A quirky neighborhood burger joint is about to pick up some serious food-industry bragging rights.
GoldBurgers of Newington is headed to the James Beard House in March to take part in the culinary foundation's Beard Burger 'Bun' Anza, joining a lineup of New York-based burger restaurants for a special tasting event.
Chef Tim Marotto first made the connection with the vaunted organization in September, when he assisted longtime chef friend Neil Rogers with his own Beard House appearance. Rogers, a Max Restaurant Group alum, is now based in Worcester, Mass., as corporate chef de cuisine for Niche Hospitality Group. At the dinner, Marotto's wife ended up speaking to an organizer for the March burger event, he said, and the organizer expressed interest in having GoldBurgers join the lineup.
Each restaurant will serve two offerings at the cocktail-party style event, GoldBurgers owner Matt Crowley said: one burger and then a plate of their choice. They'll cook an "amped up" version of their GoldBurgers slider, with local grass-fed beef and house-baked buns, and a dish of braised pork jowls (from Newington's Eddy Farm) with Asian spices and housemade kimchi.
For Crowley and Marotto, the James Beard invitation is a triumphant moment, one that represents the progression of the 25-seat fast-casual restaurant since its opening. When GoldBurgers debuted in Newington center in 2009, "it was very slow, not a great time to open a business," Crowley said. But its quality and creativity didn't go unnoticed. Rogers became a regular customer, as did Marotto. "As a chef/owner, that’s what you want, is for the industry guys to come in," said Crowley.
Marotto is a classically trained chef who's worked at several Hartford-area restaurants, including the cafe at the Nordstrom store in the Westfarms Mall. In 2012, Crowley says he was looking to take a step forward with GoldBurgers, to elevate its menu and mission. "I [wanted] this place to be run by a chef, a food-focused guy back there. It’s tough for me to do everything," he said. That summer, Marotto, between jobs, helped Crowley with catering work, and Crowley asked him to come on board full-time.
"Chefs look at a burger shop and think 'I don’t know if I want to do burgers,'" Marotto said. "When I was younger, I said I wanted to do fine dining. But after 15-20 years...fine dining is nice, but when you can do fine dining onto a burger bun, it's also pretty nice."
"Tim is a food guy and I just love where he goes with it," Crowley said. "It's been a great relationship."
Marotto and his crew are responsible for GoldBurgers' increasingly innovative daily chalkboard specials: recent features include a chicken burger topped with kimchi, teriyaki onions and butternut squash dumplings; a housemade "Hot Pocket" stuffed with hot dogs and jalapeno poppers, coconut sriracha burgers, Italian poutine topped with pomodoro sauce and stracciatella and even ground chicken sandwiched between two halves of a Scott's Jamaican Bakery beef patty.
Marotto also spearheaded a season of special outdoor dinners at neighboring Eddy Farm in 2014, where the restaurant sources a percentage of its produce. These will continue in 2015, along with occasional pop-up events. The crew recently hosted a successful midnight "dorm dinner" in January, with GoldBurgers' takes on ramen, chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly and deep-fried French toast.
"We’d go crazy if all we did were burgers," Crowley said. "We want another outlet. That's where our specials come in, something just to make it new."
The Beard Burger 'Bun' Anza will be held March 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the James Beard House (167 W. 12th St.) in New York City. Tickets are $100 for foundation members; $125 for non-members. Information: jamesbeard.org.
Goldburgers is at 1096 Main St., Newington. Information here.