The burger: Prior to opening the Kenwood last year, chef Don Saunders didn't have a lot of burger experience. "On menus, anyway," he said with a laugh. But during the three years he was the creative force behind In Season, the much-missed south Minneapolis restaurant he quietly closed earlier this summer, he used to occasionally order ground beef from his favorite beef purveyor, Peterson Limousin Farms in Osceola, Wis. "We'd do that as a treat, and we'd play around with it and make burgers for the staff," Saunders said. "We'd experiment with all kinds of toppings and we'd make insanely good burgers."
Seeing as how a burger is pretty much required reading for the menu of a neighborhood restaurant like the Kenwood, Saunders wisely gathered up all of those behind-the-scenes exercises in burger creativity and came up with a real whopper, pardon the expression.
Of course he's still relying upon that same carefully raised ground beef, and it's so rich and clean-tasting that it needs next to nothing to blossom on the grill, just a little salt and pepper.
One of the joys of this superb burger is the kitchen's ability to hit what can only be described as a textbook example of medium-rare. Forget about some tepid pink; the beef's beautiful crimson color is barely unchanged in the patty's center. "That speaks to the skill of our cooks," said Saunders. "I think there's really an art to doing that, and it's harder to achieve perfect medium-rare quality on a burger than it is on a piece of pork loin, or steak."
Saunders serves burgers two ways: Just a straight-up version with a cheese option, a choice of premium Cheddar, Gruyere or a marbled blue. Perfectly acceptable, but even better is the restaurant's namesake version, a bells-and-whistles pile on that definitely takes diners in to luxury burger territory. And why hesitate? After all, you're already dining in an upper-tax-bracket neighborhood, so when in Rome, right?
The exceptional buns, made by baker John Kraus at Patisserie 46, deserve their own shout-out. "I honestly think that the reason our burgers are so good is because those buns are so insanely good," Saunders said. "I told John that I wanted something buttery and brioche-based, and he experimented with size and fluffiness until he came up with what we're using. They're amazing."
That they are, so rich and tender, with deeply golden tops that gleam with a dairy-induced sheen. Saunders does Kraus one better by adding more butter, a pre-toast swipe that creates a delicately crispy bite.
The Kenwood Burger is a bacon burger, sort of: Saunders calls upon house-cured pork belly. It's gloriously fatty and porky, and the kitchen griddles it to order, finishing with a tease of a cider-sugar glaze to insert a hint of sweet caramelization. Two slices, slipped under the patty, act as a kind of foundation.
On top, there's a generous slice of brazenly-melty, over-the-top Gruyere, which is covered by a pepper-dotted egg, judiciously fried until the white is just barely cooked all the way through and the yolk, when pierced, slips out in a warm, thick ooziness. Sensational, right?
Oh, I almost forgot: Saunders offers an add-on, in the form of a sexed-up, super-juiced heirloom tomato slice. Sure, tacking on a dollar for a garnish is a bit much, but come on, tomatoes this good are worth the cost. That's capped by a perky Bibb lettuce leaf, and then because Saunders steers clear of ketchup on a burger, the top bun gets a swipe of tomato aioli.
The goodness adds up, fast. The patty, wide enough to hug the bun's outer edges, is ridiculously juicy, and the tomato and egg only pile it on. You might start by picking this beauty up with both hands, but necessity (rather than some vague sense of Lake of the Isles-induced politeness) will soon have you reaching for a knife and fork. This is truly a burger for the record books.
Price: $10 for the no-frills burger, $12 for the cheeseburger, $14 for the Kenwood Burger.
Fries: Included, and excellent. Long, skin-on cuts of Idaho russets, fried first in a low temperature to cook the potatoes, then fried to order at a higher temperature to bring out just a bit of outer-edge crispness.
Timing is everything: Where was I a few months ago, when Saunders was killing it with his so-called Spring Burger, a short-lived extravaganza topped with ramps, morels and truffled cheese? "Yeah, we got some people who said, 'What, a $25 burger?'" he said with a laugh. "But true foodies realized that it was a bargain. I mean, we had a lot of morels on that thing." Here's hoping it makes a return engagement next spring.
Insider's tip: The restaurant is now serving dinner on Sunday, whiich is hopefully opening up some seating availability in this popular no-reservations zone.
