Monday, June 12, 2017

Roam Artisan Burgers

"From pasture to plate, Roam Artisan Burgers offers delicious burgers, sides, shakes and sodas crafted from fresh quality ingredients that have been carefully sourced from a select group of purveyors."
Roam Artisan Burgers opened in 2010, in the Marina district of San Francisco, to great acclaim.  I was eager to check out Roam, but, not for the reasons that everyone else was.  Yes, the idea of a burger place that serves quality ingredients, offers a slew of proteins, and had some of the first real Instagram-worthy shakes in the city was certainly appealing, don't get me wrong, but I was also excited because Roam was founded by someone I knew.  Not someone I knew well, nor someone I was even in touch with at that point, but he had been a very close friend of my first roommate when I moved to San Francisco, and I was amazed to learn that he had followed through on leaving his job behind, opening up exactly the sort of place he wanted to exist, in his favorite neighborhood.

I didn't visit immediately, but by 2011 I did eventually visit, and dragged a bunch of my burger loving friends with me for one of our "B nights" (generally, Burger nights, but, occasionally Burrito nights, or even, just Beer nights).  It was a huge success, one of my attendees writing to our list the very next day, "For future reference, this place was awesome.  I think we generally agreed it is the best casual burger we've yet had.  I'd go here again anytime."

Which, is saying something, given that it was in the Marina, totally not where we choose to spend our time normally.  We loved it so much we returned just a few weeks later.  We raved again.  I didn't write a blog at the time, but I did write down some notes for friends who did not attend.

And then ... I don't know what happened, I didn't return.  For years.

In the meantime, Roam did just fine without me.  The Marina location gained a sibling in Pac Heights, and another in Lafayette.  I just read that a 4th location is coming to Bay Meadows.  Bon Appetit rated their burger the #2 burger in the entire country.

The commitment to quality has not wavered as they have expanded, nor has the menu changed very much.  They still focus on healthy options ("better for you burgers"), sustainable practices (even the cooking oil is reused for bio fuel), house made ingredients like pickles and sodas, locally sourced buns, and always provide the details on the purveyors and treatment of the animals.

Roam is always a crowd pleaser, with great food and great service, and I'm glad I finally remembered it.
My Feast! Fries, Milkshake, Burger, Housemade Soda.
My recent visit in May 2017 was at lunch, at the Pacific Heights location, with two other people.  We shared the trio of fried stuffs, and each got our own burgers, sodas, and shakes.  Everyone was happy with their selections.

The Space

This visit focuses on the newer location on Fillmore Street in Pac Heights, but my prior visits were to the original Marina location.  I didn't taste notes on the interior then, but I believe they are similar style, very casual, incorporating nature everywhere.

If you dine in, everything is served on Heath Ceramics stoneware.
The interior is open, light filled, and natural looking.  Beautiful wooden plank floors, wooden tables and simple chairs, large windows letting in as much sunlight as possible.
Menu & Ordering.
Ordering is done at a register, midway through the room, alongside the near side to the door.  There is usually a line, but it moves quickly.  The menu is written up on the wall alongside, and paper menus are available to peruse as well.

Once you order, you are given a number, and seat yourself.  Food is delivered to you when ready.
Communal Table.
The majority of the room is filled with a large, wooden, communal table.  I loved all the wood tones throughout, here you can see the knots in the blond wooden table, the dark wide floor planks, and the wood panel walls.

We were seated on one end of this table, as the small handful of other tables were already occupied.
Bar Seating.
For singles or pairs, there are also some rather uncomfortable looking red bar stools along the bar.
Self-Serve Area.
Along the other wall is a self-serve area with a regular water tap, ketchup, napkins, cutlery, and a few other sauces.


When you order, you are given two numbers, one for drinks and one for food, as they come from separate kitchens.  Drinks are prepared behind the bar, and are delivered to the table as soon as they are ready.

