WASHINGTON — From national chains to local hot spots to celebrity-backed eateries, there’s no shortage of burger joints around D.C.
But the newest burger concept is different from the rest.
At Red Apron Burger Bar in Dupont Circle, customers can build their burgers using one of two meats: a grass-fed, grain-finished Black Angus beef or a grass-fed, grass-finished Ancient White Park beef — all of which are sourced from Virginia cattle farmers.
The difference is in the taste.
“The angus is the beef that you know what it tastes like already — it’s what you kind of expect,” said Nate Anda, the man behind Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Red Apron Butcher and the new Red Apron Burger Bar.
While grass-fed, grain-finished cattle graze on grass and are fattened up on grain 90 to 160 days before slaughter, grass-fed, grass-finished cattle keep a strictly grass-only diet their entire lives. The end result is a flavor that “has a little more age and a little more minerality to it.”
In recent years, beef has become more of a focus for Anda, who initially rose to food fame for his sausages and salami. Red Apron now has three locations, and in 2014, Anda was tapped for the role of executive chef at Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s The Partisan.
“[The growth] led us to breaking down more cattle a week, which then led to more ground beef,” Anda said.
Opening a burger spot was a natural next step.
At Red Apron Burger Bar, Anda sells between 200 and 300 burgers a day. He estimates that 60 percent of those orders are Black Angus beef and that 40 percent are Ancient White Park beef.
Anda predicts customers will continue to favor “what they grew up eating,” but food trends could tip the ratio the other way.
In the last several years, the demand for grass-fed beef has grown at an annual rate of 25 to 30 percent, Forbes reports. One of the main drivers behind the growth is the health benefits of 100 percent grass-fed beef. According to the Mayo Clinic, it has less total fat, more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and more antioxidants, such as vitamin E.
In addition to offering a healthier version of a burger (don’t completely kid yourself: the grass-fed beef is still smothered in white American cheese and a mayonnaise-based “special sauce,” and there’s always the option to add bacon), Red Apron’s burgers are also building a healthier local economy.
Anda buys the bar’s Black Angus beef from Charlottesville’s Sherwood Farm and from Glenmary Farm near Culpepper. The Ancient White Park beef hails from Leaping Waters Farm in southwest Virginia.
Sourcing locally “has been something that’s been important for a long time,” Anda said.
“Just because it’s local doesn’t always mean it’s better, so it’s always led us to go and find a great product. It’s made us be really in touch with what we offer.”
His ability to offer quality Virginia beef in a quick-service setting speaks to the growth of the local agricultural industry in the last decade. Ten years ago, Anda would meet with local farmers to make a business deal, only to find out they couldn’t supply the quantity of meat he needed to sell.
“They would say, ‘We could do that in three years.’ They needed time to grow. Now, going to look at farms, they’re ready to roll. They have stuff to offer right away.”
And Anda is more than happy to take it.
“We’ve made a network of farmers that we know that we can grow with, and that’s how we were able to do this project,” he said.
Red Apron Burger Bar’s standard burger (served with cheese, pickles, shaved onion and special sauce) is $5.95 for the grain-finished option ($8.95 for a double) and $7.35 for the grass-finished beef ($11.35 for a double).
The menu also includes a small selection of specialty burgers, such as the Trifecta — which comes with a double beef patty, a chorizo patty, tomato aioli and bacon-braised onions — and a mushroom-cashew rice patty for vegetarians.
Fries, soft serve, boozy punches and regional craft beers round out the offerings.
Red Apron Burger Bar is located at 1323 Connecticut Ave. NW. It’s open Sunday-Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Thursday-Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight. Happy hour is Monday-Friday from 4 to 6 p.m.