Address book: 2115 W. 21st St., Mpls., 612-377-3685.
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The burger: Yes, the namesake menu item at the Anchor Fish & Chips is all that. But sometimes the Burger Siren calls, and when she does, this perennially popular Northeaster knows how to answer. And then some.
It's a blue-collar kind of burger: A brawny, gets-the-job-done formula, with just enough bells and whistles to keep it interesting without betraying its working-class bonafides.
At first glance, the base price, $9.50, hovers towards protetarianism's upper limits. But this isn't about mark-up, it's about covering costs, because the Anchor has the good sense to use premium grass-fed beef from Thousand Hills Cattle Co., and that smart choice doesn't exactly come cheap (its retail price gravitates towards $9 per pound). But it's a decision that makes for a don't-miss burger.
Order it the way the kitchen prefers to prepare it, which is to say, medium-rare. That translates into a no-nonsense (as in, a salt-and-pepper seasoning, and nothing else), third-pound patty. It's seared on a flattop grill into a softly charred exterior that surrounds a supremely juicy interior, one that hovers somewhere in between pink and scarlet, with that lean, richly flavorful meat leaning towards a cool, near-tartare state.
Along with a melts-just-right slice of white Cheddar (Irish, of course), a side of pert pickle chips, tangy raw onions and a cool tomato are the only garnish. Unless of course you choose to glam it up, Anchor-style, by adding a fried egg (order it slightly runny, and not that the burger needs the extra moisture, but because that oozy yolk only accentuates the burger's outrageous juiciness) and a slice of fried ham, which hails from another primo Minnesota animal protein purveyor, Fischer Farms of Waseca),
The bun? Generously buttered and grilled, and both large enough and sturdy enough to handle that third-pound monster without becoming overwhelmingly bread-ey.
Whenever I visit the Anchor, my appetite reflexively gravitates towards the kitchen's superb fish and chips. No longer. Now I'm thinking the place ought to amend its name and call itself Anchor Fish & Chips & Burgers.
By the way, my iPhone images were so lousy -- they're darker than your average George de la Tour masterpiece -- that I'm reluctantly reverting to a Burger Friday first: No pictures. Not that the Anchor burger isn't a looker, because it is. Instead, I've included this shot (by my Strib colleague Tom Wallace) of Anchor co-owners Luke Hayes and Kathryn Hayes, in their dining room (minus their partner, Jenny Crouser).
Fries: They're chips, thank you very much, and fantastic: Thick, hand-cut and wonderfully potato-ey, and the kitchen is generous when it comes to portions. Oh, and vegetarians and vegans, beware: To the delight of meat-eaters everywhere, the deep fryer relies upon flavor-enhancing beef fat.
Price: As previously mentioned, the basic burger goes for $9.50, and the "Helicopter Burger" (that's the one with the fried egg and ham) goes for $12.50.
Two tips: It's not an exaggeration to say that I can't recall ever visiting the Anchor and sailing (sorry, I couldn't resist) into an open table at this reservations-free hot spot, which goes to show that diners know a good thing when they see one. Oh, and the restaurant's crowd-pleasing food truck? Keep in mind that it's a burger-free zone.
Another tip: I find it impossible to visit the Anchor without ordering the mushy peas ($4). The name says it all: mashed peas, laced with plenty of butter and so darned satisfying, in a baby-food-for-grown-ups kind of way.
Address book: 302 13th Av. NE., Mpls., 612-676-1300.
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The burger: Not just one, but two. Trace the local lineage of the upscale slider back to its roots, and no doubt the Lurcat Burger – technically, shouldn’t that be Burger(s)? – at Bar Lurcat will be front and center.
What an inspired idea. Instead of going plus-size, as so many burgers seem to do in their attempt to impress, the Lurcat version veers in the opposite direction, tucking a small-ish (roughly 3 oz.) patty inside a flavorful New French Bakery potato roll. The beef is chuck, ground in-house and boosted with trimmings from the dining room menu’s tenderloins and New York strips.
That’s an auspicious start to any burger, but then chef Adam King and his crew turn to the magic ingredient, and plenty of it: Butter. It’s used – to excellent effect – to sweat onions and fresh thyme, a savory mix that’s folded into the ground beef, along with eggs, salt, pepper and, yes, more butter.
“We try not to tell people how much butter is in it,” said King with a laugh. “But I also remind people that a lot of it eventually cooks out.”
