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Aug. 7, 2020

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Food & Drink: Burgerville tries truffle fries on for size

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Truffle fries at Burgerville.
Truffle fries at Burgerville. Photo Gallery

A funky, earthy smell is permeating all 42 Burgerville restaurants in Oregon and Southwest Washington, enticing customers to try Burgerville’s new truffle fries. Will this seasonal item reach the cult-like status of Walla Walla onion rings? According to Burgerville’s director of food production, Chef Becky McGrath, some people organize their lives around maximizing consumption of these crispy golden rings.

“We have a large group of people who plan their trips around onion rings,” she explained.

Earlier this year, the team at Burgerville huddled to develop a side dish for early March through mid-April. As always, they focused on local flavors for that season. Truffles were a natural fit.

“It’s the season when Oregon truffles are harvested,” said Jamie Powell, senior vice president of menu design and development.

Powell, a long time truffle-lover, noticed that this flavorful fungi was finding its way outside of fine dining rooms and appearing on grocery store shelves and burger joint menus. Frozen-food producer Alexia introduced a truffle fry now available at Fred Meyer. Truffle fries are also a popular side at Portland’s Little Big Burger.

But truffle fries at a fast food restaurant?

“People said that it was kind of a stretch, but how will we know unless we try it?” Powell said.

She hoped that a newly trending food like truffle fries would appeal to regular customers and get people who haven’t been to Burgerville — for a while or ever — to stop in for a taste.

After the team decided to go forward with truffle fries, McGrath went into the kitchen to create a recipe. At Burgerville, unlike many other, larger food companies, there isn’t a test kitchen. McGrath is a mobile Burgerville recipe developer.

“Our test kitchens are the restaurants,” she said. “I go through kitchens in all the restaurants and I play with the food. The crew here gets to taste it and give their feedback on it.”

Developing the recipes on equipment used by Burgerville staff ensures that McGrath’s recipes are prepared every time and at every restaurant efficiently and to her high standards.

McGrath’s truffle fry recipe was inspired by Burgerville’s rosemary fries. Like the rosemary fries, the truffle fries start with shoestring potatoes. After coming out of the fryer, they’re tossed with oil and Jacobson salt. The difference is that truffle fries use Jacobsen truffle salt instead of the company’s rosemary variety, then they’re tossed with a white truffle oil and chopped fresh parsley.

“Shoestrings are great because they aren’t super absorbent,” McGrath said. “They get some of the oil but they don’t get too greasy, so the cut of fry goes well when you put salt and oil on it.”

Think of the truffle fries as rosemary fries dressed up in a tuxedo — golden shoestrings cloaked in luxurious white truffles instead of rustic rosemary.

Season’s eatings

Powell and McGrath obviously love their work. When I asked if there were any other seasonal menu items on the horizon, McGrath almost jumped out of her seat.

“I kind of want to make one for you,” she said with the sly smile of a good friend about to share some juicy gossip.

If you go

What: Truffle fries and almond butter milkshakes, available until mid-April

Where: Burgerville’s 42 locations in Oregon and Southwest Washington

Online: Burgerville.com

She sprang out to her car to collect Oregon Growers jam and a cashew-almond butter blend created for Burgerville by Ground Up PDX. In a flash, McGrath was in the kitchen whipping up an almond butter milkshake. This seasonal shake is essentially a grown-up’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich swirled into vanilla soft serve, leaving specks and streaks of gooey nut butter and the pink tinge of preserves. A deep red dollop of strawberry jam rests on top like a berry-colored knit cap.

McGrath likes the nostalgia of using preserves.

“It’s like the ‘good old days,’ when people didn’t have fresh food growing and they would dip into pickled items, canned items, preserved items this time of year,” she said. “It’s kind of a nod to, ‘We don’t have fresh strawberries this time of year, but you can taste fresh strawberries.'”

I love the berries that Leopold Farms has supplied to Burgerville for the past 23 years, but this jam by Oregon Growers, with its candied strawberries preserved at the peak of last summer, adds a complexity to this milkshake that’s very different from the simple pleasure of fresh fruit. It’s also the perfect complement to Ground Up PDX’s luscious almond-cashew butter. When your straw reaches the bottom of the shake, you’re rewarded with an undisturbed dollop of decadent almond-cashew butter.

Customer reaction to these new items will decide their future. Powell explained, “If they’re not popular, then they’re not around.”

But have no fear, Walla Walla onion ring obsessives: Those large, crispy rings filled with wilted sweet onions aren’t going anywhere.

Burgerville was founded in Vancouver in 1961. There are 42 locations throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington. Truffle fries are available until April 15. Almond butter milkshakes will be on the menu until mid-April. For more information, go to Burgerville.com.


Rachel Pinsky can be reached at couveeats@gmail.com. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook @couveeats.

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