VT)

Back in August (while Carol and I were in Iceland), one of the greater Upper Valley area’s most anticipated restaurants, Worthy Burger, opened for business. The location itself has been the source of a bit of drama in recent years; originally it was supposed to be a bar run by Freighthouse Brewing, but then as the plans for the brewery got scaled back, plans adjusted, and several folks including local chef Jason Merrill, Dave Brodrick (known for the well-respected Blind Tiger in New York), and Kurt Lessard decided that the South Royalton region was ripe for a gourmet burger bar.

So after several months of extensive renovations while locals kept peering in and spreading rumors about the impending opening (some accurate, some not), Worthy Burger finally opened in August.

The idea is simple: Worthy burgers, coupled with some worthy sides (like their Worthy Fries), and a very extensive beer list primarily focusing on local specialty beers. The burgers are supposed to be top-notch beef, with good toppings. And the rest of the experience, the sides (fries) and the beverages (beer, plus a few local soft drinks for the non-drinkers). The idea is to make a top-shelf beer and burger bar. And they do a pretty good job at it.

Let’s start with the beer list. It’s the first thing you see coming in the door, with a large chalkboard showing the ever-changing beer list (indeed, on two of my three visits so far, the beer list changed while I was there as kegs ran out and new ones were tapped). It’s a very good beer list, covering a lot of the local favorites, like the well-regarded Hill Farmstead, as well as regional favorites including Brooklyn Brewing and Smuttynose, and national favorites like Stone and Lagunitas. And of course, when Freighthouse Brewing next door finally gets their act going, they’ll probably get some good tap space as well (disclaimer: I’m an investor in Freighthouse Brewing…). It’s an ever-changing list, and it quite frankly results in pretty much the best beer bar this side of Montpelier (home to the phenomenal Three Penny Taproom). I’ve already been able to score quite a few excellent beers there.

As far as the food, we both opted for burgers and fries. Let’s start talking about the fries… When we stopped by a few days before they actually opened, the owners gave me the (literally) 30 second tour, pointing out the fry cooker, and mentioning that for their test cooking they had been using duck fat, but were anxiously awaiting some beef tallow so that they could start making truly worthy fries: double-cooked in the proper Belgian manner, in tallow for fully beefy flavor, and made up fresh to order. Well, I’m glad they went through all of this trouble, since the fries at Worthy Burger are truly worthy: despite being slightly pricey ($3 for a small order), these are phenomenally good fries, and at least in my opinion have raised the bar for fries in the greater Upper Valley area. That they serve them up with a number of condiments including some house-made mayos? Even better. I’ll definitely come back for the fries as well.

So, how was the burger? I got a Worthy Burger with kimchi (a nice addition to the standard toppings you expect) and aged cheddar cheese. There was a lot of hope and anticipation here, since there’s a lot going for the concept. Really good meat, cooked still pink on the inside, and still juicy (which is a challenge using good grass-fed beef). Kimchi was a decent topping, as was the aged cheddar. Good bun, with a nice toast on it. And it certainly looked like a great and Worthy burger. But, in the end, this was just a “moderately worthy” burger.

Where did it fall short? A really good burger should be seared on the outside and juicy on this inside. I won’t say that this burger stepped over the line to being “burnt” on the outside, but it was definitely toeing the line, and maybe even occasionally putting a toe over it. In other words, the exterior was overdone. What should have been a great (and “Worthy”) burger ended up getting knocked down several notches, since the overcooked exterior was more reminiscent of “suburban family backyard barbecue burger”. A shame, since it otherwise has a lot of things going for it. (That, and either Carol’s cheeseburger was lacking cheese, or really stingy with it. About halfway through her burger, she realized that it didn’t seem to have cheese on the remaining half)

Oh, I’ll be back… (indeed, I have, several times), since there’s a lot of potential here. But this one fell a bit short.

Overall, Worthy Burger is living up to a lot of its promise. It’s a great beer bar (although a bit pricey). They’ve got some phenomenal fries. They’ve got a great staff. And they’ve got… good burgers. A little bit of tweaking, and they could be great burgers, and make it that much more worth the 45 minute drive for me to get up there. I’m looking forward to seeing them refine things.

Update: Two months after our first visit to Worthy Burger, we finally got back there for more burgers (we’ve been there several times since for beers, especially since it’s a good pitstop on the way to our friend Rick’s place). And I’m pleased to report that the burgers have gotten a lot better: this burger was definitely not burnt, instead having a nice sear and a good interior. If they can keep this up, they’ll have a great thing going.

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