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Building a Better Burger

Let the North Bay be your oyster as you create a backyard feast

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While there are plenty of North Bay restaurants that do burgers and barbecue very well, summer wouldn't be summer without your own backyard cook-out. You could run to the grocery store for a one-stop shop for all your barbecue needs, but this being the food and drink paradise of North Bay, you can turn your cookout into a showcase of all the great homegrown ingredients the region has to offer.

What follows is our grilling dream team of all the best fixings—meat, cheese, buns, pickles, condiments and even fuel from across the North Bay. We know it's unlikely you'll travel the region to acquire all these provisions, but isn't cool to know you could? Even if you just pick up a few of these signature ingredients and products, you're sure to elevate your grilling game.

Of course, there are more than a few wine and beer choices in the North Bay. We'll leave the part up to you, but do check out James Knight's rundown of barbecue-friendly Zinfandel in this week's Swirl.

So here's to summer, friends and good local food on the grill!

The Meat of the Matter

You have to start with the best, which is why a proper North Bay grill fest must honor the sturdy and multi-platform meat emporium that is Marin Sun Farms. Right out of the gate, the grillable ground beef is consistently leaps and bounds beyond the corporate ground chuck routine, with all of that allowable water content and antibiotic back-bite. Blech. A typical Marin Sun burger, drawn from humane pastures and dales, has hints of sirloin to go with a juicy, bloody disposition that is at once all-natural and viscerally pleasurable.

The Marin Sun Farms corporate philosophy is just right: all their animals are pasture-raised on a local family farm, the cows are lovingly embraced until their last and final date with destiny, and the fat-to-meat ratio is absolutely exquisite when it comes to grillability. The North Bay staple sells chickens and lamb, too, and operates a restaurant and butcher shop in Point Reyes Station and also in Oakland. It's worth noting that the Marin Sun Petaluma abattoir is the only one in the Bay Area, and that ain't no slaughterhouse jive. May the Marin Sun forever shine on your barbecue.

In scenic Tomales, Stemple Creek Ranch has been in the Poncia family for four generations. The beef here is certified organic, grass-fed and grass-finished. For hamburger lovers, gift boxes are ready for purchase online; premade patties supplemented with smoked maple bacon or, if you prefer to ground it yourself, various cuts can be shipped as well. For a face-to-face meat encounter, head to the website to find a list of retailers and farmers markets, many of them in Marin County.

Sebastopol's Green Star Farm is just what you want it to be: a diversified, pasture-based operation on several rolling acres overseen by conscientious farmers Sarah Silva and Marc Felton. The pigs, goats, chicken and sheep live a good life, while a pair of on-point cattle dogs keep any of the critters from straying too far. Pasture-based means just that—the animals scratch, forage and root about as they were born to do. No cages here. You'll find Green Star's stuff at the Sebastopol farmers market and Andy's Market; for extra convenience, there is Green Star meat subscription—a box of protein delivered to your door throughout California or available at five pick-up locations in Sonoma County. Feeding a crowd? Whole animal available for sale. Go whole hog!

Hamburger Buns

San Rafael's Bordenave's bakery celebrated its 100th anniversary this year, marking its 1918 inception by French immigrant Frank Bordenave. Originally, Bordenave was exclusively into French-style sourdough, but with the years, the bakery's selection has grown to include hamburger and hot dog buns, croissants and different pastries. While a good portion of its business is wholesale, the storefront supplies the customers with pillowy, soft hamburger buns that make perfect bookends for sophisticated hamburgers. There's onion, seeded brioche, multi-seed and even whole wheat, plus your old-school plain.

Seems like no matter we go these days, Ray's Delicatessen and Tavern in Petaluma keeps popping up as the place with the soft-inside, kind-of-crunchy-outside rolls, baked on-site and, not coincidentally, known as a Ray's Roll on the menu. Ray's has been around since grandpa met Douglas MacArthur on a bomb-cratered Micronesian airstrip—which is to say it's been in business since 1946.

The joint has hole-in-the-wall appeal in Petaluma, and the menu is chocked with sandos loaded down with local ingredients and juicy meats—Reubens, Rachels, corned beef. You need a sturdy roll to stand up to a proper Reuben, and Ray's has bragging rights. The funny thing about Ray's is that the only burger on the menu is a veggie burger slathered with a pesto Aioli. Skip the sawdust patty, can we get a tub of that to go?


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