The burger: I’ll confess that I was pre-disposed to have positive feelings towards Streetz American Grill before I even got out of my car, and here’s why: For the first outlet of his proto-chain, owner Paul Harmon has repurposed a former Denny’s franchise. Not a teardown, but a top-to-bottom renovation. Picture replacing a pair of ratty Zubaz with well-fitted selvage jeans, and you’ve got an idea of how Streetz has rubbed out a longstanding blight on the suburban Bloomington landscape.
Harmon, a first-time restaurateur, obviously didn't do it alone. He tapped two Minneapolis design firms -- Tanek, for architecture, and Cue on the branding front – to scrape away every last trace of that 30-year-old Denny's template, and if there are awards for adaptive reuse done right, here’s hoping that the powers that be keep Streetz in mind.
The restaurant really stands out on the crowded fast-casual burger scene, and it’s not just because of its curb appeal. The menu is dedicated to creating spot-on iterations of American street vendor classics, including a long line of burgers.
“We started out by saying, ‘We can’t get a truly authentic Philly cheese steak in this town,’ said Harmon. “We want to be the place where locals from other places come here and say, ‘That’s where you go for the best Philly cheese steak, or the best Chicago Dog.’”
This being Burger Friday, I won’t speak to the veracity of Streetz's version of the City of Brotherly Love's most enduring working-man's culinary export (but it’s an encouraging sign that Harmon’s Philly go-to is Pat’s), or its Coney Dog. But the burger? A winner.
The beef – an 80 percent lean meat/20 percent fat ratio -- is formed into a far thicker patty than most of its quick-service counterparts. The gently seasoned, loosely packed ground chuck is clearly shaped into a hug-the-edge-of-the-bun patty with as little intervention as possible. Each patty is cooked to order on a flattop grill. I chose medium-rare, and it arrived – about four minutes later -- with an interior that was appropriately rosy if not wildly juicy, and an exterior sizzling with a lightly crusted char.
For the basic burger, toppings stick to the basics, just raw thin-sliced red onions, a pair of not-awful-for-January tomato slices and an unexpectedly crisp, deeply green lettuce leaf. Harmon and general manager Tim Malloy have the smarts to source the no-nonense buns from P.J. Murphy’s Bakery. They're a burger classic: a tender, almost milky, white bread, one that’s lightly toasted and manages to be both soft and yet sturdy enough to stand up a third-pound patty.
With so many order-at-the-counter burger chains crowding the market, locally owned Streetz is definitely a force to watch, in part because they're taking obvious pains to nail the time-tested elements that go into creating first-rate quick-service fare. "Our goal is to do simple food, really well," said Harmon. So far, so good, I'd say. Next time, I'll be back for the Philly cheese steak. And another burger.
Price: $4.95 for a burger, $5.50 for a cheeseburger, a great value. Other add-ons include mayonnaise, avocado, bacon, buffalo hot sauce, lamb/beef gyro meat, all-beef hot dogs, chili, Polish sausages and more, $5.95 to $8.95. The hand-mixed malts and shakes ($3.95) are appropriately thick and creamy.
Fries: Not included, but worth the extra cash. The “side” order ($1.95) is an extremely generous basket, and the “basket” ($3.25) could easily feed two. They're sliced relatively thick, with their skins on, and my lone quibble is that they could use more salt.
Coming sometime soon: Harmon & Co. launched a second Streetz in Hopkins about six weeks ago, this time in a reconfigured manufacturing facility. “Our plan is to do five or six of these in the next five years,” said Harmon, who noted that he has been inundated with where-and-when queries. “Give us a little time,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve only had six months with the first one. We need to rest a little bit, and get our act together.” Bottom line: “We don’t have the next one on board, yet,” he said.
Address book: 1200 W. 98th St., Bloomington, 952-888-1411 and 415 17th Av. N., Hopkins, 952-217-4406. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at email@example.com.
Downtown Minneapolis is crawling with construction projects, including the billion-dollar Vikings stadium, the $79.3 million Target Field Station transportation hub and more apartment buildings than an urban statistician can follow.
For food lovers, the biggest buzz-generating newcomer is currently raising up all kinds of dust in the historic Soo Line Building at Marquette and 5th (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo). That’s where Meritage co-owners Russell and Desta Klein are carving out a potentially transformative dining-and-drinking quartet: Brasserie Zentral, Foreign Legion, a wine-and-spirits retail shop and Cafe Zentral.
Following a hardhat tour earlier this week, it’s clear that the Kleins (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo) have an affinity for historic buildings. Meritage is located in the glorious Hamm Building, which was built just four years after the Soo Line, a 19-story Beaux-Arts beauty that went up in 1915 to house the First National Bank of Minneapolis. Until the Foshay Tower opened in 1929, the building was the tallest commercial structure on the Minneapolis skyline. Developer Village Green paid nearly $12 million for the building and has spent the past year giving it a top-to-bottom renovation.
