“What’s wrong with this hamburger?” I asked my newly minted stepmother. This was back when I was disguised to myself as a child, but savvy enough to realize that her version of a hamburger tasted really off.
“Hamburger Helper,” she explained.
“Hamburger Hurter,” I thought to myself.
Now, as an adult, card-carrying carnivore, I’m still leery of burger extenders, be they crumbs, flour, veggies or any other manner of filler. So when asked to review Bareburger’s Porchetta Burger, half ground pork and half wild mushrooms, I approached the assignment with some hesitation. Fifty percent filler? No beef? No red-pink medium rare interior when I cut into the patty? No juices oozing at first bite? Likely no deal.
Still, the savory Porchetta did beckon. This Old World Italian delicacy — pork belly stuffed with meat, fat, skin, and herbs — has recently become au courant, the darling of not only hipster food trucks, but trend-setting Connecticut chefs such as Bill Taibe and Matt Storch. Even more enticing, one of the most memorable sandwiches I’ve ever eaten was a Porchetta and Pepperoncini, devoured at a Bridgeport tavern long ago, yet delectably remembered. Introduced by the first wave of Italian immigrants to Bridgeport more than a century ago, Porchetta is a Saturday lunch tradition in the town, observed to this day in many of its pubs and restaurants.
So, despite my reservations, I was actually eager to taste Bareburger’s interpretation of the Italian classic. Especially because their Porchetta is the reigning champion of the annual James Beard competition for the best earth-friendly blended burger in America, reflecting Bareburger’s commitment to a sustainable, healthy menu. (Their Connecticut franchises are in Ridgefield and Stamford.)
At the Harbor Point location, I asked the kitchen to cut the Porchetta sandwich in half, so I could check the interior before biting in. To my surprise, the patty looked remarkably like a medium rare beef-burger. Traditionally the pork is wrapped about other savories, but in this version, the pork (wild boar sourced from Fossil Farms in Boonton, New Jersey) is ground in-house, then mixed with chopped wild mushrooms and seasonings (fennel, garlic, and rosemary). After marinating overnight, the blended patty is sautéed, and then topped with broccoli rabe, sharp aged provolone, roasted tomatoes, and black garlic aioli, all sitting inside a toasted ciabatta bun and skewered by a bamboo pick.
As Jon Lemon, Director of Culinary Operations told us “Our take is to incorporate everything that would be inside the pork roast and convert it to a sandwich.”
His calculus worked. I was gazing at a deconstructed Porchetta turned inside out, festive and crave-able.
My first bite confirmed that hunch. Rather than extending the grind, the wild mushrooms brought depth to the wild boar, adding a hearty umami flavor.
The veggie toppings complemented the burger and played off each other nicely. While the broccoli rabe lent a slightly bitter crunch, it was counterpointed by the soft, concentrated sweetness of the roasted tomatoes. The provolone cap and aioli dressing (made from scratch in-house) contributed a creaminess and canvas for the other textures and tastes. Instead of the crackle that traditionally encases a Porchetta Roast, the rustic Italian ciabatta bun served as a substantial, crusty wrap.
Not only is the mix of mushrooms and meat more healthy than a hamburger, leaving far less of a carbon footprint, but the banquet of tastes and textures that gives classic porchetta its satisfying complexity, also results in a well-constructed and nicely balanced burger. I’d call it a “killer,” but that word seems inappropriate for such a high-minded sandwich.
Mushrooms make a superb Hamburger Helper. In fact, next time at Bareburger, I might even choose the Porchetta Burger over a beef burger (That little kid, still inside me, is sadly shaking his head.)
Note that the Porchetta Burger is a seasonal special, available through July 31 to honor the 2017 James Beard Blended Burger Project. Bareburger, naturally, is once again entering its champion sandwich in this year’s competition. Vote here!
The Porchetta Burger was provided by Bareburger at no cost to CTBites. However, that gesture did not influence our review.
21 Harbor Point Road, Stamford203.890.9686
38 Danbury Road, Ridgefield 203.438.2273