Well, not all of it, because this diminutive and affordable nosh manages to pack quite the luxurious punch. A sear on the bar kitchen’s flattop grill -- an even heat that places a light, uniform char over the patty’s surface while keeping the interior tender and juicy – only enhances the beef’s taste properties.
Garnishes? Barely any, just a reduction of purple-red shallots, red wine and sugar, mixed with – what else? – butter. There’s a bit of chopped parsley, too. That’s it, an admirable restraint that works, beautifully.
“People will ask for mayo, or lettuce, or tomatoes and pickles, and of course we’ll honor their requests,” said King. “But you lose the whole point of the burger. That hint of thyme, the juicy butter, the sweetness of the shallots.” Indeed.
Of course, that’s not the end of the butter (and people wonder why dining out can be so perilous to weight-reduction efforts?). More is smeared on the sliced side of the buns, a kick-start to the toasting process that yields a tantalizing, this-only-happens-with-butter gentle crispness.
The twin burgers have been on the menu since the restaurant opened 11 years ago under chef Isaac Becker (who later went on to launch his own trio of first-rate properties, 112 Eatery, Bar La Grassa and Burch Steak and Pizza Bar), and they continue to be the bar’s top-selling food item. King would probably be run out of town if he so much as thought about taking them off the menu.
A word to the wise: Don't kid yourself. When that plate of two cute burgers materializes at the table, a person will genuinely (if naively) believe that they're going to share one of them, but that's so not going to happen. Order a second round, pronto.
Price: $8.50, a top-notch value. In typical early-to-bed Minneapolis fashion, the bar’s kitchen cooks until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday (and 9 p.m. Sunday, yikes); the good news is that King keeps the stoves going until midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Fries: An additional $9. That’s somewhat steep, although they pretty much belong on anyone’s Lurcat itinerary. Along with their deep-fried compatriots, pastry chef Leah Henderson’s warm, twinkling-with-cinnamon-and-sugar mini-doughnuts ($7.50), which put their Minnesota State Fair counterparts to shame.
Hurry in: Lurcat boasts not one but two patios, both doozies: One fronts the gorgeous green sweep that is Loring Park, the other is tucked inside an uber-romantic alley, a decidedly this-can’t-be-in-Minneapolis treasure that dates back to the days when the space was home to the Loring Cafe. This warm weather won’t last forever, so take advantage of it – and Lurcat’s outdoor dining venues – while you can. One additional note: The restaurant’s attentive, gracious service is a hallmark of the restaurant’s place in the D’Amico family of well-managed food-and-drink establishments.
Address book: 1624 Harmon Place, Mpls., 612-486-5500.
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Yes, it's possible to eat healthy amid the dietary calamity that is the Minnesota State Fair. Although "healthy" is a relative term, particularly while grazing through the Great Minnesota Get-Together.
For some -- including me -- it means avoiding fried foods at all costs. Others prefer dropping the soda, beer and sugar-soaked lemonades in favor of water. Then there are those who map out a strategy to avoid fat and cholesterol, but turn a blind eye to sugar and salt.
Whatever the mindset, here are a few ideas for making the state fair less of a gut bomb.Or is that guilt trip?
Here’s nature’s (and Frigidaire’s) way to cool down: Frozen fruit. Veggie Pie (Food Building) goes totally state fair on the idea, spearing either red grapes or pineapple chunks on a stick ($2). The former is a cool burst of berry sweetness, and the latter puts a melts-quickly spin on pineapple’s tart bite. Bayou Bob’s (Nelson St. at Dan Patch Av., pictured, above) also gets into the act, serving up a boat of frozen red grapes for $3.
Inside the Agriculture Horticulture Building is a treasure trove of health-conscious eating, in the form of Minnesota Apples. The stand sells its own version of portable air conditioning – frozen cider in a plastic push-up tube ($1), and it’s a total heat-buster – but the stand also has a lovely pink-tinted and barely sweet applesauce ($1) and a selection of just-picked apples from Pine Tree Orchard in White Bear Lake.
For a light but flavor-packed lunch, consider the colorful tabbouleh salad, stuffed into a whole-wheat pita ($7), at Pita Pocket Bread Sandwiches (Dan Patch Av. at Cosgrove St.), a fresh and refreshing combination of parsley, tomatoes, couscous, olive oil and lemon. It's miles away from deep-fried anything.
