This summer I made it a mission to travel the depths of the Midwest in search of the region’s best burger.
There was Pete’s (since 1901) in downtown Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, which boil their burgers. The Jucy Lucy (sic), a cheddar-stuffed monstrosity, from a dive bar in Minneapolis. The Cashew Burger at the Anchor on Lake Superior or the “original” Butter Burger at Solly’s Grille in Wisconsin. Unfortunately I didn’t get to try those whipped up at the American Legion Post 67 in Lake Mills (only open Fridays), but I found enough evidence that we live among the fertile crescent for flipped patties.
So as a carnivore by nature, I was more than skeptical when an acquaintance suggested I try the Eden Burger, the flagship item at the all-vegan restaurant of the same name, opened in the former Daredevil Dogs location. Made with sautéed pumpkin seeds, beans, rice, onions, and a blend of spices, topped with a standard set of lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle, Eden sauce and “vegannaise,” the Eden Burger was going to be a tough sell against the lingering taste of the deliciously greasy Wedl’s burger I tried this past July.
I asked Eden Burger’s Chad Goodwin how on earth they intend to convince a meat eater like myself that his creation was an equivalent delicacy.
“I guess you just let them try one of our burgers,” says Goodwin. “With the Village Idiot next door we get a great confluence of customers who come through. We could talk all day to people and try to convince them, but that’s not what we’re about. We are not trying to make the impossible burger that bleeds, or imitate meat. We just wanted to make something, whatever your dietary preference, that you can always come in and enjoy.”
No, opening a vegan burger chain has not been a lifelong passion for Goodwin and his partners Sebastian Kovach and Alex Raabe. In fact, it’s only been a little over a year since the trio changed their eating habits and became vegan. Entrepreneurs at heart—they’ve collaborated on everything from app design to screen printing and videography ventures—they saw a gap in the restaurant scene and filled it with Eden Burger. They literally altered recipes found online in a trial and error test kitchen for months, filled with more than a few inedible failures, to come up with the base for the menu.
“There were no places in Columbus that served traditional American fare for vegans,” says Goodwin. “Of course you can go to any restaurant and they’ll have a vegetarian option, and with Portia’s and the Loving Hut, there are plenty of vegan-centric menus, but we wanted to get away from kale and quinoa and things that are stereotypically vegan. We thought it was a much easier transition if we offered people items which they think that they have to give up.”
Truth be told, it’s a very easy transition. After trying a double Eden Burger, their hand-cut fries made with sunflower oil, and a frozen banana-based peanut butter shake, the spot has instantly become a staple in my diet. Forgive me dear city if I’ve grown bored of that famous burger across town these days. The burgers of Eden are not a substitute mind you, but are damn good “burgers”, a healthier alternative—and an exercise in helping the owners realize the loftier mission of the concept.
“We envisioned a place that was covered with plants and served an all plant-based menu,” says Goodwin of how it all began. “We wanted the aesthetics to match the mission, which was to create an overall greener planet by doing our part in making burgers, fries and shakes using no animal products.”
In addition to the “burgers,” Goodwin and his team also make “tender” burgers with breaded and fried tempeh. The Buffalo Tender Burger, was a particular highlight, not mocking but replicating the taste of a hearty and spicy chicken sandwich (I’m a sucker for Wendy’s). By the time this goes to print, they’ve expanded to lunch hours and have also experimented with weekend brunches—as the world definitely needs more sausage gravy for vegans. For a carnivore, Eden Burger is certainly the best of both worlds.
“You don’t have to sacrifice anything you love, you just have to change the supply chain,” says Goodwin. “Our burgers are just as good as, if not better than, any other burger in the city, it’s just that ours just happens to have a supply chain that helps save the world.” ■
Eden Burger is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at 1437 N High St.