The Kleins' project spreads out over three levels, and because it's in various stages of construction flux, nothing is terribly photogenic at the moment (picture unpainted drywall, scarred concrete and exposed venting ducts), which is why I pretty much dispensed with my camera and stuck to my notebook. Here’s what I learned:
Brasserie Zentral. The restaurant is located at the Marquette/5th corner of the building (pictured, above), the spot anchored by that iconic black-and-white clock hanging over the sidewalk. A relatively low ceiling (the Soo Line’s soaring interior spaces are reserved for the second floor, once home to the building’s original grand banking hall, long since remodeled out of existence) dictated an intimacy to Brasserie Zentral’s overall design.
“We want it to have a timeless look, so it will feel a part of this timeless building,” said Desta Klein. “We want to celebrate the brasserie culture that exists outside of Paris, in places like Vienna, Munich and Budapest.”
The 150-seat dining room (by comparison, Meritage originally had 80 seats and has since grown to 125) has windows on two sides, and turns its back on the building’s decorated-within-an-inch-of-its-life lobby.
Rather than a single large, sweeping space, architect David Shea of Shea Inc. in Minneapolis has sectioned off the floor plan into a series of interconnected rooms within a room. A 10-seat bar anchors one of two interior walls and the exhibition kitchen – flanked by a 10-seat chef’s counter – holds down the other one.
In a matter of weeks, the floors will be finished in dark hardwoods, and the walls will be predominantly a vibrant Provence yellow, with burgundy and gold accents. Many of the tables will be semi-circular banquettes.
The kitchen is aiming for showplace status. “We’re building a Swiss watch in this place, one with plenty of horsepower,” said Shea. At its center, literally, is a European-style island stove, designed so that chefs face one another as they work, rather than stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a single line.
“It’s such a sexy stove,” said Russell Klein. “I’m excited to show it off.”
Meritage is closed on Mondays, so Russell Klein and his crew have been using the time to develop the menus for the Soo Line project. Klein has described Brasserie Zentral's emphasis as “Continental cuisine with a real focus on central Europe,” an exciting prospect for Twin Cities diners, since those traditions don’t get a lot of play in local restaurants.
“Although I don’t want to be pigeonholed,” he said. Along with his take on classic dishes from Austria and Hungary, Klein said that he hopes to reach into Spain, Belgium and the Alsace region, for starters.
The bar will feature a line of schnapps created specifically for the restaurant by Parallel 45, the craft distillery in New Richmond, Wis., and will also place an emphasis on Alsatian and Austrian wines. Expect a strong beer program, too. The restaurant will also feature a 10-seat private dining room.
The Kleins are in the middle of a hiring spree. They’ve recruited Goodfellow’s alum Troy Unruh, a veteran of a number of top New York City restaurants, including Del Posto, Jean Georges and Le Bernardin, to run Brasserie Zentral’s day-to-day operations.
They’ve also hired Niki Francioli, formerly of Sea Change, as pastry chef.
Meanwhile, back at Meritage, longtime sous chef Jon Beyreuther has been promoted to chef de cuisine.
Another 75 to 80 employees will be added to the Zentral payroll in the next three months; right now the couple employs 60 at Meritage.
The project has a kind of iceberg quality: All the real estate that will eventually be visible to the public eye is supported by an enormous maze of prep kitchens, walk-in coolers, work rooms, dishwashing stations, storage spaces, locker rooms and offices, all filling the building’s basement.
“I never thought that in my life I would get a chance to do a project like this,” said Russell Klein. “I never thought we would literally build from scratch something of this magnitude. But in the end, we’re opening a restaurant, and I just hope that people show up.”
Opening: An as-yet-announced day in April.
Foreign Legion. Across the Soo Line lobby from Brasserie Zentral, the Kleins will be introducing another dining-and-drinking element that is currently in short supply in downtown Minneapolis: A wine bar.
“It’s going to have an entirely different personality from Brasserie Zentral,” said Russell Klein. The menu will be dominated by an array of small plates, including a number of variations on grilled cheese sandwiches, no surprise since the restaurant will keep an inventory of what Klein describes as a “huge” cheese selection.
“We don’t have a number on it yet, but it’s a lot,” he said. “The possibilities are of course endless, and so it becomes the same challenge associated with creating a wine list. You have to curate, you have to filter. It’s easy to put together a 10,000-bottle wine list, but it’s hard to choose 100. So we’ll be thinking about things like, ‘what’s showing well right now?’ It will constantly evolve.”
