The burger: With a beef patty that’s topped with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and tons of sharp mustard – and stuffed inside a Russian rye bun – the burger at Co-op Creamery Cafe really stands out. By design.

“It’s kind of a reaction to what I’m seeing out there,” said chef Lucas Almendinger. “You know, the double patty with American cheese, on a white bun.”

Yeah, I hear you (read all about them here and here and here and here. Or visit Borough. Or Saint Dinette. Or Nighthawks).

But there’s another reason. “It has a kind of Germanic, bratwurst angle to it,” said Almendinger. And how.

If Almendinger's name isn't a familiar one, it should be; his impressive work lit up the Third Bird and the former Union Fish Market. He's doing typically great things at his new job, channeling the co-op's local-foods ethos into appealing breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that cater to a wide range of neighborhood tastes. 

His burger at the Third Bird was a whopper, no pun intended. But I find myself developing even bigger fandom feelings for Almendinger's Co-op Creamery iteration. I was surprised to learn that it’s not a huge seller.

“There are people who love it,” he said. “But then there are people who want the double-patty-with-American-cheese burger. This is an intense burger. You put on too much mustard, and it can get out of hand.”

Not for me. The mustard he mentioned is Boetje’s, a coarse, vinegar-ey, stone-ground product. It hails from Rock Island, Ill., and pretty much improves everything it touches. (I wonder why it's not for sale at the nearby Seward Co-op, which owns and operates the restaurant. Paging customer service!).

Not that this patty has much room for an upgrade. Almendinger grinds grass-fed brisket and shoulder (from Thousand Hills Cattle Co.), enriching the lean beef with emulsified butter and giving it a bit of a kick with horseradish oil. It’s a bruiser of a thing, five hefty ounces, and it’s cooked to a juicy just-above medium-rare on the flattop.

Toppings are kept to a minimum. There’s a generous handful of pungent, house-made sauerkraut, the cabbage fermented in plenty of aromatic caraway. That’s followed by a blanket of Swiss cheese, its gentle nuttiness a nice foil to all that tangy sauerkraut.

As for the bun, it’s a beauty, a dense, dark Russian rye from St. Agnes Baking Co., and a welcome change from all the white buns and pretzel buns that are the norm in today’s Burgerworld. (Side note: the co-op already stocks a number of St. Agnes products, including the bakery's terrific white buns; wouldn't it be great if they carried these Russian rye buns, too? I'm also bummed to report that the wholesale bakery's once-a-month excursion into retail sales -- owner Danny Klecko dubs is First Saturday -- is on hiatus. Bummer.).

A quick toast only enhances the bread's rustic qualities, then a lavish swipe of that rock-'em, sock-'em mustard draws out the bun’s slightly sour qualities. That's it. No lettuce, no tomato, no pickle, no ketchup, no relish, no mayo. With every bite, Almendinger demonstrates how little they're missed.

As novelty burgers go, this one is aces. Here’s hoping it finds the audience it deserves.

Price: $14, and available only at lunch. At first glance, that might appear a tad expensive. But consider this: the restaurant is a tipping-free zone, with a service fee is built into the menu’s prices.

Fries: None. A side of curly fries runs $6.

Also on the menu: Almendinger is one of the Twin Cities' great soup makers, a skill that becomes more and more valuable as the weather turns cold. My suggestion is to skip the fries (they're fine, that's not the reason) and order whatever he's got going soup-wise; the price is the same, and it's impossible to be disappointed. A few weeks ago, he was featuring his version of a sweet corn chowder, and after I'd consumed every last robust, flavor-packed molecule, I seriously considered ordering a few extra bowls, to go, and stocking my freezer. I didn't, and now that fresh sweet corn is nothing but a happy memory and Almendinger has moved on to other seasonal pastures (he's now playing around with white beans and kale), I'm filled with regret. There's always next year, right?

Address book: 2601 E. Franklin Av., Mpls., 612-230-5575, about three blocks west of the Seward Co-op. Open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily (burger served at lunch only). Parking in rear.

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

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