Drink options include wine and kombucha on tap, craft beers, a few bottled sodas, a large selection of housemade sodas, and, milkshakes.  Since I consider the milkshakes more dessert than drinks, I'll review those last.

Sodas are another item that embrace the "better for you" mantra, most are made in-house, with agave to sweeten.  They come in fun flavors like Ginger Lime and Prickley Pear, and always have a rotating seasonal flavor as well.
Meyer Lemon House-made Soda. $3.49.
I opted for meyer lemon, basically a not-too-sweet sparkling lemonade, garnished with a lemon slice on top.  It was perfectly enjoyable, although not particularly memorable.

Artisanal sodas come at a price though, $3.49 is a bit high for a soda in my world ($1.49 for the smaller kids size).
Caramelized Pineapple House-made Soda. $3.49.
I also got to try the caramelized pineapple that my colleague ordered, garnished with a slice of lime.

This one was absolutely fascinating.  It tasted ... like pineapple.  Sparkling pineapple soda.  Sooo interesting.

I don't think I'd want a full pineapple soda, but, I enjoyed taking a few sips.
House Sparkling Water.
The menu does not list sparkling water anywhere, but I really wanted regular sparkling water too, so asked when I was ordering if they had any.  "Of course, and it is free!", was the cheery reply.  It arrived with our other beverages, and even included a lemon slice and straw.

Major, major kudos for house sparkling water and for its $0 price tag, but it seems like a line on the menu, after the sodas, along the lines of "house sparkling water is available free of charge" or something would be helpful ...

Still water was available in the self-serve condiments area.


Roam offers a handful of sides, starting with classic fries.  You can select russet fries, sweet potato fries, a "zucchini onion haystack", or, all three ("the fry-fecta").  To any you can add additional seasonings for $0.75 (truffle parmesan or chipotle maple).

The other side dishes are a bit healthier, a farmer's market salad, available in two sizes, and optionally topped with a trio of mini burgers of your choice on a skewer if you want to make it a meal.  The final side is a rotating hot seasonal veggie dish, which on our visit was asparagus with lemon, garlic, manchego, and crispy shallots.  The seasonal veggies always get serious accolades, and I know some people opt to just top those with fried eggs and call it a meal.

On my visits though, we've always stuck with fried things, shared amongst the group.  
The Fry-Fecta $6.75.
On this visit, we went for the fry-fecta, since I wanted to re-try everything.

Russet Fries:
When the fries arrived, Ojan took one, and told us all that they were hot and fresh and we should dive in immediately.  I commented that everything was hot and fresh, and I was busy trying other things, but, he was right, these were clearly direct from the fryer to our table.  Very, very fresh, crispy fries.  I liked the generous amount of herbs.  My previous notes were a bit lackluster, saying "meh, generic, not worth it, but nice that they aren't greasy" and "nothing standout, but not bad. Had some herbs on them.  Decent, but fairly generic.  Not worth going out of way for, but well executed for what they were.  Not too greasy."  My overall opinion is about the same, yup, good fries, but nothing mind-blowing here.  Just good fries.

On a previous visit, I added the truffle parmesan flavor, and thought the fries were much better with it, and noted how generous they were with the seasoning.  I lobbied for it on this visit, but, neither of the other diners wanted it, so, I was overruled.

Sweet Potato Fries:
The sweet potato fries were what I was eying, as they are usually my favorite.  I asked for the chipotle maple seasoning, but none of us tasted chipotle nor maple, so, even though the server said they had it, I don't think they did.  They weren't quite as hot and fresh as the regular fries, but were still hot.  They were nicely crispy.  Good sweet potato flavor.  But, nothing made them pop.  My first visit, I noted they were "pretty decent, nice sweet potato flavor.  Again, fairly generic, not worth going out of way for, but well executed, not too greasy.  Would like to try with maple/chipotle seasoning."  My second visit, I got that seasoning, and liked the sweetness it added, but couldn't taste the chipotle.  I again noted that they weren't greasy.  I think I really had a thing against greasy fries back then!

