It’s been more than two decades since a hamburger has passed my lips but I can’t say that I’ve been denied anything at all. Thanks to veggieburger makers like Morningstar Farms, Dr. Praeger’s and Trader Joe’s, I’ve been able to enjoy the all-American sandwich as well as any red-blooded citizen.
Although I had heard in advance that offers meatless options, as I approached the Centre Street eatery last Friday, I still felt a little like I was going to the Outback for a salad. In order to avoid the crowds that have reportedly packed the restaurant since it began business little more than a week before; I had arranged to meet a friend at the eatery not long after it opened at 11 a.m. Even at that early hour, the new burger bar already buzzed with customers.
My companion, a JP resident for many years, remarked that she didn’t recognize a soul at the small, sleek and suddenly chic spot, indicating that Grass Fed had already landed a place on Boston’s culinary map as a go-to dining destination. A pleasant spirit of adventure and conviviality prevailed among the clientele who lined up to order, and then politely positioned for seats or even standing room at one of the stainless steel counters that line the restaurant.
After surveying the menu, we ordered the Chickpea Burger ($9), Grilled Cheese ($5), Mixed Green Salad ($6), Beet Fries ($3 small or $4 large) and Mushroom Poutine ($6). (The cordial counter staff accommodatinglychecked to make sure that the gravy accompanying the poutine was vegetarian.)
While we waited for our food, Grass Fed’s welcoming and exceedingly busy manager Stan Hilbert, who also does double duty at , graciously made time to speak with us about the restaurant’s veggie options.
He pointed out that the Soup of the Day ($6), which we unfortunately did not have room to sample, was a delicious-sounding vegan Rosemary & Cauliflower. With the menu still a work in progress, Hilbert also noted that the restaurant had originally carried a Mushroom Burger that it no longer offers.
“It wasn’t up to our standards,” he remarked. “We’re working on a Veggie Panini,” he added.
I asked Hilbert about the secret of the restaurant’s success.
“JP needed something else for lunch,” he stated. “There’s nothing artificial and no additives. We have healthy, fresh and nutritional food.”
Though not much bigger than a “slider,” the Chickpea Burger was a tasty and original sandwich that you won’t mistake for your father’s falafel. Served on a potato bun, the chickpea patty was elegantly accompanied with cucumber, shredded lettuce, roasted red peppers and a tangy aioli sauce. The crispy Beet Fries were a generous serving of the expertly cooked, colorful and common vegetable prepared in an unfamiliar way.
Made with organic mesclun and served with a tart lemon vinaigrette dressing, the Mixed Green Salad was garden fresh. As good as everything was, I found the Mushroom Poutine to be the star of the show. The slightly indulgent French-Canadian dish, not often found in these parts, consisted of a hearty portion of Grass Fed’s stellar fries and cheese curds smothered in delectable homemade mushroom gravy.
Despite Grass Fed’s dependence on its namesake beef burgers, with its emphasis on local, organic and healthy ingredients, the casual yet quality eatery earnestly and deliciously accommodates non-carnivores.
If you have honored me over the past year-plus by reading , you are aware that I have rarely politicized my personal dietary decisions, a choice that I made many years ago after reading Peter Singer's groundbreaking book "Animal Liberation." In this case, however, it is unavoidable.
At the heart of Grass Fed’s popularity, which appears to have taken the city by storm, is the restaurant’s namesake use of more humanely treated cows, raised without hormones or antibiotics.
Following our highly satisfying lunch, I found myself ruminating on the forces that have impelled such a seismic societal shift. Factors as diverse as the local food movement, the growing sophistication of the American palate, increased awareness of the cruelty and environmental devastation of factory farms, the epidemics of obesity, diabetes and coronary disorders, the onset of Mad Cow disease, the Oprah Winfrey legal case versus the beef industry, and perhaps even the 1990’s McLibel case involving British activists who challenged the fast food giant, have all helped to shape today’s consciousness.
More fast food for the new millennium than the Outback as I had feared, the restaurant’s concept is apparently an idea whose time has come. For “ethical” vegetarians, who abhor the suffering of sentient creatures, Grass Fed is a reminder that progress is often incremental.
Located at 605 Centre Street, (617-553-2278) is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.