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Burger Friday: Brothers Deli serves up a side of Mpls. history

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: February 28, 2015 - 7:16 AM

The burger: Jeff Burstein has always had a burger on his menu at his 22-year-old Brothers Deli, but lately he has been (no pun intended) beefing up the burger selection. “We’re selling more burgers than ever,” he said. “I guess everything comes around.”

Last month, he and his crew started a burger-of-the-month special, and their first outing has been such a success that they’ve kept it on the menu. (Be on the lookout for the next iteration, what Burstein is labeling his “steakhouse” burger. Translation: A patty seasoned with a house-made steak sauce.)

All Brothers burgers start the same way: 51/2 oz. of loosely formed ground chuck that dashed with that lifelong friend of the backyard grill, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. The patties are cooked on flattop, retaining a fairly soft, pink interior and a barely charred exterior surface and plenty of juice. It’s one of those patties that kind of melts in your mouth.

The bun is a soft, eggy thing from Main Street Bakery, buttered and slightly toasted.

Where this month’s special – dubbed the Shack Burger – diverges from its plain-Jane compatriots is in its toppings.  

The combination is basically a heart attack waiting to happen, and utterly irresistible to a junk-food fanatic like yours truly. Nothing is skimped upon, either: sautéed mushrooms, thick-cut (and teasingly smoky) bacon and a crispy flurry of battered and fried onions, a blanket of Cheddar cheese, they all get the pile-on treatment. What’s not to love, right? (True confessions: While I was eating it, with a knife and fork because it was beyond sloppy, I made myself stop at the halfway point, as I could hear the voice of every doctor on every TV show saying, everything, in moderation).

The sauce hits all the proper sweet-salty-tangy notes. Like everything at the Brothers, it’s steeped in history, dating to a mid-1960s visit that Burstein’s father Leonard made to southern California, and a sauce he encountered at the famous Hamburger Hamlet chain. Burstein calls it “Shack Sauce,” and it’s a tasty blend of mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, garlic powder and coarsely chopped pickles.

Oh, I almost forgot. When it comes to the noon hour, Burstein & Co. understand that time is of the essence. My burger arrived in four minutes flat, and piping hot. Perfect.

Price: $8.99. That includes a trip to the first-rate salad bar, heaped with potato salad, coleslaw, pickled herring, bread pudding and more. Truly, a deal.

Fries: Included. They’re thick, skin-on, house-cut things, and my only complaint is that they landed just this side of greasy.

Dessert: As in, save room for. Nothing comes even close to fancy, but for skyway denizens bored senseless by the drab sweets sold in second-story fast-food establishments, the homey, butter-drenched cookies and bars at the Brothers are a revelation. Of particular note are the brownies, a marvel of dense, cakey, chocolaty goodness topped with a generous swipe of creamy cocoa frosting (Burstein said that the recipe hails from a long-ago Sears catalog). Oh, and the popovers are not to be missed.

Love thy neighbor: In the you’ve-gotta-love-this department, what’s great about the Brothers is its caution-to-the-wind (and highly un-Minnesotan) sense of personal space. During the busy lunch rush, diners – and these are people who, shock of shocks, may not know one another -- are crowded together, elbow to elbow. And they live to tell the tale. It’s the original community table, and in this cramped, animated setting, it works.

A taste of Minneapolis: It may not be readily apparent – the restaurant’s current location opened in 2000 – but grabbing a quick-service breakfast or lunch at the Brothers Deli is also indulging in a big, flaky kolache of Minneapolis history.

I’m old enough (and, frankly, peculiar enough) to remember not one but two jingles from old Brothers Deli commercials, or a reasonable facsimile of them, anyway: “Kibitz means talk, nosh means eat, nosh at the Brothers, a true deli treat." And, “The Brothers’ coffee and pie. The Brothers’ pastrami on rye. When you’re downtown or you’re in the Dales a Brothers dinner never fails to brighten up your day. The Brothers brighten your day.”

The Star Tribune is moving from its 95-year-old building next month, and the thought of leaving this sprawling, inefficient and beloved dump is making me very nostalgic. One of my favorite rooms in this crazy old structure is the clip morgue. You practically need a Sherpa guide to find it, tucked into a barely-trafficked chunk of the gloomy basement (where the presses were once housed), a dusty and little-used haven piled high with shelf after shelf of little green and gold envelopes, each one containing carefully snipped, labeled, dated and archived newspaper clippings, filed under thousands and thousands of subject headings. The earliest seem to date from the 1950s, and they all pretty much end in the mid-1980s, when the process went digital.  

