The burger: For 75 years, Mickey’s Diner has been short-ordering its way into the lives of St. Paul downtowners on a 24/7/365 basis. What a track record! That we-never-close mentality is a priceless urban amenity that’s sorely lacking in downtown Minneapolis, although that deficiency might come to an end, soon.
The Nicollet Diner, a newcomer now lighting up the corner of 15th St. and Nicollet Av. on the southern edge of downtown Minneapolis, is applying for a 24-hour license. There’s a hearing at Minneapolis City Hall on Sept. 23 at 1:30 p.m.; here’s hoping it passes.
In the meantime, there are burgers to be had. Many, many burgers. “They are infinitely customizable,” said my enthusiastic server, pointing out the nearly two-dozen available mix-and-match add-ons to the basic burger structure. Some of those embellishments are gratis (lettuce, onions, dill pickles), others invoke a 75-cent surcharge (fried egg, sour cream, avocado, basil pesto, tomato, and, in what is perhaps a first for me, pineapple).
I asked my server what he prefers. “Avocado, bacon and a fried egg is my personal favorite,” he replied. Sounds delicious, but my cheapskate self stuck with the freebies,which included thin-sliced red onions that had spent some time mellowing on the stove, a crisp lettuce leaf and dill pickles, cut lengthwise along the cucumber, rather than as chips.
There’s a choice of six cheeses, and while the menu isn’t clear on this front, they aren’t free; you’ll be hit with a 75-cent surcharge. Fine. But perhaps the Powers That Be could be up front about that; maybe Muenster, smoked Cheddar, Swiss, American and their ilk belong under the menu's “Not Free Stuff” section (note: the menu on the restaurant’s website does note the 75-cent cheese fee).
Anyway. Here’s what’s great about a diner: My burger arrived in six minutes. The bun (again, there are choices, wheat or white; I opted for the latter, because, apparently, I’m as white bread as they come) was pleasantly soft and lightly toasted, a fine vehicle for delivering the remaining burger basics.
The patty is obviously hand-formed, and big enough so that it hugs the bun's outer edges. It's fairly thick, cooked to a uniform, slightly pink medium and allowed to developed a gentle exterior char, and it’s got enough juice to demonstrate that it did not hail from frozen ground beef. It’s not promising more than exactly what it is: a straightforward diner burger, thoughtfully treated and sold at a commensurate price. I’ll be back.
Price: $5.95 for a basic, a more-than decent deal.
Fries: Extra ($3.95 and $4.95), and a miss; mine arrived noticeably greasy and over-fried. The chocolate malt ($4.95), however, was right on the money, its plentiful leftovers served, just as they should be, in their frost-covered can. More reasons to admire: The kitchen seems blissfully unaware of the existance of Reddi-wip and those verging-on-plastic maraschino cherries that send far too many malts and shakes into ruination. Hurrah. Like the burger, my malt was not trying to be anything it’s not – no frozen custard, no designer ice cream (it’s Kemps), no molecular gastronomy-inspired flavors – just a soda fountain-style favorite, mixed in a flash and wonderfully cold and creamy and easily consumed with a straw. By comparison, why do people put up with those soft-serve so-called “malts” at fast-food joints?
Good morning: The kitchen just lifted its 11 a.m. closing curtain on breakfast, and is now serving its pancakes-omelets-French toast menu all day. And, hopefully, if all goes well on at that hearing on the 23rd, all night, too.
Address book: 1428 Nicollet Av. S., Minneapolis, 612-339-6258 (that's 339-MALT, naturally). Open 6 am. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peach season is in full swing (I spied this beauties -- direct from Coloma, Mich. -- on Saturday, at the East Town Market in Milwaukee). Take advantage with this can't-miss cobbler recipe. I've never made a better one.
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: From Williams-Sonoma.
1 1/4 c. flour
1/3 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
7 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. very cold water
3 lb. peaches, peeled, pitted and each cut into 8 slices
1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. granulated sugar, divided
1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. firmly packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten
Vanilla ice cream for serving
To prepare dough: In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine flour, sugar and salt and pulse just to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal, with butter pieces no larger than small peas.
In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolk, vanilla and cold water. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and pulse just until dough pulls together; do not overmix.
Transfer dough to a work surface, pat into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
To prepare cobbler: When ready to bake, preheat an oven to 425 degrees.
