April 9, 2013 – If you think eating sustainably means subsisting on brown rice stir fries, think again. Our area’s first sustainable burger bar is set to open later this month in Half Moon Bay. Ground Up is the latest venture for Kevin Koebel of Local FATT (Food Awareness Through Teaching). It’s not only a new revenue stream, it’s an extension of what he’s been doing for years: promoting full-circle food systems that support, sustain, and nourish communities by connecting people directly to their food sources and helping farmers meet the people that they feed. Koebel lives with his family in Santa Cruz and Local FATT has collaborated on several educational projects with the Santa Cruz Farmer’s Market. They also worked with Edible Monterey Bay magazine last year to put on a delicious farm-to-table breakfast at the Westside Farmer’s Market in Santa Cruz. Their dynamic, collaborative space at 730 Main Street, in Half Moon Bay, will continue to house Local FATT headquarters and will soon open as a burger joint on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to start.
But it’s not just any burger. As the name suggests, it is made from the ground up. Everything they use is as local and organic as possible. The beef is completely grass-fed—delivered from Bay Area producers from Pescadero to Petaluma—and ground in-house each day. Buns are made daily with a blend of locally-grown and ground flours, including whole wheat flour from Pie Ranch in Pescadero. Vegetables are sourced from farms all along the central coast. By using growers and producers in the vicinity, Kevin and his team are bringing customers a fuller understanding of their local food community.
I headed up to Half Moon Bay for a sneak peek of what Ground Up is all about. We were invited to taste and critique, helping solidify their menu offerings ahead of the grand opening at the end of April.
Starters included a kale salad—with greens from Route 1 Farms in Santa Cruz, spiced almonds, and shredded dry jack cheese in a lemon-mint vinaigrette; a garlicky Caesar salad topped with candied red peppers; and an arugula salad with a raspberry vinaigrette, lemon croutons, and chevre from Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero. Piles of fries, some tossed with garlic and others with an Argentine-style chimichurri sauce, and Brussels sprout chips comprised the side offerings.
The burgers are as innovative as they are delectable. We tasted the Bullwinkle, a patty topped with caramelized onions, a dollop of mousse made with Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company blue cheese, and a drizzle of balsamic syrup; the Green Thumb was dressed up with avocado, lime butter, and dandelions greens; and the Wilbur was layered with house-cured bacon and melted cheddar cheese. I loved the Zesty Goat, a chevre-topped burger with a Meyer lemon spoon sweet and wilted arugula, while my 10-year-old devoured more than one of the Gangnam-style, a burger shrouded with house-made kimchee and smeared with spicy aioli.
Beef burgers aren’t the only entrees on the menu. They will offer hot dogs from el Salchichero in Santa Cruz, veggie burgers, chicken, and fish. To wash it all down, Ground Up serves lavender lemonade and milkshakes with house-made ice cream. The evening of the preview, we tried vanilla and chocolate-almond ice creams that had been made that morning with fresh milk from Doniga and Erik of Markegard Family Grass-Fed in Half Moon Bay, which is also one of their beef providers.
Ground Up promises to be a delicious addition to the area’s culinary community. I only wish I lived closer.
Photos by Camilla M. Mann