Grabbing a burger at the Brothers sent me straight to the morgue. It took a while – the filing system is something of a mystery to me – but I persevered, and discovered clips. Many fragile clips, all neatly folded into 3x5 paper envelopes. I’m guessing they haven’t been opened since the clips were filed, decades ago.

Here’s what I found:

The Burstein family – starting with Mike and Dora -- got into the restaurant business in 1939. Dora Sudit and Mike Burstein met in 1914, onboard a ship from Russia bound for the United States. A friendship grew into love, and they married in Minneapolis.

“‘Mike shoveled coal first,’ recalled Dora Burstein, explaining how her young husband earned his living while he learned English,” wrote Minneapolis Star staff writer Ann Burckhardt in a July 5, 1978 story.

Mike’s Cafe specialized in Jewish home cooking and catered to the theater crowd. Mike had also been a chef at the Minneapolis Athletic Club when he opened his first place at 21 N. 6th St. (now Mayo Clinic Square, formerly known as Block E) in 1938. The restaurant moved a block away -- 11 N. 7th St. -- in 1939, and it catered to the garment workers in the surrounding buildings, as well as the area’s theatrical crowd.

“It was across the street from the old Alvin Theater, a strip joint, and I can remember people like Gypsy Rose Lee and Sally Rand coming in for meals,” said Leonard Burstein in a Minneapolis Star story from the 1970s. “It was a very simple place with a counter, a few booths and some tables.

Mike served in World War II in France, and after the war, the two continued a partnership that lasted until Mike died in 1953. “‘He cooked, I baked,’ Dora Burstein told Burkhardt. He cooked meats and vegetables and sauces; she baked breads and fancy European pastries. The rich knishes and the hefty soups of their Russian Jewish past were daily fare.

“Dora Burstein maintains that it was she who decided they should open their own restaurant,” wrote Burkhardt. “She was counting on the experience they had gained working together at the Standard Club, a private club atop the then Nicollet Hotel. Though Burstein was reluctant to give up a regular paycheck, his wife was persuasive.”

Burckhardt wrote that downtown’s only deli was a hit with visitors and celebrities, but locals were hesitant to try Jewish specialties. “Corned beef sandwiches? Sure. But borscht? Cabbage soup?” she wrote.

Dora’s response: “I educated them with borscht. I talked them into it. Now they love it.”

Dora’s favorite meal? “A good hamburger with a little mustard,” wrote Burkhardt. How fitting for Burger Friday.

Like most (if not all) restaurant-owning families, Mike and Dora’s sons Sam and Leonard – the brothers of the Brothers – got their start early.

“Sam and I started out working there when were about 7 or 8,” recalled Leonard in a 1979 Minneapolis Star profile. “First we did dishes and kitchen prep like washing vegetables. Later on we waited on tables. I was a wonderful waiter. And we learned to cook from our dad and bake from our mother.”

In 1959, six years after Sam and Leonard took over the business, they moved the restaurant a block away, into the arcade in then-new Dayton-Radisson parking ramp. Dayton’s management wasn’t keen on the Mike’s Cafe name, so the Bursteins renamed the business the Brothers. The new 80-seat place was smaller than the old Mike’s, but it did more business on its first day than Mike’s averaged in a week.

"The menu included potted oxtails and cold, pickeled mackerel, items 'that are lost these days,' said Sam, recalling the old days in a 1979 Minneapolis Star story. "'People don't even know what they are anymore.'"

Will Jones, the Tribune’s man about town, made the restaurant the subject of his Nov. 9, 1959 column, and so much of what he has to say still rings true today.

“The chances of finding something imaginative in the way of breakfast downtown have improved with the opening of the Brothers new delicatessen and restaurant in the Dayton Radisson arcade,” he wrote.

“I stopped in there the other morning for my favorite delicatessen breakfast, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, and toasted bagels. Visitors from the east have asked for and got – although it isn’t on the breakfast menu – smoked whitefish and soft-boiled eggs, and schmalz herring.

“Just having a place that will toast a bagel for breakfast in downtown Minneapolis is a real step forward. Working girls in the area have discovered the toasted bagel at coffee-break time, too.

“The Brothers – Leonard and Sam Burstein – are overwhelmed at what has happened to them in the few weeks they have been open.

“‘We used to serve a barrel and half of corned beef a week,’ said Leonard. “Now we’re serving a barrel a day. People come in and say, ‘I’m glad somebody finally has opened a place like this downtown.’ I tell them, ‘But we’ve downtown for 20 years – just a block away.’ It’s amazing what a difference one block makes.”

Jones was all over the desserts: Whipped-cream cakes, chocolate cream pies – “real cream pies, not custard,” he wrote – banana cream pies (“with real whipped cream”), seven-layer cakes.