The Roast Corn stand (Nelson St. at Dan Patch Av.) is a fresh-foods magnet, focusing on a single product: golden late-summer sweet corn ($3, pictured, above). It's picked daily at a Monticello, Minn., farm. After a quick roast in the husk, it's shucked, hot off the grill, making for an intensely snappy, juicy bite. Of course, the dunk in melted butter is off limits, and stay away from the salt shaker.
When it comes to water, here are a few tips. If you're taking the bus to fair, buy a bottle from the vendors just outside the bus drop-off area on Como Avenue, before entering the fair. They're selling ice-cold bottles for $1. Once inside, the fair's lowest-price bottled water is at Rice Kristie Bars (Carnes Av. between Nelson and Underwood Sts.), where a chilled 20-ounce bottle of water goes for just $1.50. As for fairgrounds' best-tasting free water, it's at Culligan (Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St.), just don't expect to fill up your empty bottle.
Simply Nuts & More (Warner Coliseum stocks plenty of salted and honey-roasted options. But make your fairgrounds snack the stand’s unadulterated pistachios. They’re sold in the shell – unshelling them will give you something to do – and prices run $8 for a half-pound, $15 for a whole.
There’s an entertaining side show going on behind the counter at the Pretzel Haus, as the stand’s crew rolls and twists pale dough into enormous fresh-baked pretzels ($5). They’re a great sharable snack: low in fat and cholesterol-free, with a nicely chewy pull and a pleasingly browned, slightly crispy exterior. Don’t even think about brushing them in butter or drizzling them in cheddar cheese sauce. Instead, take advantage of the (gratis) fat-free mustards.
“Healthy” is a relative term, particularly at the State Fair. For those who prefer to refrain from ice cream, but have a hankering for something cool and sweet, here are two stands worth a visit. Frozen Yogurt (Liggett St. at Dan Patch Av.) is exactly what it sounds like, selling four flavors (vanilla, chocolate, some kind of berry and “original,” a tangy-er version of vanilla) with a pair of toppings ($5 and $7). There are blueberries, raspberries, strawberries , blackberries, kiwi fruit and pineapple, and don’t even look at the chocolate chips, crushed cookies or Gummi bears.
Then there’s Dole Whip (Carnes Av. at Nelson St.), which, as the name implies, specializes in a pineapple-flavored soft-serve ($4 and $5) that’s both fat-free and lactose-free. It’s got about as much pineapple pizzazz as you’d expect to find at your friendly neighborhood frozen-yogurt shop, but it passes two crucial hot-day-at-the-fair requirements: it’s got a vaguely tropical bite, and it’s chilly.
In terms of animal proteins, it's hard to know if that poultry or meat has been marinated in a sodium bath, so let's not think about that for a moment and instead consider the benefits of grilled meats vs. their fried counterparts. In that narrow segment, some highlights include the pair of grilled grass-fed lamb chops ($8) at the Lamb Shoppe (Food Building) and the naturally lean bison skewers ($8 and $9.50), finished with peppers and onions, at Minnekabob (Food Building and Dan Patch Av. and Underwood St., pictured, above).
Set aside thoughts of sodium content and concentrate on the other benefits associated with the pickled cucumbers on a stick ($2.50) at Pickle Dog (Carnes Av. at Liggett St.), a deep fryer-free zone where enormous dill pickles are plucked to order from a giant brine jar and speared, State Fair-style, on a stick. It’s crunchy, it’s tangy and, come on, it’s a vegetable. At the fair.
Being both good and good for you is the unwritten dictate behind the Produce Exchange (outside Agriculture Horticulture Building, southeast corner). This branch of the greengrocer inside the Midtown Global Market makes a real effort to ply its fairgrounds customers with a tantalizing variety of ripe, succulent portable snacking, the kind that send juices running down a person’s face, including golden and red-streaked peaches and nectarines so plump that it's easy to see why the staff refers to them as "flavor grenades." Someone keeps busy slicing watermelon, a cooler if filled with juices and there are always a few surprises.
On Friday, it was a basket of tart, orange-fleshed Superior plums (pictured, above), picked the day prior at an orchard in Hastings, alongside a tray of tiny Summercrisp pears from South Haven, Minn. “They’ll rock your world,” said the staffer, who could clearly moonlight as a carnie barker. She was right.
