The burger: Granted, the "Moroccan" slider at Arcane Kitchen, a newish food truck that’s just hit the mean streets of downtown Minneapolis, isn’t technically a burger. But it bears two primary burger components — ground beef, and a bun — so I’m making allowances for this installment of Burger Friday. Plus, it’s terrific.
Not that chef/co-owner Lucas Ballweber isn’t fluent in Burgerese. “When we do a brick-and-mortar restaurant, we’ll definitely have burgers on the menu,” he said. Initially, the truck offered a beef patty slider. “But it was tough to execute,” he said. “The ticket was seven to eight minutes — because you’re cooking a raw patty — when everything else on the menu is a two- to three-minute item.”
Enter the Sloppy Joe-style sandwich, one that stands apart by calling upon North African accents.
The meat is a 50-50 mix of ground lamb and beef. It was originally a 100 percent lamb formula. “But people weren’t into the gaminess of it,” said Ballweber. “So we cut it with an 80/20 blend of certified Angus beef. The gaminess isn’t there, but the lamb flavor remains.”
The finely ground meat mix is cooked, low and slow, to achieve maximum tenderness. The fat is drained off, and then the real fun begins: in goes fire-roasted tomatoes, a bit of red wine and a warming, deeply fragrant seasoning blend that calls upon paprika, turmeric, cardamom, clove, allspice, cinnamon and ginger. It’s a “burger” that triggers the salivation process through the nose.
The toppings are spot-on. Raita, a mild cucumber-yogurt sauce (“It’s like an Indian tzatziki sauce,” said Ballweber) dispels any thoughts of dryness, and its cool temperature is a pleasant contrast to the piping-hot ground meat, Fried onions add a slight, welcome saltiness and plenty of quiet crunch.
As for the bun, it’s a King’s Hawaiian, those soft, fluffy, tea biscuit-size sliders that have more than a hint of sweetness. They’re served in sets of three — the shape is more hoagie than slider — and they get the buttered/toasted treatment.
Ballweber serves the Moroccan with a fork, and with good reason; this is one cumbersome sandwich. Turns out, that fork is also a perfect-solution kind of implement. “I grew up in North Dakota, so I like hot dish, I like mushy food,” he said. “So that’s how I eat the Moroccan. I break it up with a fork, and eat it like hot dish.”
Regarding the Moroccan’s major shortcoming, Ballweber is more than aware, thank you very much. “It’s the ugliest thing on our menu,” he said with a laugh. “It’s hideous, you can’t take a good picture of it. But it’s delicious.” Exactly.
The Arcane Kitchen back story: Ballweber’s first restaurant job was at a Greek cafe in Breckenridge, Minn. “I just fell in love with it, with the whole pirate atmosphere of it.” That experience led to culinary school in Minneapolis, and a mentor: Philip Dorwart, who was running Tryg’s. That led to leadership roles at the Edina Grill, the Lowry and a summertime private chef gig on media magnate Stanley Hubbard’s boat.
Arcane’s two-truck operation began last year, after Ballweber and his wife, Emily Hanily, both quit their jobs and jumped into self-employment. “We started it with the idea that we wanted to be more flexible with our family life,” said Ballweber. “Ownership is the only way to come close in this industry to having time to yourself. For an entrepreneur, it’s a natural progression, taking that jump. It’s going really well.”
They started small, focusing first on the Waconia market. “We wanted to get our feet settled in the stirrups, so to speak,” said Ballweber. “We started with a big, complex menu, and it was a disaster.” Eventually, they mastered the formula, focusing on a tightly edited mix of tacos and sliders (and cake pops, a smart food truck dessert option). “That’s when we decided to make the leap into the big leagues and give it a shot in downtown Minneapolis,” he said.
The plan is that one of the couple’s two trucks will cater to visitors to J. Carver Distillery in Waconia on Friday and Saturday evenings (with Sunday service to follow), and to the downtown Minneapolis lunch set, Tuesday through Friday.
“That’s provided that we can get a parking spot,” Ballweber said with a laugh. “That’s the crazy part. It’s a rat race. There’s this anger and frustration in everyone’s eyes as all the trucks try to get a parking spot. It’s cutthroat. But the weird thing is that, once you get parked, everyone is really friendly.”
Where he burgers: “I love burgers,” said Ballweber. “Hoppers Bar & Grill in Waconia has the greasiest, most delicious burgers, ever. Going toward the Cities, I like the Rock Elm Tavern in Plymouth. They have a burger with roasted mushrooms, MontAmore cheese [a Wisconsin-made, Parmesan-inspired cheese] and a walnut aioli that’s really, really good. Lions Tap, Matt’s Bar, it’s hard to pick my favorites. There are so many good burgers out there.”
Address book: Track the truck’s whereabouts on Twitter, @ArcaneKitchen.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.