“‘I’m flabbergasted the way some of these women put away desserts, and I’m flabbergasted that they’ll pay 40 cents for them,’ Leonard said.”

Business boomed. A second restaurant (and bakery), the Brothers Too, opened on the first floor of the Northwestern National Bank building in 1965. A spectacular fire on Thanksgiving Day 1982 closed that restaurant for good.

By 1968, long before Jimmy John’s and Au Bon Pan ruled the downtown skyways, the two Brothers outlets were serving about 4,000 diners a day. A Southdale outlet opened that year. Rosedale soon followed, and a third downtown outlet, in the Midwest Plaza building, appeared in 1971.

Fast-forward to 1979. Sam Leonard and brother Fred were presiding over 11 full-service restaurants, a quick-service counter, four carryout bakery-delis and a commissary kitchen. Annual revenues were roughly $10 million, according to an April 24, 1979 story in the Minneapolis Star. That’s about $33 million in 2015 dollars.

By the late 1970s, the family had opened restaurants in Maplewood Mall and Burnsville Center (a restaurant I recall with great affection; this Burnsville native and his mother and I dined there with some frequency), and was expanding into the West Acres shopping center in Fargo, N.D.

The family sold the business in the early 1980s, and it sputtered to a close under new ownership.

In 1993, with the restaurant business DNA swirling in his bloodstream, Leonard’s son Mike Burstein revived the family business’ name, but tweaked the business into a different format: a counter-service spot on the downtown skyway. It has occupied the same lively Nicollet-and-6th location for the past 15 years.

Address book: 50 S. 6th St., Mpls., 612-341-8007. Open 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

New chef coming to La Belle Vie

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: February 25, 2015 - 11:51 AM

There’s going to be a new chef running the kitchen at La Belle Vie.

Chef/owner Tim McKee has named Shane Oporto as the new chef de cuisine at restaurant, located in the  historic and swank 510 Groveland building.

Oporto (pictured, above, in a provided photo) is currently cooking at another McKee-run property, Libertine. His resume includes stints at Union, Tilia and the former Porter & Frye. Before that, he was a private chef to a high-profile (and unnamed, thanks to non-disclosure agreements) family with a home in the Bahamas, cooking for a long list of bold-face names from the worlds of politics and entertainment.

“Four-star-caliber dining on a yacht, a beach or a helicopter -- whatever the location, or the request, the answer was always ‘yes’— then figure out how to make it happen,” said Oporto in a statement. “That’s possibly the best training for stepping into La Belle Vie.”

Oporto’s first day at LBV is March 19. He’s replacing longtime LBV chef de cuisine Mike DeCamp, who is opening a new Italian restaurant in the Hotel Ivy (the space formerly known as Porter & Frye) with the team behind Borough, Parlour and Coup d’etat.

16 Twin Cities chefs, restaurants, bakers are James Beard Foundation semifinalists

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: February 18, 2015 - 11:55 AM

This weekend’s 87th-annual Academy Awards crowns Hollywood’s endless so-called awards season, but in the food world, the accolades are just beginning. On Wednesday, the James Beard Foundation kicked off its 2015 awards by announcing semifinalists in categories honoring restaurants, bars, chefs, restaurateurs, pastry chefs, bakers, and wine, beer and spirits professionals.

Spoon and Stable is up for Best New Restaurant.

La Belle Vie is in the running for Outstanding Restaurant.

Restaurant Alma  is on the Outstanding Service list.

Kim Bartmann, owner of Barbette, Bryant-Lake Bowl and six other Minneapolis restaurants, is one of 20 candidates for Outstanding Restaurateur.

The foundation is debuting a new awards category in 2015: Outstanding Baker, honoring the creative forces behind retail bakeries. Two Minneapolis bakers are in the running: John Kraus of Patisserie 46 and Steve Horton of Rustica.

Eric Seed, owner of importer Haus Alpenz in Edina (www.alpenz.com), made the cut in Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional.

Nine Twin Citians occupy seven berths in the Best Chef: Midwest category, which honors chefs who “set new or consistent standards of excellence” in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. (The Beards split the country into 10 regions and bestows a Best Chef award in each of them.)

Local semifinalists include Paul Berglund of the Bachelor Farmer, James Winberg, Bob Gerken and Mike Brown of Travail Kitchen and Amusements, Jim Christiansen of Heyday, Doug Flicker of Piccolo, Michelle Gayer of the Salty Tart, Russell Klein of Meritage and Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant.

Find the complete list of semifinalists here.

The Beards, named for author and culinarian James Beard, began in 1990 and are frequently shorthanded to the “Oscars of the food world.”