Zucchini Onion Haystack:
And finally, the haystack, made up of thin shreds of crispy fried onions and zucchini.  The onion bits were much smaller than the zucchini ribbons, but both were fairly small.  This was hard to eat, not really finger food, unless you grabbed a big handful, but that was awkward.  Even more awkward was dunking these into the dips.  Still, they were flavorful, well seasoned, and crunchy, so I kinda liked them.  One other diner noted they were "reasonably tasty" and the other said they were "oil held together by zucchini and onions".  I really wanted to add them on top of a salad, I think that would be amazing.  My previous notes said "haystack kinda forgettable, flavors not very strong and kinda hard to eat" and "thin, not very flavorful, kinda hard to eat. Would skip these next time."  I disagree with the lack of flavor, but the overall sense of them not being quite awesome, and annoying to actually consume, was still there.

So, overall, solid fried items, sweet potato fries are best with the maple seasoning, and the crispy haystack I think would be a fun addition to a salad or burger, but isn't that great alone.  (I really think I might get a side salad with some haystack on top next time, or finally try one of the seasonal sides).

I appreciate the fry-fecta so I can try all three items and not need to make a choice, or get the entire group to agree on just one item.
Sauces: House Sauce, Herb Mayo, Herb Ranch.
I'm a sauce girl.  I'm always a sauce girl.  And Roam is awesome when it comes to sauces.  They have a dozen different sauces, and, they are all free.  Free on the burgers, free with the fries.  As many as you want.  The person taking my order really did tell me, "just tell me all the sauces you want, they are all included".  I <3 you for this, Roam.

To go with our fries, I selected the three most aioli-like: house sauce, herb mayo, and herb ranch.

House Sauce: The house sauce was kinda just thousand island.  Not particularly exciting, which is exactly what I thought the previous time, according to my notes.

Herb Mayo: This was thick, slightly herby, and my top pick, but actually, I didn't find the sauces as necessary as I expected, since the fries were so well seasoned.  My previous note was that it "wasn't very herby, but nice to dip sweet potato fries in".

Herb Ranch: Good creamy ranch, I'm sure great on the salad, but actually too flavorful for the fries, it masked the sweetness I like from sweet potato fries.  Of course, my earlier visit said I liked dipping my sweet potato fries in it, so, who knows.

Other options include the basics (mayo, yellow mustard, whole grain mustard, organic Heinz ketchup), grilling sauces (BBQ, steak), and more interesting choices of Jalapeño Relish, Sweet Chili Sauce, and Piquant Sauce, some of which I tried on previous visits.  The sweet chili didn't impress ("more like chili ketchup, didn't like this much"), and the BBQ really failed ("did not like the flavor of this at all"), and the ketchup was, well, regular Heinz.  Ketchup is available self-serve.

Overall, I really appreciate the unlimited free sauces, but I think they are best suited for the burgers, rather than the fries, a fact which surprises me.


The main attraction is of course the burgers.  Besides entree salads, burgers are the only main dish, but, "burger" can mean many things here.

You can build your own, or select from their fairly fascinating pre-made "style" options.  But first, you need to pick your bun.  Four options, a traditional sesame seed bun, a healthier whole grain bun, a no-carb lettuce wrap, or, for those who need it, a gluten-free bun. 

 That decision out of the way, it is time to pick your protein.  You can pick from:
  • Beef: Pacific Pastures 100% Grass-Fed
  • Turkey: Diestel Family Free-Range
  • Bison: Great Range All-Natural (+$2.99)
  • Veggie: House-Made Organic
  • (Special) Wild Boar: Durham Ranch All-Natural (+$1.99)
As you can see, the selection is more than standard beef, chicken, and generic veggie burger.  The final burger type is a rotating special, wild boar on this visit, but it was elk on a previous.  Interestingly, for the cook level, you only have the option of "pink" or "no pink", not full customization as you would expect.  

