Walking up to The new Filling Station Co. in New Canaan last weekend, you would have thought they were giving away free food. Lines of families snaked through the tight burger joint, all eager to sample the long awaited kid and price-friendly fare. But the huddled masses were not just here for a bargain priced burger. The Filling Station, with it's retro-modern street appeal, has a value proposition that is hard to beat for consumers who care about the food they eat. Everything served at The Filling Station is organic, grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone free. Let me tell you, devouring hamburgers, dogs, and shakes has never felt so right. For some parents (myself included), this is the holy-grail and reason enough to travel for a fun for the whole family meal, but I needed to sample the goods before I was sold. With the prospect of comparing these grass-fed burgers to those of the competition, we entered en masse with a party of 6.
The menu at The Filling Station is simple: burgers, veggie burgers (actually falafel..and they're good), sloppy joes, and hot dogs in three varieties (beef, chicken or veggie). To compliment your "entree" there are free and premium toppings along with crinkle fries, thick creamy shakes, wine and beer. As I said...fun for the WHOLE family.
Entering this cozy storefront, you'll notice that the focus of the Station's small 20 seat dining space is the open kitchen. This gives transparency to the cooking process (nothing to hide here) while also providing entertainment for hungry children. Due to the tight quarters, be prepared to wait for a table in peak hours.
As you saunter up to the counter, you should know that it takes one round of ordering to understand the order process at The Filling Station…The concept is "stay with your food." If you feel confused at first don't fret. By my second cheeseburger run I had it down. Here's the deal.
1. Order your grass fed burger, sloppy joe, or nitrate free hot dog with the cook behind the gigantic "George Forman style" grills, and watch as he tosses a round ball of meat, falafel or split dog under the heat. This amazing double sided cooking method can grill a burger in 1 minute, veggie burger in 30 seconds. This quick cook time keeps the meat juicy and minimizes complaints from the kids who are ready to eat. 2. Follow your food to the Toppings Bar where you will find premium toppings including station chili, crunchy fried onions, homemade apple braised sauerkraut, and the station cheese sauce, a decadent mixture of warm extra sharp cheddar, dijon mustard, hot sauce, and cream. Free toppings range from caramelized onions, 3 kinds of mustard, BBQ sauce, and creamy horseradish sauce. 3. Add some fries and shakes to complete the meal, and whip out your cash because there are no credit cards here.
On our first visit, the group managed to eat most of the menu. Here is how it went down:
We started with the station burger, a 3 oz beef burger with classic American cheese, station sauce, lettuce and tomato. The burger was cooked to a perfect medium, still juicy from the quick stint on the grill, and at $4.35, a good deal for grass-fed beef. You can debate all you want, but grass-fed beef just plain tastes better than grain fed, plus it's leaner, lower is saturated fats, and higher in Omega 3 and antioxidants. If this doesn't get you excited, the station sauce that came dripping off this burger will give you a reason enough to get in your car. A zesty blend of mayonnaise, chipotle (one of my favorite ingredients), Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and seasonings make this a mandatory add-on. As I sat there comparing notes with my fellow diners, someone from a neighboring table leaned over and offered "I love the station burger. It's all about the sauce." Nestled in a classic old school toasted white bun with a nice chewy mouthfeel, this burger was a solid starter.
Moving on to opposite side of the spectrum, my next sample was the veggie burger with caramelized onions. This was perhaps the most unexpected surprise of the meal as fast food veggie burgers often arrive in the form of a bland frozen soy puck. The Filling Station has opted for a wonderfully conceived falafel burger, a thin well seasoned patty of grilled, not fried, ground chick peas with just the right kick. Tell the Toppings Bar crew to go easy on the ketchup and mustard as it can overwhelm the flavor of the falafel. They do come thin, so I recommend the double if you're hungry.
At this point my husband re-entered the line to order milk shakes, and I took advantage of his exodus to finish off the last of his station dog. These come in beef, chicken, or veggie (all nitrate-free may I remind you), with apple braised sauerkraut, cheese sauce, and Dijon mustard. I have to admit, I do love a good hot dog, but those toppings sounded dubiously diverse. As it turned out, while my kids dogs were a little over-cooked, the station dog had a blanket of condiment heaven that really was uniquely sweet, rich and delicious. The creamy cheese sauce, slightly spicy mustard, and sweet fermented cabbage worked together in a way I wouldn't have imagined.
The organic fries were crinkle cut, well cooked with a crunchy exterior and moist soft potato inside, but lacked the same character that the rest of the menu displayed. The chili cheese fries sported a simple and flavorful chili with no hint of spiciness such that the kids could enjoy it without complaining of excessive heat. The aforementioned cheese sauce provided a nice layer of creaminess over the fries. I should note that we enjoyed this same chili on a burger which gave added richness and depth to the main attraction. You will also find this chili in your sloppy joe if you choose to go that route, but as the chili was on the "looser" side we opted for less laundry and steered clear.
If you've left the topping station and still require a condiment fix, you can use the self-service Mustard Bar. This multi pump array of honey, Dijon, spicy brown, and yellow mustard allows the diner to customize an entree to suit their needs. It was a nice touch.
As one diner in our party made it through his second burger, we noted a little inconsistency in the caramelized onions, which came out at different size cuts and varying doneness, but we chalked that up to opening week.
The milk shakes (available in vanilla, chocolate and strawberry) arrived with great excitement and everyone savored the super thick hormone and antibiotic -free desserts that almost required spoons. They were darn good.
The 6 of us shuffled out full and satisfied, all in agreement that The Filling Station is a welcome entry in the fast food burger scene. The menu goes beyond the standard burger joint with its "gourmet" takes on classic sauces and toppings as well as interesting touches like the falafel veggie burger. We hope more fast food venues embrace The Filling Station's commitment to using organic local and healthy ingredients. We're also crossing our fingers that owners Nick Type and Seth Leifer get their permits for outdoor seating in time for Summer.
The Filling Station Co. 19 South Avenue, New Canaan. 203.966.4404