As a man sweating over a grill in the Pueblo summer sun is bound to do when repeatedly asked the same stupid question, Richard Warner finally let fly with a sarcastic answer befitting the query: "How do you get the chilies in the burger?"
With a wry smile, he quipped, "We fed the chilies to the cattle."
Strange, indeed, that a man would have to break down a process as simple as dicing fire-roasted green chilies and folding them into ground beef. But it's fair to say that of the 100,000-plus weekend visitors to the annual Chile & Frijoles Festival, more than a handful are a few fries short of a Happy Meal.
Regardless, it was here that Bingo Burger's signature burger was born and bought with enthusiasm for four years. Warner had wanted to tie into the festival somehow, and so he thought up the "fair-friendly version of a slopper" and cooked it on the sidewalk outside Hopscotch Bakery, which he owns with his wife Mary Oreskovich.
The couple had been looking for a second food venture since closing Steel City Diner in 2006, and by 2009, it was clear: Given the burger's popularity, the tight economy and a pretty good sense of "what Puebloans like to eat," their logical move was to open a burger joint.
Around the new year, Bingo Burger took over the fast-food husk of a former Quiznos at the precarious downtown intersection of First and Court streets and Union Avenue. Sourcing Colorado lamb, local eggs, grass-fed Cattlemen's Choice beef from near Cañon City, potatoes from San Luis Valley farmers, and ice cream from Hopscotch as well as eco-friendly plasticware, cups and straws, Warner explained the concept in February as "gourmet burgers, cooked to order, with a sustainability flair."
At Bingo Burger, you place your order and receive a number at a register directly inside the door. From there, you can find a seat at metal patio tables; indoor tables; an L-shaped booth seat lining the back wall; or a high-stool counter overlooking the open kitchen with its active griddle.
The menu is small, but well-conceived: With 50-cent add-ons like goat and bleu cheese and Pueblo chilies and $1 additions like bacon, guacamole, caramelized onions and fried egg, you're pretty much missing the point if you opt only for the plain Berry's Burger ($5.75/$3.45 small).
We selected one of that day's specials, the Fire Eater ($6.95) — a Bingo Burger ($6.25/$3.75) with extra chilies and chile cream cheese — and then added bacon and egg. It quickly earned its rank among the best burgers I recall eating.
Though the third-of-a-pound patty came a little beyond the advertised medium, it was still juicy with a fun, not-too-hot chile edge. The egg was fried nicely and married beautifully with the thick-cut bacon strips; a wide-mouthed bite (so as to catch some tomato, lettuce, red onion and pickle) delivered each flavor cleanly, yet in perfect harmony. Whereas a single lazy sauce dollop can totally overwhelm a burger, this stack of classic Southwest diner ingredients complemented the beef cohesively.
My two guests got hung up on the lemon-rosemary aioli (yuppie mayonnaise) garnish on the Colorado lamb burger ($6.75), but I fawned over the unique flavor as a whole. Many will argue we raise the best lamb in the world here, and I love its mild gaminess. To me, the citrus-herb enhancement perfectly accented that quality; I wouldn't burden this particular dish with any add-ons.
By contrast, the chicken burger ($6.75) and Portobello mushroom burger ($6.25) can only benefit from the extras. Even with the standout house guacamole that comes standard, the chicken sandwich absorbs every molecule of moisture from your mouth — yup, it's dry. Chilies, mushrooms and caramelized onion might help. The Portobello comes with a tasty balsamic mayo and caramelized onions, to which we added a nice spread of bleu cheese. Vegetarians will seldom, if ever, eat so well in a burger joint.
Those vegetarians will also enjoy the bright, lovely mixed field green salad ($5.75/$3.75) topped with dried cranberries, Gorgonzola, cucumbers and carrots in either a ranch or balsamic-vinaigrette dressing. A small version would make a great substitute for the low-carb crowd, who will unfortunately miss out on some exemplary fries.
Just say "sweet potato fries," and my neurons start firing wildly. Bingo's dark, hand-cut tubers ($3.75/$2.75) aren't the best I've had, but there's certainly nothing wrong with them. Like the regular French fries ($3.50/$2.50), they were fried about as crisp as homemade fries get (read: no New Jersey labs added creepy "natural flavors"), with generous garnishes of coarse kosher salt flecks.
We of course ended our meal by draining vanilla and chocolate shakes ($4.95 for 20-ounce, $3.75 for 12-ounce), with the aforementioned Hopscotch-made ice cream base. Velvet smooth, they satisfied with that creamy, thick sweetness we all feel guilty about.
I won't say that beyond the absence of chemicals and pesticides, eating Bingo's epicurean version of fast food is necessarily good for you — combining grains, dairy, meat, starches, fruit and sugar in one meal makes every nutritionist cringe. But if you're craving the American meal, the upcharge for green gourmet certainly pays off in pleasure here, regardless of what they're feeding the animals.
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