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Where's the Beef?

Posted by Tom Haines, Globe Travel Writer  December 13, 2007 12:58 PM

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I felt it in my gut.

Maybe it was because the day before I had watched "King Corn," the documentary that tracks the rise of corn in everything we eat, including beef. Corn products can now take a steer from 100 pounds to 1,200 in under a year - takes four or five, apparently, on grass, which is what cattle always ate until the past few decades.

hamburger.jpg

Anyway, as I rolled south into Pittsfield, Mass. along Route 7, I passed The Lantern, a classic looking bar & grill set on a corner. Had no cash in my pocket, so had to walk eight or nine long blocks along the town's brick facade, where cinemas are no longer cinemas, banks not banks, until I came to a corner ATM, then doubled back toward the Lantern.

That's when I spotted Burger, a designer hamburger joint if ever there were one. Set inside a high-ceilinged room, it offered the best and worst of American cuisine -- nice details like sweet potato fries and excellent service, but fast food booths and options to supersize all the way up to a 2-pound sandwich.

(Note: the accompanying photo is of neither a "Burger" burger, nor a Lantern burger. It is just a burger, served up by Google.)

At Burger, I ordered the 1/2-pound wagyu beef burger. It cost $14.99. The cashier told me they take good care of the steer. "Give it a massage," she said. She even held up her hands and made a rubbing motion, as you might do if you were massaging a steer.

Anyway, the burger came out fresh but too soggy on the bun for my taste. And the experience - somewhere between a burger shack and a concept - came out a bit much, what with the ESPN on the HD TV over my head, and behind me, and across the room.

It's not fair to pick on Burger, really, because it does offer a 1/4-pounder for $3.99 and a farmhouse salad, Gus's pickles and eggplant fries - going a lot farther than most toward celebrating the richness of food.

But loaded down with a 1/2-pound of wagyu, I had a bloated feeling I could have done better sticking with The Lantern, which has local art on the walls, but no website that I can find.

I stopped for a coffee across the street from The Lantern, which has counter stools and a room big enough to feature live jazz. I told the barista about my choice of Burger over The Lantern.

"Oooh," he said, a hard grimace on his face.

The guy running the Lantern, the barista said, "is the real deal. He's got a charcoal grill. His burgers are the best."

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