Marin Sun Farms
10905 Shoreline Highway 1, Point Reyes Station CA 94956 (map); 415-663-8997 ext 201, marinsunfarms.com
Cooking Method: Griddled on the flat-top
Short Order: Farm fresh, flavorful meats make for delicious burgers of the beef, lamb, and goat variety.
Want Fries with That? The fries are fine, but the crispy kale fried in pork lard is definitely the way to go.
Price: Beef burger, $13; Black & Blue, lamb, and goat burgers, $14; fries, $4; crispy kale, $7
Notes: They'll overcook your beef if you're not assertive about it. The flavor didn't suffer for being cooked medium, but next time, I'm insisting on medium rare.
Some things don't happen in the Bay Area all that often. One, a visit from beloved Serious Eats editor Carey. Two, weather that tops 80 degrees in the city. This freakishly awesome combination of factors led us to one logical conclusion: We've got to go on a food-venture.
So, we packed up a cooler with some tasty beers and my car with some fun friends, and headed north for Point Reyes. In addition to being one of the more stunning stretches of coastline ever, it's also home to some really good eats—Cowgirl Creamery Cheese, Tomales Bay Oysters (more on that soon!), and Marin Sun Farms meat.
Marin Sun Farms has become pretty ubiquitous when it comes to good meat in the Bay Area. Their grass fed, sustainable model and consistently flavorful, fresh products have won them fans among conscientious meat-eaters and hard-core carnivores alike. Their meats, available for sale at high end groceries like the Bi-Rite Market and Little Vine, and on menus at everywhere from Absinthe to Zuni, are an undeniable staple. You've likely had a burger made with their beef before.
But their cafe, a little roadside spot that doubles as a butcher shop, feels about as farm fresh as you can get without grinding up a side of cow yourself. And the burgers, available in beef, lamb, and goat form, are universally fresh, juicy, and flavorful. All of the patties are grass-fed and eight ounces; all are served on generously buttered, utterly delicious sesame seeded buns. And, regardless of meat type, all of the burgers had a wonderful, textural crust, courtesy of their time on the flat top.
Before we dive into the juicy burger specifics, I'd like to get my one overall complaint out of the way: the beef burgers are overcooked. We asked for medium rare, and they were definitely in the realm of medium. I will say that the flavor didn't suffer much from it, but next time, we plan on being pretty assertive with our temperature request.
Moving on! The classic beef burger ($13) is topped with house cured bacon, tomato, and cave aged Gruyère. Again, despite being overcooked, the patty's loose grind, gush of juice, and deep, beefy flavor immediately made me a huge fan of this burger. The meaty, smokey bacon and subtly pungent Gruyère were excellent additions to the well salted beef; the tomatoes, disappointingly, were lacking in vibrancy and flavor (and there's just no excuse for that considering the unreal tomato season we've been having).
The black & blue burger ($14) has a virtually identical patty to the standard beef, but is topped with sweet red onions, rocket, and Point Reyes Blue cheese. The crisp onions and fresh bitterness of the rocket were nice additions to the rich beef and bun, but the blue cheese, while excellent on its own, was just too strong for the burger (granted, I almost always feel this way about blue cheese on burgers, even if it is the incomparable Point Reyes blue).
The lamb burger ($14) is topped with a slice of mild manchego cheese, and a pile of bright green chimichurri. While it's meant to come with lamb bacon, the cafe was out (no!), forcing us to resort to standard pork bacon. And while the beef burgers were certainly past medium rare, this burger was cooked to order, at medium (their recommended temperature). The lamb, incredibly tender and nicely fatty, had a strong, distinctive flavor—so strong that the flavors of the toppings didn't come through, save a slight vegetal flavor from the chimichurri. No major complaints from me, though—with lamb this good, I'm alright having it dominate the flavor profile.
The goat burger ($14) was similarly recommended at and cooked to medium, and is served with caramelized onions, Chenil chevre, and an herbed shiitake mushroom conserva. Other than being as rich and juicy as the preceding patties, I didn't get a terribly distinct goat flavor from this burger (Wes disagreed, and deemed this one his favorite). Perhaps it was because I was so taken with the toppings—the creamy, tangy pile of fresh goat cheese, the meaty, pungent mushrooms, and the sweet caramelized onions would have made a fine sandwich on their own.
The burgers are served with a nice side salad and crunchy, tangy quarter pickles. Hand-cut Kennebec fries ($4) are a decent side-order option; made from potatoes from their ranch in Inverness, the spuds are cooked in pork lard. While fresh tasting and decently flavorful, the fries could have stood for a shake or two more of salt, and weren't quite as crisp as I'd have liked.
The crispy kale ($7), on the other hand, is a must-order as far as sides are concerned. Fried in pork lard and topped with finely grated parmesan, a squeeze of lemon, and a zig zag of aioli (because frying your kale in pork lard just isn't taking it far enough!), the incredible balance between the rich fattiness with the tang of citrus made for one of the best iterations of kale chips I've ever had.
A worthy food-excursion? I'd say so. And considering our next stop involved that cooler of beer and a whole pile of oysters to shuck, it's a day I'd happily repeat, 80-degree weather or not.