By Kim Fuller Published in the Vail Daily
If you’re the best at what you do, then you’re inarguably an expert at it. That’s chef Christopher McKenzie’s intention behind the name and concept of Expert Burger. With an established location in Eagle and a new space just opened in Vail, McKenzie is well on his way to setting new standards of burger excellence.
This is McKenzie’s third restaurant opening in the Vail Valley within several years. He started with ramen-driven Nudoru in West Vail, in 2014, and then Expert Burger in Eagle, in 2015. Now, the Expert Burger has launched in Lionshead Village has had a custom, kitchen-ready build out with a new west-facing outdoor patio.
Veteran Expert Burger customers can expect all the service and ingredient impeccability they experienced in Eagle, and first-time eaters should get ready for a delicious introduction.
“Everything we do is thoughtful,” said McKenzie, who conceived the idea for Expert Burger more than a decade ago. “We buy certified-humane, never-ever beef, which is never inoculated, so it’s better than hormone-free, antibiotic-free, because it never got hormones or antibiotics, so it’s in a totally different classification of beef.”
In an industry where the purchase-to-sale margin is already pretty challenging for profit, McKenzie said he is committed to toeing the line when it comes to quality beef, buns and more.
“I can tell you the name of the guy who makes my buns,” he said. “And we do all GMO-free sodas through Rocky Mountain Soda Co., so it’s all no high-fructose corn syrup, with no artificial colors of flavors.”
Just believe it when you try it. The grape soda is not purple because grape juice isn’t purple; the lemon-lime is kind of cloudy because it had real lemon and lime juice in it.
McKenzie’s ingredient ethos runs throughout the menu. The turkey patties offered are ground in-house.
“We don’t buy the ground turkey because when you buy ground turkey it’s all the crud — that’s why they grind it up, so you don’t know what it is,” he said. “We buy whole, fresh, hormone-free and antibiotic-free turkey breast, and we grind it ourselves.”
Fish is on the menu, too, but only wild-caught Alaskan salmon.
The homemade brioche buns McKenzie swoons over are treated with full respect. Each is toasted with a special bun toaster that heats a bun’s top and bottom at different temperatures.
“When people come into a chef-driven restaurant, they want to have expert ingredients,” said McKenzie, who has worked in restaurants from every angle — from pastry to prep grill and expo to management and ownership. “They want things to be executed properly, and it just all comes together here.”
Take a moment to look around the new 20-seat restaurant in west Lionshead Village and you’ll notice the Colorado love and a general nod to ski towns all around the world. Sit at a high-top window seat and eat off a Weston Snowboard, or out on the patio, which was milled from a beetle-kill tree — a state-born lodgepole pine.
Vail is honored with the Blue Sky burger, served with Gorgonzola, thick-cut bacon and blue cheese dressing. Or take a bite of Steamboat with the Sunny Side, served with bacon, egg, white American cheese and ranch. A taste of Italy is available too, as the Dolomite brings truffle aioli to the table, as well as caramelized onion and bacon.
“The entry-level burger is the Cat Track, ’cause that’s where everybody learns to ski or snowboard,” McKenzie said.
The restaurant has a full liquor license, so you can wash down each bite with a local beer, glass of wine or hand-mixed adult beverage. Simplicity is the goal with this, so if you want a Jack and Coke, then you’ll get whiskey in a glass with ice and then head to the Rocky Mountain Soda Co. machine to add your own flavored bubbles and squeeze of lime.
McKenzie’s goal with the Expert Burger restaurants is to instill purposeful consumption into the beef-eating industry and to leave you coming back for more, over and over again.
“I said from the beginning that I have two goals in this concept,” he shared. “If I can turn the dial on the beef industry, just in this state, that would be a goal.”
He said he also wants to be a Colorado equivalent to In-N-Out Burger, a popular chain with many high-traffic locations in the west.
“We want for people to say, ‘Oh, you’re going to Colorado, do not leave without hitting an Expert Burger,'” he said.
Expert Burger in Vail will have some additions that the Eagle location hasn’t seen, including morning service with breakfast beverages and sandwiches, along with the entire burger menu for those who need a fix.
The restaurant is still working with adjusting its hours of operation to be just right, but McKenzie said “8 a.m. to late” is what they will be working with for now.
For more information, visit http://www.expertburger.com, or stop in to the Lionshead Village location for your own taste test.