Jasper, AR: The Sustainable Buffalo Burger at Boardwalk Café
Part of the Arkansas House complex inside the Capital Hotel, 215 East Court Street (Arkansas Highway 7), Jasper AR 712641 (map); 870-446-5900, thearkhouse.com
Cooking Method: Char-grilled
Short Order: A locally-made burger from Ozark raised buffalo, locally grown produce, and locally baked bread.
Want Fries with That? Comes with potatoes pan-fried with herbs from the restaurant's kitchen garden.
Price: Buffalo burger (w/potatoes), $10
Jasper is a tiny town tucked along Scenic Highway Seven in the Arkansas Ozarks. It's known for its proximity to a dead amusement park (Dogpatch, USA), to elk sightings in the nearby Boxley community, and as a jumping-off point for folks who want to float the Buffalo River or ride the highways via motorcycle. But it also has one of the state's first all-organic restaurants.
Everything on the menu at The Boardwalk Café is sustainable and organic (with perhaps the lone exception of popular sodas such as Coke and Pepsi). Owners Joseph and Janet Morgan have made a more-than-admirable effort to bring in what they have to offer from a 100-mile radius. The Boardwalk Café's sustainability efforts are enough to talk about in the first place, but it also boasts a buffalo burger that will put the café and the tiny town on your map for good.
The 1/3-pound 100% Buffalo Burger is a prime example of the lengths the Morgans go through to get a totally local product. The meat comes from Ratchford Farms, a buffalo and beef farm run by L.C. Ratchford over outside of Marshall, Arkansas—50 miles away on the closes route through the Ozark National Forest. The fresh lettuces and other greens come from Homecreek Farm in the community of Limestone, 24 miles to the south. The buns come from Ozark Hearth Bakery, about 70 miles away in Durham. The herbs and the like for the garden come from Boardwalk Café's own kitchen garden. In all, some 30 different produce farmers and ranches in the area provide what keeps the place going.
The $10 might raise eyebrows, but considering that everything is local it seemed a good bet. It's a roughly 10 minute wait from the time you order.
My burger came out cheese-less (I wanted to taste the buffalo as cleanly as possible) on a soft, buttered and griddle-toasted sesame seed-studded white bun. A light, nearly imperceptible layer of mayo was applied to the top bun. On the side, a slice of surprisingly flavorful tomato (locally grown), a couple of pungent red onion ringlets, and fresh baby field greens, deep purple and green in color.
The char-grilled meat (Janet told me the only way to have a buffalo burger was straight from the grill) was reddish with lovely crusty char lines from where it had hit the rack. It was still a little pinkish in places, and the edges had become a bit crispy. Inside, the hand-formed patty had been cooked to medium. The burger is only seasoned with salt and pepper, just enough to enhance the flavor but not cover it up.
The buffalo had a similar flavor to beef. It wasn't gamey at all, had a slightly richer flavor, and a much leaner texture. That's the nature of buffalo—it's a leaner meat, and I have had arguments with others over whether using buffalo in burgers makes them too dry. This burger had just enough moisture in it, and it was quite enjoyable.
The overall flavor of the burger is so clean—there's no hint of greasy guilt after it's consumed. In a way, the knowledge that everything you just consumed was grown organically and locally can give you a complex. Still, this burger holds up well enough on its own that most folks would find it quite tasty, even if they didn't know where all its ingredients came from.
The plate comes with the house potatoes, which are local skin-on potatoes cooked with fresh herbs from the café. They were tender and delicious, with enough flavor to forgo a salting. Plates come adorned with fresh flowers, which is a nice touch.
About the author: Kat Robinson is a writer and storyteller out of Little Rock, AR who writes the Arkansas Times' Eat Arkansas blog and who explores Arkansas and the American South looking for great stories, interesting people and the next great meal.