The scene: Worthy Burger is literally located on the other side of the tracks, just across a railroad line from the town green in the center of quaint South Royalton, home to Vermont Law School. Locally popular for years, Worthy Burger has continued to grow its reach and now regularly attracts travelers venturing a few miles off of Interstate 89. It’s well-located as a stop on the way to popular summer and winter tourism destinations including Stowe, Burlington and Montreal, Quebec. They now have a second location, Worthy Burger Too, in Waitsfield, close to the Sugarbush and Mad River Glen ski resorts.
The eatery has a barn-like feel, and is ramshackle and hodgepodge in a charming way. You enter through a shower curtain-style gateway that immediately sets the eclectic stage, and find yourself in the main bar area with about a dozen chrome diner stools around an L-shaped bar, in turn surrounded by several high-top bar tables. Ceiling fans spin overhead while blackboards are everywhere, listing the menu here, daily specials there. Large boards also display the beer list, the rest of the beer list, and in the beer garden/enclosed winter porch, there’s yet another beer list. Most impressive of all is a board describing Worthy Burger’s sustainable, locally sourced, drug-free and all-natural ethos, then listing more than dozen prominent New England farms, dairies and other suppliers of things like grass-fed free-range beef and artisanal cheeses. A map of the Green Mountain State indicates where each is located relative to the restaurant, marked by a “you are here” burger icon. This has all been painstakingly done by hand in chalk.
The porch, heated in winter by a roaring wood stove, sits off one end of the main barroom, just past an elaborate condiment bar stocked with pesto mayo, spicy mayo, spicy ketchup and a couple of takes on mustard. At the other end is a dining room full of tables, and through the bar you can see into the open kitchen. You order at the bar, pick your seat and get a buzzer – covered with images of burgers, of course. When it goes off, you pick up your food, served in paper-lined wire baskets, at the kitchen window. The crowd is a mix of locals, students and road trippers, and between the careful farm-focused sourcing, chef-driven menu and extensive craft beer selection, Worthy Burger is about as close to hipster as things get around here.
Reason to visit: Burgers, fries, beer
The food: The burger is the main attraction, though all the sandwiches are good, and the menu is relatively straightforward, yet full of twists. For instance, there are always wings but they change daily and are usually available in two styles; recent examples were Szechuan-glazed and chipotle pineapple barbecue. The house-made pickle plate also changes regularly and often contains no conventional pickles at all. On my last visit it had a trio of pickled fennel, green beans and pear slices, which were really good and unlike anything I have ever seen. There are also usually a couple of sandwich and entree specials.
On the regular menu, the bestseller is the namesake Worthy Burger, a generous nearly half-pound patty of grass-fed, naturally raised, drug-free Vermont ground beef, with lettuce, red onion, Vermont cheddar cheese and secret sauce. The sauce is pretty innocuous and doesn’t add a lot, but then the burger is excellent and doesn’t need a lot. Flame-grilled exactly to order, it is juicy, thick and tasty. The excellent brioche-style domed bun has been toasted to add a nice crunchy contrast. It’s a very good burger by any standard, but even better is the Freighthouse version, a big patty adorned with lettuce, bacon, onion, cheddar, tomato jam and garlic aioli. You can also build your own burger, which is when it starts to get weird. Choices include everything from kimchi to whipped goat cheese and fried egg to avocado spread. They claim 117 million possible combinations, but I was too busy eating to double-check the math.
Besides great meat and a great roll, all the little things add up here: the lettuce is fresh baby leaves, not generic iceberg; the bacon is from a local Vermont smokehouse. The attention to detail can be tasted through and through. Even the boneless chicken breast sandwich, usually a dry snooze, is very good here and features drug-free local meat that has been marinated in garlic sauce. It’s a thick, meaty and especially juicy slab, adorned with lettuce, red onion, Asian honey sauce and a red cabbage slaw that is both delicious and a great textural addition, all on the same great bun. Other sandwich choices include grilled ahi tuna, delivered from a top Boston Harbor purveyor, and the oddest option of all, the Turkducky, a mix of turkey breast and duck breast, both from local poultry farms.
All the sandwiches come with fries, and not just any fries: These are hand-cut and cooked twice in classic Belgian fashion, except in beef tallow. They are fresh, crispy and surprisingly nongreasy, and they are offered straight or with your choice of truffles, cheese or “crack rub,” a barbecue seasoning. They are just fine plain, but the melty cheese is pretty awesome. Unlike just about every other place doing cheesy fries, Worthy Burger uses real and high-quality cheddar – and there is a lot of goop at the bottom of the basket, so keep digging. The serving of fries with each sandwich is very generous and most people won’t need anything else, but the pickle plate is fun and different, and the wings are typically quite good.
While the food is both delicious and well-curated in terms of ingredients, many fans come for the beer selection. The rotating list is Vermont-centric, though it does include out-of-state offerings, and usually has a couple of dozen choices along with craft cider and kombucha. There are also wine and cocktails, but it’s really known as a beer lover’s destination, complete with fancy tasting glasses. They often have the legendary Heady Topper, one of the hardest beers in the country to buy since it is extremely scarce and in high demand thanks to having been rated the world’s single finest beer by a popular beer website. Worthy Burger often has this subject of impassioned searches, and even when they don’t, they still have the great burger and fries.
Pilgrimage-worthy?: No, but definitely worth a detour or planned stop when driving through New England.
Rating: Yum! (Scale: Blah, OK, Mmmm, Yum!, OMG!)
Price: $$ ($ cheap, $$ moderate, $$$ expensive)
Details: 56 Rainbow Street, South Royalton; 802-763-2575; second location in Waitsfield, Vermont; worthyvermont.com/wburger
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