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Food & Travel

At Burgerville, fast food with a side of eco-friendliness

Laura Marshall, a general manager of a Burgerville franchise in Portland, Ore., with a strawberry shake. Burgerville's philosophy is fresh, local, and sustainable food. Laura Marshall, a general manager of a Burgerville franchise in Portland, Ore., with a strawberry shake. Burgerville's philosophy is fresh, local, and sustainable food. (Greg Wahl-Stephens/Associated Press for The Boston Globe)
By Allison Boomer
Globe Correspondent / May 26, 2010

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PORTLAND, Ore. — There are plenty of smart, stylish chefs who have put down roots and opened up shop in this cool Northwest city. You can also find them if you are exploring Willamette Valley’s wine or cheese makers or cruising the region around the Columbia River. This part of the world feels almost unfriendly to food chains.

But many locals have welcomed Burgerville — where fast-food culture meets eco-friendly enlightenment — a chain of 39 restaurants within a 180-mile radius of Portland. Grass-fed beef burgers, Yukon Gold potato fries, and Northwest berry shakes are on the menu; eat them in the restaurant or place your order at a drive-through window. This being Portland, the drive-through of course accommodates cyclists.

Regardless of how your meal is delivered, Burgerville does it with a well-designed and polished philosophy. Food is inexpensive, well made, seasonal, and local. In fact, looking over the menu is like reading a farmers’ market guide: pickled pepper cheeseburgers, roasted portobello focaccia sandwiches, cherry-chipotle pulled pork, rosemary shoestring potatoes, free-range turkey burgers with cranberry and jalapeno salsa, chocolate hazelnut milkshake, fresh strawberry shortcake.

Founded in 1961, the company has partnered with local food businesses throughout the region to provide meat, seafood, dairy products, fruits, baked goods, and coffee. Today, says Jeff Harvey, Burgerville’s president and CEO, “Seventy percent of our menu ingredients are fresh, locally sourced, and sustainable.’’

If a chain is clean and green enough for folks in the Northwest, you can be certain it’s eco-friendly enough for the rest of the country’s food purists. Beef is supplied by Country Natural Beef located in Vale, Ore., which works with individual family ranches to raise, manage, and distribute beef using humane practices and sensitive land management. Cattle eat a 100 percent vegetarian diet, including native grasses and seeded pastures, and are grown without hormones or antibiotics.

The menu also offers interesting items for vegetarians (Harvey among them), including anasazi bean burger, grilled asparagus and tomato melt sandwich, strawberry and goat cheese panino, and Oregon cherry and walnut salad. Everything is made to order, so your food has not been sitting under a heat lamp.

Burgerville’s latest campaign to attract the Facebook demographic is a 24-foot-long mobile restaurant kitchen it calls “the nomad,’’ which has been in the area since last year testing new locations. This month, the nomad was an attraction at a wedding.

While items on the Burgerville menu may be healthy and sustainable, one bit of caution: When you total the calories of a turkey burger on a wholegrain bun, along with 5 ounces of fries, and half a strawberry shortcake with ice cream, you get 1,125, not high for fast food, but more than most people need in a meal (around 600 for women, 800 for men).

But the company wants to help calorie-counting customers. You can request, for example, a burger made without mayo or a 12-ounce chocolate-yogurt smoothie instead of a milkshake.

When you get your receipt from the cashier, you find a list of all the items you ordered broken down by total calories, calories from fat, protein, and carbs. You also get suggestions on how you might change your order to fare better on your next visit.

Because for many people, there is a next visit.

For Burgerville locations in and around Portland, go to www.burgerville.com.