Anyone who has seen the movie Food Inc. or read Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” undoubtedly has had second thoughts about eating commercially raised beef. The thought of a cow being pumped full of antibiotics to counter the effects of being unable to properly digest corn is a little disturbing and unappetizing. And there were the descriptions of the unsanitary feedlots and slaughterhouses – enough to turn even the toughest of stomachs. In a perfect world, we’d all eat the more humane grass-fed and hormone free beef, but this isn’t always possible. I’m fortunate enough to live in an area where the grass-fed beef industry is thriving. Throughout Marin County and many parts of Northern California, cattle roam free and graze on fresh green grass. You can find these local meats at Farmer’s Markets and new restaurants that feature burgers and steaks made from grass-fed cows are opening up all the time. The newest addition to this craze is Marin Sun Farms Butcher Shop in Western Marin County.
Marin Sun Farms has been around for a while and is a full service butcher shop that specializes in local pasture raised meats. In the past month, MSF has added lunch service with burgers and sandwiches made from their local meats. Chef Benjamin Roberts, who recently moved to Marin County after years in New York City, is behind the five-day-a-week lunch counter and is cooking up some really tasty and inventive burgers. I made the half-hour drive out to Point Reyes Station to see about these locally raised burgers.
Roberts has put together a rather simple menu that focuses on half pound burgers. You have three choices of meat for the burger – goat, lamb or beef – all are $12.00 (includes salad). I was sold on the beef burger which comes on a Brioche bun and features raw milk cheddar and house cured bacon. Mmmmm, bacon. You can also get fries that are cooked in pork lard or beef tallow. Double yum! The lamb comes with a thick slice of Point Reyes Blue Cheese while the goat is topped with Redwood Hill Chevre and caramelized onions.
I watched as the cook took a handful of freshly ground beef and hand formed a patty that was salted and tossed on a grill over mesquite coals. So far, so good. I took a seat in the simply decorated dining area that has several butcher paper-lined tables and black drapes that adorn the windows. I killed some time by looking at the display case of fresh meat – all of which looked fantastic and was fairly priced considering its origin. The beef burger took close to fifteen minutes to cook and was hand delivered to my table.
The melted raw milk cheddar still looked as if it was bubbling as it atop the thick patty. Strips of bacon were delicately placed over the cheese. The beef burger comes plain, no secret sauces on this one but ketchup, mustard and house made mayo are all available. I added a little bit of the mayo. Scorching hot juice dripped down my hand as I bit into the beef burger for the first time. The patty was really hot, as if one of the mesquite coals had been placed inside. Once it cooled down I could start to taste the freshness of the beef combined with the saltiness of the cheddar and the bacon. The crispy bacon was phenomenal and full of flavor. The meat was supposed to be cooked medium, but ended up being pretty close to well done.
The once juicy patty quickly started to dry out and the more I looked at it, the more I realized that the fat content in this patty was extremely low. I spoke to Chef Roberts about it and he realized that the fresh grind that he had received that morning was definitely lacking fat. Despite the dryness, the burger tasted like fresh beef should taste. After our conversation, Roberts offered me a bite-sized sample of the goat and lamb burgers – the lamb was fantastic. Nice and juicy with the blue cheese slightly softened by the heat of the patty. I really liked that one. The goat was good too, but I can’t eat onions so I didn’t get the full effect.
Chef Robert’s venture is just getting off the ground and appears to be working through a few little kinks but overall I think he is heading in the right direction. The price is more than you would pay for a burger at a drive-in or even a nice restaurant, but you’re paying for quality. It really makes a difference to be eating grass-fed meat that is so fresh and has authentic beefiness. Next time I am out towards the coast, I will stop by MSF to try some of their lard fried fries and pick up a few steaks for the grill at home.
Marin Sun Farms Butcher Shop
10905 Shoreline Highway 1
Point Reyes Station, California 94956
Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 12:00PM – 4:00PM