As you can see, Roam is a place that a gluten-free vegan, a no-carb paleo carnivore, a health conscious salad seeker, and a classic burger fan can all dine in harmony.  The variety isn't just there to check off some boxes either, each one really is the top of its class.  Each option is grass-fed, free-range, all-natural, or organic, as appropriate.  The farms are listed dominantly on the menu.  

From here, you can take the "easy" option of selecting a pre-defined style, of which there are 9 to choose from.  These range from "The Classic" (lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, house sauce) to "French and Fries" (truffle parmesan fries, gruyere, avocado, caramelized onions, watercress, mustard, piquant sauce ... yes, all *inside* the burger) to a seasonal special, such as "Springtime" (chimichurri, fresh mozzerella, tomato, herb mayo, arugula).

Or go crazy and create your own, selecting from free toppings (lettuce, tomato, onion, house-made pickles), 6 types of cheese (aged white cheddar, swiss, gruyere, fontina, blue, pepper jack, all $1), extra veggies (oil & vinegar slaw, caramelized onions, cremini mushrooms, watercress, all $1), and premium toppings (avocado, truffle parmesan fries, organic free-range fried egg, applewood smoked bacon), plus a dozen sauces (all free).  Pricing on the pre-defined styles is significantly cheaper than designing your own, where topping add up pretty quickly.

If this is enough to make your head spin, well, I can relate.  Making decisions was really, really hard.

One member of my group picked a simple classic burger, his standard first time order everywhere, so he could judge Roam on the basics.  I was hoping to split with Ojan, and was leaning towards bison given my previous notes, but, he decided to go for the owner's top pick, a turkey burger, Tejano style (pepper jack, jalapeño relish, avocado, tomato, white corn chips, herb ranch), which I wasn't interested in at all, given that I'm allergic to avocado and dislike turkey.  I didn't even ask for a bite, but he said it was fine, good for turkey, but still a bit dry.
Create Your Own: Lettuce Wrap Veggie Burger, with pickles, Swiss cheese, watercress, caramelized onions, cremini mushrooms, and herb mayo. $12.49.
I made my own.  A totally crazy, rogue, not-really-sure-what-I-was-thinking creation.

I went for a lettuce wrap, my first time ever getting a lettuce wrap, anywhere.  I realized that in general I get annoyed with buns about halfway through, and I was really craving salad, so, this seemed more in line with what I actually wanted.  The wrap was huge leaves of butter lettuce, perfectly crispy, but I can't say that eating a lettuce wrap worked particularly well, it was hard to pick up, and in the end, I ended up basically just eating it like a salad anyway.  My previous notes don't say much about the bun, except that I was happy it wasn't slathered in butter.

For a patty, I went veggie.  I'm still not entirely sure why, as I kinda wanted the bison, but, I just wasn't craving red meat.  Plus, I had read a lot about how this was a pretty awesome house made veggie burger (in 2010, 7x7 rated it the best veggie burger), and my earlier notes said it was good ("nice and earthy") when I tried a bite from a fried.  It is made from brown rice, quinoa, and black beans, plus beets (the color!), dates (a touch of sweet!), jalapeños (heat!), and spices.  It was ... fine.  Certainly nothing like a commercial veggie burger, but, it really was fairly mushy, and I wasn't entirely into the quinoa/bean texture.  I give Roam credit for a unique offering though, and I particularly like how the beet made it actually look like ground beef.

So far, not that successful, but, most of my toppings were great.

Let's start with the sliced pickles.  They were such good pickles.  I loved the pickles  They make them in-house, and honestly, if I could buy a jar, I would.  The best pickles I've had anywhere besides homemade by my great aunt.  I'd ask for extra next time, and this matches my prior notes ("house pickles were great!!!").

I liked the watercress, again, I wanted salad, and this was crispy, fresh, and far more interesting than lettuce.  My notes from before say the same.

