Making cheap hamburgers comes at a high cost, according to Garrett Sathre, the owner of the recently opened West Handmade Burgers in Sonoma (technically Boyes Hot Springs).
A born and bred Sonoman, he’s a passionate advocate for grass-fed, sustainably-sourced organic beef. He also understands that $20 for a burger, fries and a milkshake is out of touch for everyday eaters.
That’s why he spent two years working with nearby Stemple Creek Ranch to source a great burger and try to keep surging costs at bay. It wasn’t an easy process, but he’s done it.
Instead of just buying ground beef, Sathre and his wife, Nicole Benjamin, purchase a whole cow each week from Stemple Creek. They flip patties for lunch and dinner daily and sell high-quality cuts of beef from a small refrigerator at the front of the restaurant. It’s your one-stop beef shop.
“It’s a one-cow philosophy,” says Sathre of his purchasing, “and this is the best meat on the planet. To get the best meat on the planet, you have to pay a premium. Look, this is the same meat that Chez Panisse is using.”
The restaurant offers five plays on their grass-fed burger — plain ($9 includes homemade sauce, onions, tomatoes, butter lettuce and homemade pickles and ketchup), cheeseburger ($10.50), a Point Reyes Blue cheese burger ($14), a smoked cheddar and fried onions West Burger ($13.50) and the luxurious Truffle Burger ($15).
“It was a light-bulb moment for me,” he says of selling the meat as well as making burgers.
Similar to Bel Campo Meat Co. in Marin and San Francisco, West Handmade Burgers is both butcher shop and a restaurant. They sell at least 50 pounds of ribeye, New York strip, coulotte, tri-tip and filets a week.
“It really does take people to change their shopping habits to think about where they get their meat, fish and bread,” he says, promoting the idea of specialty stores rather than supermarkets.
What’s the Difference?
Grass-fed/grain-finished means the animals eat grains at the end of their lives to produce more fat in the meat. Grain-fed cows typically eat soy and corn in concentrated feed lots. Most people are used to grain-fed meat’s fattier taste, and it can be a learning curve to get used to the leaner, more intense flavor of grass-fed meat.
“I get so bummed out seeing conscious eaters eating junk.” said Sathre, referring to other burger spots that don’t use grass-fed meat. “This should be important to everyone.”
He claims there are so many “shades” of grass-fed beef, organic and antibiotic meat that most consumers don’t know what they’re eating. He believes that local cows allowed to graze on grasses are the pinnacle of both sustainability and a good product. Grass-fed beef contains less fat and is typically considered healthier.
“I just want people to get a taste of this,” he says.
As for the first month of business, Sathre says, it’s been a whirlwind. In addition to the usual learning curves, the restaurant’s front windows were vandalized. “We’re finally catching our breath. The first week and a half is just a blur. You ask if everyone is OK,” he said. “Now we’re making the restaurant into a living, breathing thing.”
Best Bets: Uh, the burger?
The menu is really simple. They have hamburgers. You can get them plain or fancy. You can get a vegan patty. You can get a double patty. You can add bacon. We asked for ours medium rare, because grass-fed tends to get dry.
Ours was just a shade past medium rare, but still juicy and flavorful. Tomatoes are still a little green, and it seems a shame to even offer them up, since ours got tossed. The most perfectly crisp lettuce. Sweet ketchup. Splurge on the Truffle Burger with mushrooms and truffle cheese.
Sathre said he’s going to be adding some new specialty things to the menu in the coming weeks, including a lamb and harissa burger, salmon burger, bison burger and salads.
Fries: Regular ($2.50) or Truffle Parm ($3.50). Excellent fries, not too greasy, need seasoning. They’re still working to get the truffle fries perfected, using truffle salt and truffle cheese along with a hint of truffle oil. I’d like them more truffly, but the cheese is really good.
Thirsty? Shakes are made with real ice cream, real chocolate. Hard not to finish one. Beer and wine available along with sodas.
Overall: A great burger with a great conscience.
West Handmade Burgers is at 18375 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma, 707-343-1479, facebook.com/WestHandmadeBurgers