The burger: Wise Acre Eatery chef Beth Fisher has a singular source for the beef she uses in her burgers. It's the restaurant's own farm -- located about 45 minutes west of Minneapolis in Plato, Minn. Along with supplying the Fisher's larder with its vegetables, chicken, turkey and pork, the sustainably-focused farm also lovingly raises Scottish Highland cattle, a breed recognized for its impressive horns, bushy coats and premium flavor.
With access to such superior-quality beef, Fisher wisely keeps the focus where it should be, which is on the patty. A Watertown, Minn., butcher grinds the meat, a changes-frequently combination of leftover cuts: round, chuck and blade and others. "It's really the things that I don't want to cook," Fisher said with a laugh.
It's obvious that Fisher and her crew take great pains to keep from overworking the beef during the patty-making process, because this is a noticeably thick and exceptionally tender effort; the slightest pressure results in tiny, mouth-melting crumbles of beef falling away from the patty.
Seasoning is a model of restraint, just salt and pepper, sprinkled on just before the patty hits the cast-iron griddle. Then it's magic time: Fisher lays a ham steak-sized slice of the restaurant's extraordinary bacon (more on that in a moment) next to each patty. If everything's better with bacon, then zeroing in on bacon fat is surely an exponential improvement. It's a brilliant strategy; the pan's heat releases fat from the bacon, creating a sizzle effect that helps the patty's exterior develop a lightly charred (and richly flavored) crust. Meanwhile, the patty's interior is carefully brought to a clean, deeply pink and ultra-juicy bite.
When it comes to add-ons, Fisher sticks to her basics-are-better philosophy. Cheese is a tangy, ultra-oozy slab of Michigan-made triple-cream brie. Greens? Just a tiny (and, yes, fresh from the farm) basil leaf. The plate -- actually, it's a jelly roll pan, lined in paper -- is decorated with a few of the kitchen's crunchy, slightly vinegary quick (as in 24-hour) pickles, but by all means don't treat them as decoration; they are meant to be devoured. Oh, and there's that monster slice of bacon.
The farm's first-rate Berkshire pork is proof positive that well-cared-for pigs yield blue ribbon-worthy bacon. It arrives at 54th and Nicollet in slab form, liberally striped with fat. Fisher cuts it into generously thick slices, then par-bakes it, the oven's heat blossoming the meat's just-right smokiness ("The guy that smokes our bacon is a true artist," she said). A finish on that cast-iron grill coaxes each slice into a gentle crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside state.
That beef-bacon combo is quite the one-two flavor and texture punch, and it's South Beach Diet nirvana without its brioche-style bun (from Main Street Bakery in Edina, and given an enthusiastic toast on the grill). Still, this locavore's burger is best relished in its fully intended format.
Price: $14 at brunch (9 a.m. to 3 p.m., daily) and $16 at dinner (5 p.m. to close, Monday through Thursday), and well worth it. Fisher keeps the burger off the menu during weekend dinners, "But if you ask for it, we'll probably do it," she said.
Fries: Included and made, naturally, from potatoes cultivated on the restaurant's farm. After a run with Kennebecs -- the starlet-of-the-moment in the potato firmament -- Fisher is currently relying upon ultra-starchy russets, cutting them fairly thin and frying them to a deep gold. They're terrific, and even better after an enthusiastic dunk in the kitchen's spirited rhubarb ketchup.
Home cooks: The farm's ground beef is now being sold at the restaurant ($6 per pound), along with strips of that swoon-inducing bacon.
Bonus round: Don't leave without a detour into Fisher's frozen custard, served straight up or with a bevy of wicked-good toppings, including a lovely rhubarb-caramel sauce and of course a peanut brittle peppered with some of that bacon. Another perk: Because the restaurant is owned by the partnership behind Tangletown Gardens, the Wise Acre boasts lavishly and imaginatively landscaped patios.
See for yourself: The restaurant's annual and extravagent farm dinner is scheduled for Sept. 8. Fisher and her crew will be preparing a hyper-seasonal, multi-course meal, with wine pairings by Wise Acre general manager Caroline Glawe. Cost is $175 per person, reservations at 612-822-4769.
Address book: 5401 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2577.
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