The cremini mushrooms weren't particularly exciting, just mushrooms after all, but they were good size chunks to add a bit of meaty texture to bite into, were sauteed with some seasoning, and were well cooked.

The swiss cheese was great, absolutely perfectly melted and very strong flavor, clearly quality swiss.  My notes from other visits also mention how perfectly melty my gruyere and cheddar were.  Roam's kitchen has clearly perfected cheese meltiness.

The caramelized onions I didn't like though.  They were really mushy, and there was just way too much of them.  Interestingly, this matches my previous notes, where I noted "way too many caramelized onions, made the bun super soggy really fast, was dripping from the onion".  Since I had no bun, I didn't have that problem exactly, but I really felt there were far too many.

Finally, the herb mayo was the same as I had to dip my fries, and worked well here.  I liked the creaminess.

So, was this creation a success?  Kinda?  I wouldn't get it again, but I did enjoy eating the melty cheese and all the toppings, like a salad, slathered with herby mayo.

It also ended up being a rather pricey creation, $8.49 for the base, plus $1 each for swiss, watercress, onions, and mushrooms, $12.49 total.

My first visit, I got the standard beef.  I noted "the beef flavor wasn't very strong since the burger patty was fairly thin, but it was well cooked and juicy".  The next time however, I took a risk and went for bison, which I greatly preferred, "I’d definitely get this over beef again!", my notes say.

The second time I went to Roam, I choose the BBQ style (Aged White Cheddar, BBQ Sauce, Caramelized Onions, Jalapeño Relish, Oil & Vinegar Slaw), with the bison burger.  I didn't like the BBQ style, given the caramelized onion situation noted above.  I dubbed it "overall pretty healthy/fresh tasting from the slaw and lean meat, the only heaviness was from cheese and onions".  Still, I concluded that I wouldn't get the BBQ style again, and really should have read my notes in advance and not gotten the caramelized onions this time.

I do know what I'd get in the future though.  Either a bison burger on regular bun, if I was wanting red meat, or, actually, a salad, but I'd add burger toppings.  I'd add the cress, mushrooms, pickles, and, uh, zucchini onion haystack.  I think it would be a crazy satisfying salad of fresh veggies, flavorful toppings, and lots of textures.  I'd get it with the herb ranch, although their vinaigrette could be tasty.  Guess I'd get both, on the side ...


And finally, "dessert".  Roam offers no actual desserts, but, I consider the milkshakes basically dessert, although they are served before the food, alongside other drinks.  I always find it odd when places offer shakes and not ice cream though.  You have the supplies, why not offer up a scoop?

The shakes are made with organic Straus Family Creamery dairy.  They come in 8 flavors, including the expected basics of chocolate, strawberry, vanilla (Tahitian vanilla bean, technicall), and coffee (made with local Blue Bottle of course), plus trendy salted caramel, mint chip, and coconut, along with a seasonal choice (Banana Walnut Chocolate Chip on this recent visit, Pumpkin Spice previously).  You can also mix any you'd like, like coconut strawberry.

On the regular menu, shakes are available in two sizes, 12oz ($5.49) or 16oz ($6.99).  While I love shakes, consuming a 12oz or 16oz shake alongside a burger and fries is ... a bit much.  Often times I'll find someone to split one with, but at some point I realized that adults can order off the kids menu, where they offer a more practical sized shake for $4.49.  Given how many adults I saw on my recent visit with kid's size shakes, this is not a secret, and it makes me wonder why Roam doesn't just add the smaller size to the regular menu.

Shakes are not served with whipped cream, however they have the option to add a bruléed marshmallow on top for $1.  I assure you, it is one of the best $1 you can spend, perhaps the tastiest thing at Roam ...
Coconut Shake + Bruléed Marshmallow, Kid's Size. $4.49 + $1.
Shakes are served in plastic cups with domed lids, and, if you go for the marshmallow, it is bruléed so it sticks onto a chunk of cone, which then pokes out the top of the lid.

