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Cheap Eats: Burger City

Pamela Traficanti (left) and Mary Meade enjoy lunch at Burger City, a downtown joint that's part of a nonprofit arts organization.

Pamela Traficanti (left) and Mary Meade enjoy lunch at Burger City, a downtown joint that's part of a nonprofit arts organization.

What: Burger City

Address and phone: 47 N. Sixth Ave., 903-0919

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays

What was ordered: JL Hooker City burger ($6.75), MX Border City burger ($6.75) and two fountain drinks ($1.50 each) for a total of $17.84 including tax, well within our Cheap Eats goal of a meal for two for less than $20.

Comments: Tig Collins has done it again.

The executive director of ArtFare, a nonprofit organization that provides studio and exhibition space for performing and visual artists and arts programming and workshops for children and adults, Collins is an unstoppable one-woman force in redeveloping downtown.

Despite the fact that ArtFare isn’t one of those favored organizations that gets rent for $1 from the city or Rio Nuevo funding, Collins and ArtFare have transformed a three-block stretch of Sixth Avenue north of Congress Street from what was a gloomy, largely vacant eyesore into a bustling little menagerie of activity. The newest addition to ArtFare’s enterprise is Burger City, formerly a short-lived diner and later an even shorter-lived pizza joint.

What Collins has been able to achieve at Burger City – with the help of a few savvy restaurant people she’s reluctant to name – is a uniquely casual yet up-tempo eatery that’s pulling in equal numbers of suits, bohemians and every other demographic. Burger City has the kind of buzz and verve that the downtown development brain trust promises yet never seems able to deliver.

Though she’s tight-lipped about the details, Collins divulged that Burger City is functioning as a nonprofit test bed for what the restaurant partners plan to develop as a franchise.

It’s a ridiculously simple yet clever formula – a narrowly focused concept that takes advantage of ArtFare’s considerable wealth of starving artists, who helped decorate the place and staff it, and many of whom live upstairs in the historic building.

The menu has a dozen burgers (though the Mem’fis City is currently unavailable because of the peanut butter debacle), a grilled veggie sandwich, corn on the cob, fries and sweet potato fries.

On our last visit, we went with the JL Hooker City and the MX Border City burgers. There is nothing on the menu bragging on the burgers with terms like Kobe, Angus, Silver City or otherwise, but they’re plenty good, cooked to order, and served on fresh rolls from Viro’s Bakery.

The Hooker City featured crispy prosciutto, blue cheese and beer-battered onion strings. The pungent cheese held sway, but was nicely complemented by the salty prosciutto and sweet onions. The Border City teamed a Queso Fresco, tomato, lettuce and a smear of refried beans with a spicy seasoning blend. These aren’t gigantic burgers, and they don’t jump off the plate with aggressive flavor profiles. Their unique toppings impress in a way that makes them easy to enjoy but don’t overwhelm the fresh ground sirloin and chuck.

A nice little touch here is the Pickle Bar, which offers a half-dozen types of pickles, and includes pickled cauliflower, beets and an interesting offering of sliced radishes in a creamy marinade. Also of note are the hand-cut sweet potato fries, which were prepared to notably precise pommes-frites standards.

If you’re like me, one gourmet burger here will pique your curiosity to come back to try a different one. On my short list are the Zorba, which features tomato, feta, tapenade and spring mix greens; the Hass, with tomato and avocado salad, white cheddar and toasted Panko crumbs; and the Abruzzo, a meatball patty with marinara, mozzarella and Grana Padano.

All proceeds from Burger City benefit ArtFare, and if the buzz keeps building here (and there’s not reason to think it won’t), the organization’s artists might not qualify as starving in the time it takes Rio Nuevo to come out with its umpteenth modified development plan.

Service: Tableside service was friendly and prompt. This is the kind of comfortable hangout that almost makes you wish the servers weren’t quite so fast or your lunch break wasn’t quite so short.

Bar: no

Children’s menu: no

Web site: artfare.wordpress.com/burger-city-menu

Most recent health inspection: Passed opening inspection in December. Has yet to undergo first unannounced inspection.

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