Several days before Farm Burger opens, the newly renovated facade of the Leader Building opened onto Patton Avenue, free from the plywood covers that have concealed it over the past few months. Like moths to a fire, or ants to a picnic, or cows to a trough, passersby have been drawn toward the glass. They peer through the windows at the glowing wood walls, the bocce ball court and the promise of 100 percent grass-fed burgers within.
This bounty will be available to the public on Thursday, April 4.
Snapshots of pigs, cows and thick, hearty greens hang on the wall above the Astroturf-carpeted bocce court. Co-owner George Frangos knows all these subjects well, both as friends and food. The restaurant partners with farms in Georgia, South Carolina and, now, North Carolina to supply its four locations (the other three are in Atlanta). “All these pictures represent — they’re not stock photos,” Frangos says. “They’re all pictures taken by people we know at our farms or friends of ours’ farms.”
On a cold day in March, Frangos organized the entire Farm Burger staff into a caravan, and drove them out to Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview, one of the restaurant’s beef suppliers. They visited with the pigs, cows and chickens on site, and farmer Jamie Ager explained the details of the cattle industry and the differences in quality between grass-fed and grain-fed beef.
Visits to food producers not only educate the staff; they’re a part of the restaurant’s history. Frangos’ partner, Jason Mann, manages Full Moon Cooperative based near Athens, Ga., where Farm Burger’s sister restaurant, Farm 255, is located.
Farm Burger is inspired by the farm-to-table movement, but at the same time, it’s a casual burger joint. Its menu board advertises 100-percent, grass-fed beef, but it does so from a kitschy black-and-white letter board, the sort you would find outside the sanctuary of a country church. The whole concept is an exercise in restraint; nothing feels too heavy or overwhelming. Burgers are still fun and nostalgic, but they’re a bit more responsible than their fast-food counterparts.
The restaurant’s approach to Southern food is similarly tasteful. It’s not over the top, and for diners who don’t care for Southern food (if these people exist), there will still be plenty of choices. “It’s more where we are, who we are and what grows regionally and makes sense,” Frangos says. “It absolutely has a Southern feel to it.”
Frangos, who hails from New York, says he’s always amazed at how many orders of collard greens the kitchen fills. Boiled peanuts, Sea Island red peas from Anson Mills, fried chicken livers and sweet potato fries are also on the menu.
Chef Chad Campbell came to Farm Burger from Chelsea’s and the Village Tea Room in Biltmore Village, which recently closed. He recommends the No. 5 burger, which comes topped with bacon-pimento-onion marmalade, Looking Glass Creamery goat cheese, and arugula.
If you’ve eaten at Farm Burger in Atlanta, the menu in Asheville will look familiar, but some items are Asheville exclusives. The vegan burger, for example, combines house-smoked Smiling Harah Tempeh, black-eyed peas and Sea Island red peas. “We tried to create something that’s part of the community,” Frangos says. “This looks very different from the Farm Burgers in Atlanta.”
In Asheville, Farm Burger hopes to attract both families and bar-goers. On weekends, the restaurant will remain open until midnight. “We’re excited to see that side of the business,” Frangos says. “Hopefully, bocce will be a draw.”
The renovations to the Leader Building are worth a visit in themselves. The window space that once displayed antiques now holds street-side seating. There’s an outside patio and alcoves with floor-to-ceiling windows. Communal tables run through the center of the restaurant, and the long bar, which serves six local, draft beers, plus bottles and wine, fills up the back wall. All told, the place seats about 75 people.
In the basement of the Leader Building, One World Brewing, an affiliated community-supported brewery run by Mann’s brother-in-law, Jason Schutz, is preparing to begin renovations. Once those beers are ready, Frangos expects Farm Burger will expand its beer offerings. “That’s going to be much less of a technical build-out,” he says, anticipating that project will come together faster than Farm Burger, which announced its Asheville location in September.
Farm Burger, 10 Patton Ave., is open daily at 11:30 a.m. It closes at 11 p.m. on weeknights and midnight on Friday and Saturday. For more information, visit farmburger.net or search for Farm Burger Asheville on Facebook.