In a large bowl, stir together peaches, 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. granulated sugar, the brown sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and nutmeg. Transfer to a 2-quart rectangular baking dish and scatter butter pieces on top.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out cobbler dough to a ¼-inch thickness. Tear dough into 3-inch pieces and place on top of peach filling. Brush dough with beaten egg and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
Bake cobbler for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF and bake until topping is browned, 50 to 60 minutes more.
The burger: There’s no question that Crema Cafe, the home of Sonny's Ice Cream, serves a fine burger. But in a step-away-from-the-script moment here at Burger Friday, let’s pay homage to the menu’s Sloppy Ron.
The name is a nod to chef/co-owner Ron Siron. His version of the Sloppy Joe is a joy to behold, a 50/50 mix of premium ground beef (hailing, as so many top-notch burgers do, from Peterson Limousin Farms in Osceola, Wis.) and pork (from that shining star of all things pork, Fischer Family Farms Pork in Waseca, Minn.), a rich composition held together by a thickly simmered tomato sauce that Siron seasons with a secret spice combination.
Unlike the Sloppy Joe of your high school cafeteria, the Sloppy Ron boasts a nuanced bit of heat at the back of each bite, and that robust tomato-based sauce hits just the right consistency: not so thick that it isn’t sloppy, but not so runny that it doesn’t keep all that delicious ground beef and pork together.
Siron liberally spoons that meaty goodness over a toasted brioche bun that's so expertly made that it could have only come from Rustica. “It’s the same bun we use with our burgers,” said Siron. “It’s kind of weird, because if you get a regular white bun – which I like – they tend to fall apart. But the brioche bun holds the Sloppy Ron and the burgers better. It’s nice and buttery, and they toast really well.”
Yes, they do. As for garnishes, there’s a garden-fresh lettuce leaf and a few nicely vinegar-ey pickles, and that’s it. Not that this meal-in-a-bun needs anything else.
Price: $7.95, a bargain.
Fries: None. Splurge and order the side salad, a thoughtful pile of just-picked organic greens, expertly dressed in a basic and utterly satisfying vinaigrette. It’s well worth the $2.95 investment.
More than ice cream: Siren started serving food at his ice cream shop nearly a decade ago. “We want to make it like a European cafe, with wine and beer and good local food,” he said. “That’s a big buzz word, local, but that’s the way we eat. And when you come in, that’s the way you’ll eat. It’s just good, honest, wholesome food. I’m not Thomas Keller. I’m all about comfort food. Carrie [Gustafson, Siron’s business and life partner] calls me an Italian grandma, because I want to feed everybody and get them fat.”
Coming soon: Siron is going to introduce a vegetarian version of the Sloppy Ron. “We’ll probably start it this fall,” he said.
Meanwhile, at the scoop case: Siron recently began producing gelato: chocolate-hazelnut, brown butter-cashew, vanilla bean and other, gotta-try excursions into frozen creaminess. “The techniques are very different from making ice cream,” he said. “Our old ice cream machines are like bulldozers, really heavy duty. Our gelato machine is like a Ferrari. It doesn’t even sound like a machine. It hums and whistles. It’s fun, and the freshness of the milk and the cream reminds me of the old days, when Sonny [Siron’s late father, and the Sonny of Sonny’s Ice Cream] and I used to make our own bases. I’m turning 60 on Sunday – I thought I’d die before I got old – but I have literally been making ice cream for 50 years.”
One last thought: The cafe's alley-like patio is the epitome of romantic. Take advantage while the weather still cooperates.
Address book: 3403 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls. The Sloppy Ron is available 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at email@example.com
Just as the weather is starting to turn cool, Parka is going away.
I'm bummed (selfishly, the restaurant isn't far from my house, and its under-the-radar breakfast menu is one of the Twin Cities' loveliest) by the news. "I am, too," said co-owner Greg Hoyt. “But not enough people are rewarding us for what we do."
The space isn't going dark. Hoyt & Co. are rebranding it as a Dogwood Coffee bar, and it will feature a full line of the company's trademark carefully-prepared brewed beverages, along with Rustica pastries, sweets and sandwiches.
Parka’s last meals will be served on Sept. 21, and the space will close for a week for renovations.
“We want to give it more of a coffeehouse feel,” said Hoyt. One major change will be placing a wall to cover the now-open kitchen. Hoyt said the facility will probably be repurposed as a Rustica baking site. "They're just bursting at the seams," he said.
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