At upwards of $1,000 a kilogram, truffles tend to not attract the average college student. Yet at Larkburger, Boulder’s newest burger restaurant, their earthy aroma permeates the student-ridden restaurant grounds.
To meld casual comfort food with cutting-edge cuisine is to achieve a rare balance in the restaurant world. Larkburger, which lies on the northwest corner of 28th and Arapahoe Avenue, has nailed this combination with a menu offering creatively accented burgers and fries. (For the most part, the food is a treasure, with this reviewer only finding one flaw with that all-too-important side item, the french fry. More on that below).
Perhaps the most notable of these is the truffle burger ($6.75), a 1/3 pound black angus beef patty topped with truffle aioli. A classic aioli, a French, mayonnaise-like sauce, is enhanced with the musty flavor of the knobbly-looking yet coveted mushroom cousin. A slight dose of this gourmet item, which also makes an appearance in the truffle and Parmesan fries, transforms what many consider to be diner food into an epicurean feast.
“The food is good, simple and it speaks for itself,” said general manager Jim “Blackie” Kauvar. “Everyone can enjoy their experience here.”
Persons steering clear of red meat need not lose sleep. A turkey burger ($6.25), a tuna burger ($7.25), and a plentiful Portobello roast called the Amy Burger ($6.25) offer delicious meatless alternatives. In keeping with the spirit of accommodation, half-sizes of the traditional Larkburger and the turkey burger are offered for smaller stomachs.
The menu doesn’t stop there. A field greens salad filled with veggies and soybeans is available in two sizes, French fries persevere as the ultimate burger companion, and health-conscious folks may enjoy a side dish of soybeans tossed in sea salt. For such a concise menu, it’s surprisingly compliant with nearly every diet.
The restaurant is likewise exceptionally compliant with the environment. Fries are cooked in pure canola oil, which is then recycled for automotive fuel. Disposable cups and containers are made from 100 percent biodegradable materials. Perhaps most impressive is the interior décor; the wood paneling lining the walls consists of reclaimed timber wood salvaged from forests in the Bay Area of California. According to www.larkburger.com, a portion of sales is used to plant new trees in those forests.
Larkburger is technically termed a “QSR,” or quick-service restaurant, meaning customers order at the front counter, receive a number, fetch a fountain drink, and then sit down to eagerly await their food.
“There’s no need to worry about extra waitress service, or feeling obligated to leave a tip,” Kauvar said.
The college-aged employees we encountered were efficient and friendly, channeling our entire experience at Larkburger.
We entered the establishment with the excitement of three hungry students walking into a burger restaurant. It didn’t take long to decide what we each would order; Nicole, a vegetarian, chose the Amy Burger; Alice, a pescetarian, selected the tuna burger, and I, with no dietary restrictions whatsoever, settled quickly on the truffle burger. We threw in an order of truffle and Parmesan fries to split, and, to our delight, received free fountain drinks simply for being CU students.
Our food arrived promptly and in individual cardboard boxes. If the packaging had been any cuter, we would had to have been in Disneyland. The scent of truffles flooded our table, giving us no choice but to dig in immediately.
After the first bite I knew that my truffle burger was treasure. The patty had been cooked perfectly – seared on the outside, light pink on the inside – and the toppings nicely incorporated. I debated requesting an additional serving of truffle aioli since, quite frankly, it could have used more, but resisted. This, and red onions sliced a bit too thickly, are my only gripes. An intimate examination of the bun proved it to be startlingly delicious. They apparently use a sweet type of bread that lends a proper balance of flavor, softness and dimension to the burger as a whole.
I couldn’t help but notice that across the table, Nicole was struggling endlessly with her Amy Burger. Sauce flowed down her wrists onto the table and had long since soaked the bun. She was holding what appeared to be a grayish sponge, which led me to assume an incorrectly prepared Portobello (since mushrooms soak up excess water, they must be wiped instead of doused with water, and properly dried off). Yet upon tasting, the Amy Burger was the most decadent vegetarian item I’ve ever sunk my teeth into. Silky grilled onions achieved savory perfection alongside the robust Portobello cap.
Intermittent mouthfuls of truffle and Parmesan fries proved they did not quite live up to the standards of the burgers. While sliced pleasingly thin, they failed to provide the crisp, crunchy satisfaction that is so necessary in French fries. Their limpness was rather disappointing.
Over to my left, Alice seemed enchanted by her tuna burger, and rightly so. The 4-ounce sushi-grade tuna steak had been seared rare, as this type of tuna should be, and was smeared with a most interesting and delicious wasabi-ginger sauce. Hints of cilantro only enhanced the freshness of this burger, which was reminiscent of the stylish food one finds in many seaside towns.
Seaside or slope-side, as it happens. The inspiration for Larkburger began in the mountains when Thomas Salamunovich, head chef at Larkspur restaurant in Vail’s main village, began selling his upscale burgers to the ravenous after-ski crowd.
Success was recognized and Larkburger was born. The original Larkburger opened three years ago and still thrives in Edwards, Colo. one exit past Beaver Creek. According to Kauvar, another location is set to open at Belleview Square in south Denver.
“One thing that’s unique about us is that nearly all our advertising has been word of mouth,” Kauvar said. “Skiers who had heard about it came back and told their friends.”
Larkburger certainly is worthy of the gossip. For a burger joint, it’s got all the fixings for high-class fare.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Lauren Duncan at Lauren.Duncan@colorado.edu.