On the Side: Environmental virtue on a bun: Are you buying?

The Elevation Burger, made from "100 percent organic, grass-fed, free-range beef."

Please welcome Elevation Burger, the latest contender for virtue-burger honors, debuting now in suburban Wynnewood, but eyeing - hungrily, one presumes - real estate in Rittenhouse Square, and in no particular order, Princeton, West Chester, Willow Grove, and Cherry Hill.

It has single-handedly raised the ante in the (so to speak) greener-meat niche. Elevation Burgers are not merely fresh-ground, or all-beef, or naturally raised; they are - top this! - "100 percent organic, grass-fed, free-range beef."

A single patty is about three ounces and change, so you are advised to stack at least two, or to have the Vertigo Burger, the price of which varies depending on the height of the stack. (At the other end of the spectrum, there's the Half the Guilt Burger, involving one meat patty and one veggie patty - the burger equivalent of a well-trimmed hair shirt.)

The burger joint, of course, is this year's steak house - or perhaps this year's antidote to last year's steak-house epidemic. No mystery on that score: Burger budgets do not porterhouses buy.

But if you do not have a drive-through, or thousands of locations across the country, or a spokesclown, you've got to have something.

In the case of Elevation - the Rocky Mountain-peak motif of its shopping-center storefront disconcertingly resonant of a Coors label - the something is its devotion to renewable-bamboo flooring, energy-efficient ovens, and waste oil destined, eventually, to grow up to be biodiesel.

But its "biggest contribution to a better planet," the fine print on its shake cup says, is the beef itself: it's fed on grass, not corn, which sucks up far less carbon dioxide, and, well, if all cattle were pastured (not grain-fed), it would be like taking four million cars off the road.

It might be the only shake cup with a footnote: The essence of that aforementioned claim can be found, it reports, in The Omnivore's Dilemma, p. 198. (And so, yes, there it is. You can look it up.)

The Omnivore's Dilemma, of course, is eco-author Michael Pollan's passionate critique of the depredations of industrial agriculture, and currently the sacred text of ethical eaters: supersizing and "cornification" don't just make you fat, he warns, but make the soil dangerously thinner (and the water and air worse).

Whether Pollan would be flattered that his critique is being stamped on shake cups to encourage the consumption of more burgers is another question.

And there is the matter of the taste of the burger itself, the leaner (15 percent fat) patties, at $3.59 apiece, are decidedly drier and blander than their fattier, corned-up brethren, rescued by their garnishes - a long list of gratis toppings (ketchup, leaf lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, caramelized onions, Elevation sauce, mayo, balsamic mustard, hot-pepper relish).

This can be viewed, in a certain light, as a badge of honor: Elevation Burger isn't crowing about the best-tasting burger, it's selling the most environmentally responsible burger.

A year ago, a small chain called Goodburger laid loose claim to that mantle, offering "certified, premium Hereford Beef," "naturally and humanely raised," "from small, family-run farms," "in the USA."

You can visit its storefront at 18th and Chestnut Streets, if you wish.

But it's shuttered; sunk, it appears, by high rent, tough competitors (Five Guys is just down the block), and - just maybe - the urge of better-burger eaters to trade up in these lean but still-hungry times.

Banking on that mood, Jose Garces' intimate Village Whiskey set sail last week at 20th and Sansom Streets: It is serving incomparably juicy, loose-packed half-pounders ($9) on buttery, toasted buns; and indulgent, bulked-up versions laden with foie gras (at $24 a burger).

They're not exactly grass-fed ground beef: The steers eat grass and hay to start, then a high-roughage barley diet. The beef comes from an organic farm based on the coast of Maine. But the burgers are larded with more than 20 percent fat - and, of course, sometimes fattened duck liver - proving that, even in the greenest of times, you can never underestimate the appeal of compromised virtue.

Elevation Burger

50 E. Wynnewood Rd.,

Wynnewood; 610-645-7704;


Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.