The burger: There are nine sandwiches on the menu at the new-ish Original on 42nd, the aptly named sandwich shop that has squeezed itself into the tiny former original home of the Colossal Cafe. To chefs/co-owners Andy Lilja and Stephanie Kochlin, including a burger on that roster was a no-brainer.
“It’s a sandwich shop, you have to have one,” said Lilja.
The Original’s inception is tied to its previous tenant. When Colossal owners John, Elizabeth and Carrie Tinucci decided to relocate their 42nd Street outlet into roomier digs (it’s now at 2403 E. 38th St.), they didn’t want to let the quirky property go. Enter Lilja. He was the guy behind the Colossal’s (terrific but sadly short-lived) dinner service at the restaurant’s Como Avenue branch.
“So they contacted me, and I asked if I wanted to do a concept in the space,” said Lilja. The timing was perfect. “I was unemployed at the time, and Stephanie was underemployed,” he said. “We polled the neighborhood. My cousin lives down the street, and we know a lot of chefs who live in the area. The overwhelming response was, ‘Open a sandwich shop.’ So that’s what we did.”
Back to the burger. With its irregular shape, the 6-ounce patty bears all the hallmarks of a lovingly hand-fashioned specimen. It’s fairly robust, too; no skinny diner-style patties here.
“I want to make sure that there’s some pink left, and some juice,” said Lilja. Mission accomplished.
The beef – primarily chuck, and usually enriched by fancy trims and scraps from the butcher -- hails from the meat counter at nearby Everett’s Foods.
“They’re really great,” said Lilja. “They grind the beef to my specifications, fresh, every day. It’s a small, family-run place, and we like to support other local businesses.”
The soft-yet-sturdy bun, its top flecked with sesame seeds, is also first-rate. It’s baked at Colossal Cafe. Embellishments are pulled right off the Burger Classics 101 syllabus. The menu doesn’t mince words with a key ingredient, calling it, simply, “Burger Sauce.”
“It’s a glorified Big Mac sauce,” said Lilja with a laugh. “It’s basically mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard, and the kick comes from sweet green chiles.”
The excellent chip-cut pickles, which form a crunchy layer under the patty, perform as if they were made on the premises, but they’re not.
“We just don’t have the space for that,” said Lilja, and he’s not kidding; it's surprising to see that the couple can both stand in the postage stamp-size kitchen at the same time. “Stephanie is really good at making pickles, but we go through so many of them. Even a basic refrigerator pickle needs a week or two to mature, and we just don’t have the space.”
The cheese is gooey, salty American. “Because that’s what I like on a burger,” said Lilja. “We shopped around for that, too. It’s Bongards, and it’s another Minnesota product.”
A juicy, shockingly flavorful tomato slice is surely a reflection of the both Lilja’s and Kochlin’s influential fine-dining tenures with locavore chef Lenny Russo at his late, lamented Heartland. Ditto the leaf of tender, garden-fresh bibb lettuce. Yep, they all add up to a memorably delicious burger, one that could easily become a neighborhood staple. If it isn't one already.
The restaurant is a first for the couple (“We might as well be married, we’ve been together 13 or 14 years,” said Lilja) on several fronts. Technically, it’s the first time that they’ve worked together, and the first time that they’re their own bosses.
“So far, it’s going really well,” said Lilja. “We haven’t killed each other, yet, so that’s good.”
Price: $10, a fine value.
Wait time: Seven minutes.
No, times two: There’s no alcohol. “We’d love to have beer and wine,” said Lilja. “But you have to have at least 26 seats, and we’ve got 15. The patio doesn’t count.” No credit cards, either, although Lilja and Kochlin will accept personal checks. They’ve also got an ATM on the premises.
Don’t miss: Along with the burger, the menu also includes a classic Iowa-style pork tenderloin sandwich, inspired by a coast-to-coast road trip the couple embarked upon a few years back. They experienced a culinary when-in Rome moment in Ames, Iowa, tracking down the city’s best pork tenderloin sandwich, which they discovered in an ice cream shop. Their version? Fantastic. “It’s also not as ridiculously huge as the versions you see in Iowa, so it’s easier to eat,” said Lilja. “And we don’t have a deep fryer, so we can’t over-fry it. It also helps that it’s Berkshire pork, and not commodity pork. That’s our Heartland background. When we’re buying ingredients, we try to buy as sustainably and responsibly as possible, while still keeping an eye on the price point.”
Where he burgers: “It depends,” he said. “I kind of like to shop around, and see what people have going on. The Saint Dinette burger is stellar.”
Address book: 1839 E. 42nd St., Mpls., 612-729-2377. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
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