Like many expectant and well-trained omnivores with carnivorous bents, I'm sniffing the air every day for signs that much-adored Santa Fe chef Brian Knox's new lowbrow, high-quality burger stand has opened. I'll be sniffing the air for another few months before the sweet scent of perfectly cooked burgers—culled from grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef—tussles in the air with the smell of seared chile and house-brined pickles. My anxiousness aside, the Cerrillos Road project, Shake Foundation, is going ahead full steam.
In addition to the above add-ons, Knox plans to offer a stupefying—if well-curated—selection of burger toppings, which include sea salt butter, aioli, pork belly, fresh farm egg and whipped lardo. Um…yes, please to the gentleman who, I believe, just said I can order my burger topped with whipped lardo. That's the kind of whorish excess I appreciate in a chef.
But whorish excess isn't exactly Knox's stock in trade. As the owner and chef of Aqua Santa, he's considered more of a deft hand—a minimalist who creates opportunities for fresh foods and natural flavors to speak for themselves, rather than peddling gimmickry and hubris.
Had Knox lost his touch, maybe suffered a blow to the head, or become a burnout lardo junkie in search of a way to feed his skanky, mouth-watering habit? I had to check.
Ready to be disappointed, I was pleased—but not surprised—to find that Knox is still quietly, if not quite modestly, kicking ass at Aqua Santa. First off, anyone who has ever been to Aqua Santa raves about the bread, and there's a damn good reason. Fresh baked in-house, it's consistently perfect with an almost burnt, rugged exterior and a smooth, voluptuous, never-gooey interior.
Starters were the usual coy mouth tease, just as they're meant to be. If the tuna tartare merges with the burrata in my mind, especially texturally, forgive me—it's just the way I recall things.
I also tried a Meyer-lemony branzino over escarole, surrounded by clams and dusted with mint, which made me moan in a way that was clearly uncomfortable for the pony-tailed fashion plate at the next table. Er, sorry, but I hate seafood, and I just had a sexually awakening experience with this slab of fish—sue me. In respect to my carnivorous brethren, I also had a pork chop slathered in mole. At one point, I had pretensions about how it could be improved upon but, when I looked down again, it was gone—evidence that speaks for itself.
Those who would be shocked by the price I paid to pleasure myself at Aqua Santa will be heartened to learn the most basic burger at Shake Foundation is expected to cost approximately $3.50. A green chile cheeseburger (including lettuce and tomato) will hopefully run $4.50. Grilled onions and, say, whipped lardo will add $1.50 each. Hand-cut fries, green chile cheese fries or buttermilk onion rings will be priced separately. Vegetarians can choose from a grilled cheese or a portobello burger. Locavore fans of delicious, flavorful meats can opt for the Shepherd's Lamb burger.
With a name like Shake Foundation, you can be sure there's an alarming and addictive slate of shakes, custards, sundaes and even cones on offer (including a triple-dipped cone). And with planned custard flavors such as Velarde peach, Mora raspberries and natillas y biscochito, I think we can pretty much expect a line out the door.