Artisanal Burger Company More Than a Delicious Manchester Burger Joint

Artisanal Burger Company

★★½ [Very Good - Superior]

Consider the iconic American burger, its omnipresence, the places it’s been, the company it keeps, its shape-shifting ability to be all things to all people and, most recently, its elevation to gourmet status.

To experience the peripatetic burger in all its delicious ramifications and explore a brave new world of possibilities, Artisanal Burger Company is thego-to place. Opened by Dorjan Puka (right), who owns two hit restaurants in West Hartford (Treva and A’Vert Brasserie), Artisanal Burger hit the street running.

The success and popularity of Treva and A’Vert in a time and place glutted with Italian restaurants and an iffy market for French cuisine established Mr. Puka as a prescient restaurant visionary, a man on whom to keep an eye. So when I got word that he was opening a new eatery in Manchester, I featured it sight unseen in my March Table Talk column, hoping it would turn out to be distinctive enough and significant enough to warrant a full-scale review. It is and it does.

I arrived early on a Tuesday night to meet friends who live in the Hartford area. They were delayed so I checked out ABC’s huge bar and equally huge dining room. With high ceilings and wide aisles between multiple rows of booths and tables, both rooms felt comfortably spacious, lively and convivial. Come right in. Always room for one more, always something doing. News and sports streaming on flat-screen TVs. A birthday party in the dining room. A game of trivia in the bar; Tuesday is “Trivia Night” at Artisanal Burger Company and it sounded like so much fun I would have been tempted to join, but duty called.

(An eggs dish at ABC, above.)

By the time my friends arrived, we were in the mood for food and made a beeline for the appetizer list. BBQ shrimp—plump, sweet, swimming in a luscious shallot-and-garlic-scented sauce—immediately seduced us all. I can’t believe I ate every smidgeon, including what the menu modestly calls “toast”—thin slices of airy, yeasty baguette, brushed with oil and grilled crisp.

Buffalo chips, too, were best-of-kind. Served with tangy hot blue-cheese fondue, giardiniera and bacon, they’re a house favorite, as is candied bacon popcorn made with Vermont maple syrup, but I gave it a pass, in part because my friends were urging me to order warm burrata. Why? One taste and I had my answer—in a black, cast-iron skillet. Cloud-light gobs of freshly made burrata, melting into a sizzling sea of the aromatic basil-pomodoro sauce, which we dipped in. Sybaritic as sin, but healthy. How nice.

By now, it was clear that Artisanal Burger Company is a lot more than an upscale burger joint and we had a ball cherrypicking our way through a four-course meal demonstrating what could be Dorjan Puka’s mission statement. “Everything fresh. Everything top quality.” Starting with the burgers, of course. (Inside info: Puka gets his burger meat from the same place Mario Batali and Danny Meyer get theirs.) Each restaurateur swears by his personal blend of rib, loin, plate and other cuts of beef. Puka spotlights his in Artisanal’s signature burger, minimally adorned with aioli and Merkts 100-percent Wisconsin cheddar.

At this point, things get personal with add-ons including fresh avocado, local egg and Havarti, with grass-fed beef, pretzel or multigrain bun options available, along with burgeresque creations to suit every taste, mood and dietary persuasion. Roasted vegetable burgers with gorgonzola, crushed chips, arugula and tempura portbella, bison burgers, a burger with fried egg and bacon on a waffle bun.

I ordered a lamb burger (above) because I haven’t seen one on a menu in years, and because when I was a child my mother made lamb burgers from scraps of lamb she ground in a old-fashioned meat grinder and I loved turning the handle. Nostalgia aside, Artisanal’s lamb burger was as full-flavored and juicy as my mother’s—and more interesting with eggplant tapenade and mint-scented yogurt in a pita wrap.

We ordered a Kobe burger for the table because who can resist a little luxury when it’s offered, especially when it comes with caramelized onions and truffle fries. All to the good, but the addition of pepper jack cheese was problematic. For me un-peppered cheese would have been a better choice. Gee Gee ordered a turkey burger and said it was the best turkey burger she ever had. She’s an expert on this particular delicacy. I’m not, but I found it easy to agree.The entrée list is choice but it doesn’t drive the meal as it does in more traditional restaurants. Starters, burgers and even sandwiches get equal time. Among the main plates we sampled, two stood out: Southern-fried chicken with jalapeño watermelon and honey maple bourbon sauce; and cool Atlantic salmon, sparklingly fresh, topped with pineapple salsa. Prime rib is available only on weekends but a boneless rib-eye steak, peppered and laved with scintillating sauce, a bit like Steak Diane, left nothing to be desired. Except dessert, which sent us away smiling. From a Banana S’mores Sundae (left) with ice cream, hot fudge, marshmallow sauce, brûléed banana and walnut brittle, to a colossal double-decker chocolate chip cookie sandwich, Artisanal Burger Company’s desserts deliver an irresistibly sweet message: Have fun, kids. We did.

Artisanal Burger Company

1436 Pleasant Valley Rd., Manchester

(860) 644-006, artisanalburgercompany.com

Sunday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.Reservations are not accepted but a call 30 minutes before arrival will put you on a waiting list. Appetizers $4.95 to $12.95. Burgers: $9.95 to $17.95. Entrées $15.95 to $22.95. Desserts $6.95 to $8.95. Wheelchair access. Major credit cards.

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