The shakes are very thick, and when they first arrive, are far too thick to drink with the regular straw that comes alongside. Which is fine with me, as I always want it to be dessert, or, at least to have alongside my fries, rather than while I wait for my meal.  No willpower to wait needed, as, you literally can't suck it up.

The coconut shake was ... fine.  The coconut flavor wasn't as strong as I was hoping though, and it was kinda hard to distinguish from plain vanilla.  The quality of the dairy was apparent though, and as it got melty I enjoyed it, although, to be honest, I think I would have liked it more just as soft serve ice cream rather than a shake.
Adorable Cup.
I found the cup rather adorable, and liked that they educate you in a cute way to compost the cup, rather than toss it in the trash.
Bruléed Marshmallow. $1 extra.
The marshmallow though is a thing of glory, perched on a triangular chunk of sugar wafer, and bruléed so it sticks on.  Of course it is bruléed to order, and honestly, done perfectly.  I can safely say I've never had a better toasted marshmallow in my life.

The wafer reminded me of a crispy sugar cone chunk, but a fresh one.  It is very tasty, and makes me really wish they would just offer a sugar cone filled with ice cream.

The marshmallow is super sweet, soft and a bit gooey, and just a bit burnt caramel tasting.  It is totally delicious, and, like the sodas, not made with corn syrup.

I don't really understand why it is on the milkshake, as you need to remove the lid of the shake to get to it, but I don't really care.  This thing is delicious.  I usually just dunk it into the shake.

My notes from other visits agree: "I loved this.  Just like the top of a crème brûlée, had lovely flavor.  I don’t really see how it goes on top of a shake though.  I ate it separately.  Delicious!" and "Really good, but very sweet.  I loved the flavor of the caramelized marshmallow."

Always worth the $1 extra, and, honestly, I'm tempted to get multiple next time.  I wonder if they'd even just let you buy a marshmallow, no shake?
Pumpkin Spice Shake with Bruléed Marshmallow, 16 ounces. (Nov 2011). $6.99 + $1.
The best I can tell, I only took one photo from my first visit to Roam in 2011.  The shake.  Lols.  I guess I know where my priorities were back then.  It is funny to me that I took notes on everything, but, didn't bother with photos to go along with.

I picked the seasonal special at the time, Pumpkin Spice, and went for a large, which I split with someone.  I was also able to try assorted flavors from other friends.  My notes from then:

Pumpkin Spice shake was a little too sweet for me and it didn’t go well with a burger.  But, it was nicely spiced and definitely a very good shake, like pumpkin pie in shake form.  Would have probably been much better to just have as a dessert than alongside burger.  

As with my recent visit, I adored the waffle cone/bruléed marshmallow on top.

I also tried a sip of Emil's vanilla ("just a standard vanilla shake"), a sip of the coffee ("good coffee flavor, but not really standout"), and a few sips of another friend's salted caramel shake ("delicious! Would get myself next time!").

The next visit, I took my own advice, and opted for the salted caramel.  However, I found it too sweet when having more than just a few sips ("Really sweet.  Too sweet.  But I did finish the whole thing, so it must have grown on me.").

Cooking Demo, November 2015

In November 2015, the chef from Roam did a cooking demo at the Ferry Building during the farmer's market.  I attended, and we were treated to a meyer lemon soda as we sat, and a tasty seasonal salad.
Meyer Lemon Soda.
According to my happy tweet at the time, I found the meyer lemon soda "refreshing and delicious".  Which is how I felt when I ordered it this time around too.
Red Kabocha Squash and Red Russian Kale with Tahini, Za'Atar, and Roasted Hazelnuts.
I did not take any notes on the salad, because I was just attending a demo, but I remember really enjoying it, and being impressed that a burger place had such an amazing seasonal salad.  Reading Yelp reviews of Roam leads me to believe this is the norm.
Roam Artisan Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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