Foreign Legion will also feature cured meats made specifically for the restaurant by local charcuterie kingpin Mike Phillips. And desserts. Lots of desserts. “One of the reasons that we’re so excited about signing up Niki is that we want to be known as the place where you go for dessert,” said Desta Klein, putting an emphasis on the.
The 60-seat space will include a 10-seat bar, a four-seat cheese counter and two private dining rooms. What you won’t see: Television screens. Hurrah.
“We debated about that, a lot,” said Russell Klein. “TVs are so distracting. We decided that we want to get back to what restaurants are all about, which is socializing with friends and family.”
One demographic the Kleins are targeting are the residents upstairs, with hopes that the building’s occupants will think of the casual, more affordably priced Foreign Legion as an extension of their living quarters. Including the Kleins, who have taken an apartment in the swank building. Right now it's doubling as an office, but it will eventually morph in to a convenient crash pad.
Opening: Probably a post-Labor Day date, to be determined. “We want to make sure that we get everything right with Brasserie Zentral before we proceed with Foreign Legion,” said Russell Klein.
Wine and spirits shop. The Soo Line's commercial space was originally being eyed by a local supermarket chain, which ultimately bailed when the building’s short-term parking situation (bottom line: there isn’t any) couldn’t be rectified.
The supermarket’s plans included a wine shop. As it happens, longtime Meritage sommelier Nicolas Giraud dreamed of opening a wine shop. Bingo. The Kleins are becoming retailers, with a boutique operation (one that will include a delivery service throughout the downtown skyway system) located on the 5th St. side of the building’s lobby and managed by Giraud.
“Now Nico gets what he wants, and we diversify our revenues,” said Desta Klein.
The shop doesn’t have a name, yet. “We’re working on that,” said Russell Klein. “Names are some of the hardest things about opening a restaurant, although Zentral and Foreign Legion came to us right away. Right now we’re calling it Zentral Wine & Spirits, but we’re not in love with it.”
Opening: No set date, but it will follow Brasserie Zentral’s debut.
Cafe Zentral. It’s hard to picture a Jimmy John’s occupying the spiffy skyway level of the newly refurbished Soo Line, and thanks to the Kleins, downtowners won’t have to. Instead, this second-story counter-service format will offer uncomplicated street fare, including grilled cheese sandwiches, crepes and Mike Phillips-made sausages. “Quick and casual, but real food,” said Russell Klein. "We're going to be taking healthful, locally sourced food, and bring it to the skyway." At long last.
Opening: Spring. “Just in time for food truck season,” said Russell Klein with a laugh.
The Kleins clearly have a nose for real estate, because the formerly sleepy corner of 5th and Marquette is about to get incredibly busy.
Within the next year, nearly 800 not-inexpensive apartments will sit within a few hundred feet of the Zentral zone. The Soo Line’s 254 units are filling up fast. The 26-story Nic on Fifth – at Nicollet and 5th, obviously – is opening later this year with 253 apartments (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo), and ground is breaking soon on 4Marq, a 30-story, 262-unit tower on the same block, at Marquette and 4th. Oh, and a 13-story, 320-unit apartment building has been proposed for the half-block parking lot that now occupies 301 Washington Av. S., five blocks from Zentral.
The area’s daytime population is also experiencing a major growth spurt.
The 510 Marquette office building – across Marquette from the Soo Line -- is currently under renovation and several large tenants -- including Campbell Mithun advertising, RedBrick Health and Augsburg Fortress publishing – have signed leases, meaning hundreds of workers will be moving in. And later this year, Xcel Energy is planning on demolishing a dreary 1960s parking ramp at Nicollet and 4th and replacing it with a 9-story office building.
In addition, the Hiawatha and soon-to-open Central Corridor light rail lines (renamed Blue and Green lines) stop a half-block away. In other words, in the not-so-distant future, a whole lot of people are going to be living and working within a stone’s throw of the Kleins' new enterprise.
“We really had no intention of expanding into Minneapolis,” said Russell Klein. “But at some point, the opportunity was just too incredible for us to pass up.”
There's a name for the restaurant that recently (and very quietly) opened at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
The restaurant, formerly known as Mezzanine, is the work of Stock & Badge, the collaboration between Victory 44 chef Erick Harcey, Rustica and Dogwood Coffee Co.). It's located on the Third Avenue side of the museum, overlooking the lobby of the Children's Theatre Co. Here's a peek at the menu:
While the museum prepares for its talked-about Matisse show (opening Feb. 23), the new lobby-level coffee and cocktail bar (pictured, below) is scheduled to open on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Harcey has big news. He's taking over the former In Season in southwest Minneapolis (Penn Av. S. and 54th St., across the street from Cafe Maude) and opening Bent Arrow.
"It's going to be a version of the early Victory 44," said Harcey. The chalkboard menu's basic format will feature eight to 10 rotating items in the $15-and-under range. Beer and wine, too. Unlike Victory 44, the service staff will be separate from the cooking staff.