Semifinalists are the first step in the Beard awards process. On March 24, following a round of balloting (voters including critics, food writers and past chef winners), the foundation will announce nominees (that’s Beard-speak for “finalists,” which translates into the top five vote-getters among semifinalists) in the restaurant and chef categories, along with nominees in the Beard’s cookbook, design and journalism divisions.

A second round of voting follows, and winners in the restaurant and chef categories will be presented their medalions at a gala ceremony on May 4 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the first time in the awards’ 25-year history that the event has taken place outside New York City.   

DeCamp to head new Hotel Ivy restaurant

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: February 6, 2015 - 9:44 AM

The restaurant space inside the Hotel Ivy – formerly known as Porter & Frye, and dark for the past two weeks – is getting a new operator.

Jester Concepts, the fast-growing enterprise behind Borough, Parlour, Coup d’etat and Marche, announced this morning that it is taking over the space and rebranding it as a “coastal Italian” restaurant, along with a lobby bar and low-level cocktail destination.

The company has recruited La Belle Vie chef de cuisine Mike DeCamp to run the kitchen. DeCamp has long been a key figure at the state’s top fine-dining establishment and has worked with La Belle Vie chef Tim McKee for the bulk of his career.

DeCamp was a teenager when he started working at the restaurant’s original Stillwater location in the late 1990s, and after a stint in Chicago he returned to the Twin Cities in 2005 to open La Belle Vie’s posh quarters in the 510 Groveland building in Minneapolis. He has been there ever since, and has been McKee's chef de cuisine for the past eight years.

It will be fascinating (and no doubt delicious) to watch the gifted DeCamp (pictured, above, in the La Belle Vie kitchen in a 2012 Star Tribune file photo) step out on his own after such a long, happy and successful association with McKee, who is once again proving his mettle as a mentor to a new generation of Twin Cities chefs. 

(DeCamp maintains a lively social media presence. If you’re not following him on Twitter, you should be.)

The bar program will be developed by Jester’s Jesse Held and managed by bartender Jeff Erkkila. Michelle Massey, a Bachelor Farmer veteran, is the project’s general manager.

The project – still unnamed – involves a complete makeover of the problematic Porter & Frye space. ESG Architects of Minneapolis is adding a new street entrance and a patio for the restaurant, and is eliminating a large staircase between the dining room and what will become the lower-level cocktail bar.

Porter & Frye’s brief 2008 heyday was the stuff of legend. The chefs working in that talent incubator of a kitchen have gone on to operate some of the Twin Cities’ top restaurants, including Steven Brown (Tilia), Doug Flicker (Piccolo) and Mike Brown and James Winberg (Travail Kitchen and Amusements). Erik Anderson and Jamie Malone both went on to run Sea Change and are now developing Brut.

In the restaurant’s post-Brown era, the kitchen was staffed by Joan Ida (formerly of Goodfellow’s) and Sara Master (now at Barbette).

As for La Belle Vie, DeCamp’s departure is the latest in a year-long string of major players, including barkeep Johnny Michaels (who went on to develop a bar menu for McKee’s Libertine), manager Bill Summerville and pastry chef Diane Yang (both are now gracing Spoon and Stable; Yang was replaced by Niki Francioli, formerly of Brasserie Zentral and Sea Change, and Summerville has been replaced by Matthew Anderson) but turnover is an inevitability in the industry, and it gives restaurant-watchers something to discuss as staff members move on and kitchens, bars and dining rooms evolve.

A late spring opening is planned, just in time to go up against a second downtown Italian newcomer, Il Foro, the remake of the Forum Cafeteria space.

New restaurants headed to Ridgedale

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: February 2, 2015 - 10:57 AM

When the Twin Cities’ second Nordstrom opens on Oct. 2 at Ridgedale in Minnetonka, the store (pictured, above, in a provided photo) will include a full-service restaurant as well as a coffee counter.

Mediterranean-inspired Ruscello will feature salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pastas and risottos. Menu items include ciabatta filled with chile-rubbed pork tenderloin and a dried cherry-napa cabbage slaw, pizza topped with prosciutto and arugula, lemon-scented risotto served with shrimp and asparagus, and grilled vegetables tossed in a Dijon-balsamic vinaigrette. The bar will serve cocktails, beer and wine.

It’ll be the third Ruscello outlet for the Seattle-based retailer; the other two are located in suburban Atlanta and suburban Chicago.

Mall of America shoppers will recognize the store’s Ebar, a counter-service operation that focuses on coffee and tea and includes a small sandwich/salad grab-and-go component.

Also coming to Ridgedale: the Twin Cities’ second Kona Grill outlet. The steak-and-sushi chain, which operates 30 locations in 19 states, will be located on the mall’s north side and will open prior to October.


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