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Putting the ‘healthy’ back in meat, one organic elk burger at a time

Elk Bareburger Astoria QueensIn the past few years, New York City has experienced a burger boom, with Shake Shacks and Five Guys Burgers and Fries popping up all over the place, and upscale eateries competing for a spot in what New York Magazine called the Haute Burger Stampede.

While the common denominator of most of these uber burgers is grass-fed beef, BareBurger, a tiny corner restaurant on a quiet avenue in Astoria—with its first Manhattan location set to open in mid August—has committed itself to all organic, all the time.

“We wanted to create a burger place where it wasn’t just the meat that was organic but also the produce, the eggs, the dairy, the cheese,” says Euripides Pelekanos, who is one of BareBurger’s six owners and grew up in Queens, just 10 blocks from the restaurant. “We built the place around that idea,” he explains. Well, not completely.

On a busy day, BareBurger in Astoria can serve 500 burgers
On a busy day, BareBurger in Astoria can serve 500 burgers

Also part of the concept: exotic meats. Yes, you can get a grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef burger here, as well as organic chicken, turkey, and lamb. But BareBurger also serves organic bison, elk, and ostrich burgers, plus veggie and portabella mushroom. On busy days, they can sell 500 burgers.

Customers are definitely intrigued by the more exotic meat options, says Pelekanos, who owned the now shuttered Sputnik, where they were a hit. And according to Pelekanos, these meats tend to be leaner and higher in protein than traditional choices. Bison, elk, and ostrich burgers are all significantly leaner than chicken or turkey, and have more protein than beef. Elk, which is particularly lean and highest in protein, has one downside—it’s high in cholesterol. (We double checked using this handy USDA tool.)

Pelekanos described the flavor of elk meat as “beef on steroids,” which didn’t sound that appetizing to me, until I tried it. The burger was moist, tender, and full of incredible flavor, and it didn’t feel as heavy as a beef burger.

Elk burger at BareBurger
My elk burger, with its signature skewer, organic ketchup, and just a few fries

Even with being fastidiously organic, there’s a contradiction in the BareBurger business model that Pelekanos mentions. Most of the meat is trucked in from the Midwest, because it’s challenging to find fresh elk and ostrich locally. “It’s pretty much the only source I’ve found that can support the volume we do,” Pelekanos says. And it’s impossible to get fresh avocados locally most of the year, so they may travel 1,000 miles to get here. “That’s the less than ideal part of our business, and it does bother me,” he says.

But he’s not going to let that stop him. When BareBurger opens its second location near Washington Square Park next month, Pelekanos knows his organic, exotic burgers will continue to draw both a conscious and a curious crowd. —Lisa Elaine Held

BareBurger, 33-21 31st Ave., Astoria,