Harcey (pictured above in a Star Tribune file photo) plans to start with dinner service. "And once we get comfortable, we'll probably add brunch," he said. "I don't think lunch is in the cards, given the size of the space."
The plan is to open on or around April 1st. At the same time, Harcey is introducing changes at Victory 44.
"We want to make it more neighborhood-centric and family-friendly," said the father of four boys ages 8 and under. The strategy includes dropping the current tasting menu format in favor of more casual options, using the restaurant's popular (and fantastic) burger -- he doesn't call it the "Perfect Burger" for nothing -- as a foundation.
He's also going to make a more conscious effort towards catering to children. "Right now, it's not the most accommodating restaurant when it comes to kids," he said. "It's a cliche, but I want to do comfort food, but do it in a playful way."
While he's doubling down at Victory 44 and Bent Arrow, Harcey is maintaining his partnership in Stock & Badge, continuing to develop menus for the company's properties, but leaving the day-to-day operations to chefs under his tutelage, including Josh Wood at Parka and longtime Harcey acolyte Jen Farni at Grain Stack.
"These young chefs are one of the reasons that I can step back, because they're strong, and they can take the helm," Harcey said. "It's their time now, and it's great to be able to make opportunities for them, to let them flourish while I do my own thing for a while. Maybe it's also my own selfishness, because I want to cook, I want to get back on the line again. I'm not a very good meetings-and-office kind of guy."
As for the Bent Arrow name, it's a play on lightning. Specifically, the name of a dearly departed Scottish Highland beast named Lightning (think of a cartoon image of a lightning bolt, which resembles, yes, a bent arrow). The animal's head will be mounted in the restaurant. "Lightning is a kind of a weird name for a restaurant," said Harcey with a laugh. "So we went with Bent Arrow, and we're paying tribute to a really tasty cow."
Time magazine, taking a breather from examining the Syrian situation and other similarly weighty subjects, has tapped an unidentified number of experts to scour the nation to determine the most influential examples -- on both diners, and the industry at large -- of the all-American burger. Seventeen turned out to be the magic number.
At No. 10 is Minneapolis' own Jucy Lucy (the Matt's Bar version, pictured above, in a Star Tribune file photo). "Although this twist on the cheeseburger—in which the cheese is melted inside the patty—was reportedly invented in the 1920s, when chefs were still experimenting with the burger, it gained national attention in 2008, thanks to a feud between two Minneapolis bars that both claim to have “invented” it," says the story. "Since then, there have been numerous imitators, proving that a little innovation and a dash of hype is all it takes to reinvigorate enthusiasm for a classic."
As for the No. 1 placeholder, it's not the straight-up McDonald's hamburger (No. 2) or the Burger King Whopper (No. 5), but the White Castle slider, "the first burger to spawn a fast-food empire," notes Time. The company may have started in Witchita, Kan., but it flourished in the 1920s and 1930s in the Twin Cities (pictured, above, on Washington Av. SE. between Walnut and Harvard Streets, near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, in a 1929 photo, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society). And here ends the desperate-to-find-a-local-connection portion of our blog post.
Although I never thought I'd enter into a discussion regarding the landmarks of the burger pantheon, I would argue that while many on Time's list seem tailored to the exercise (2009's Umami Burger, for example, which hit No. 14 on the countdown), a significant percentage don't exactly possess the maturity (or, dare I say, gravitas) to have earned the "most influential burgers of all time" mantle.
At No. 9, the Lab-Grown Burger is certainly a talker, but at this point, the repercussions of this 2013 invention (the beef comes from lab-nurtured cow stems cells) are purely theoretical, as it is not available commercially.
The Ramen Burger (No. 12) skyrocketed to attention about 20 minutes ago, a few seconds behind the Cronut, placing its fate in the history books in limbo. Chicago's Ghost Burger (No. 16) debuted in October, so it might be prudent to wait a while to determine if a burger topped with a non-consecreated Communion wafer is going to develop culinary legs. Ditto the "Simpson's"-inspired Crusty Burger (No. 17), which was first served in 2013 at a Florida theme park.
What belongs, or doesn't belong, on this list? Use the comments section below to chime in.
Join the 1,100-plus readers who have chimed in on today's restaurant poll, which asks, "Which dearly departed restaurant do you miss most?" You can find it here.
By mid-afternoon, Peter's Grill (pictured, above, in an April 1995 Star Tribune file photo; that's Peter's owner Peter Atsidakos to the left of President Clinton), was out in front, followed by the New French Cafe and D'Amico Cucina.
Read all about the poll's six candidates here.
Are there any restaurants (closed, and their locations remain empty, or have been re-purposed) that you would add to the list? Make your suggestions in the Comments section below.
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