The burger: I'm grateful to Burger Friday reader Brian Erickson of St. Louis Park for recently sharing a sage morsel of burger advice.
“Frenchman’s Pub has the best California cheeseburger in town,” he wrote. “I love hole-in-the-wall establishments like Frenchman’s. Give it a shot.”
As a fellow fan of hole-in-the-wall joints, I immediately followed his suggestion. He was right. This low-key Richfield institution — it dates to 1933, although its speakeasy roots reach well into the Prohibition era — cranks out a memorably satisfying bar burger.
Brant Ostlund, the pub’s self-described "manager/cook/bartender/server," has been a Frenchman’s burger maker for 16 years. I asked if he would be willing to reveal the secret to the burger’s goodness.
“I think it’s the fact that the beef is fresh, never frozen, and that we make the patties every morning,” he said.
It’s a quality beef, too; a grass-fed product minus antibiotics and growth hormones. It also falls into that nicely fatty 80/20 ratio, which infuses the coarsely ground meat with a rich, full-throttle sizzle.
“And we don’t season them,” he said. “We don’t need to. The grill does the seasoning for us.”
Those last seven words are a slogan that should be taken up by every dive-bar burger.
I ordered the double-patty California cheeseburger, and let’s just say that maintaining a grip on this towering monster (not for nothing the menu dubs it a “skyscraper”) required a significant amount of vigilance and dexterity (Asking for a knife and fork felt like a total rookie move, so I abstained). A much-needed salt jolt arrived in the form of a pair of American cheese slices, appropriately gooey and Sunday comics-page orange.
The dimpled (and toasted) buns are a basic food-service product, performing as required but not leaving much of an impression. A few sturdy iceberg lettuce ripples injected a cool, crunchy contrast.
As for the forgettable tomato slices, let’s get real for a moment; you’re in a place with a pull tabs counter, so are you really expecting to encounter a juiced-up, flavor-packed heirloom variety? Think about that. Besides, this burger is all about the impressive heft and flavor of those thick, obviously hand-formed patties.
Ostlund said that each one tips the scales at a third of a pound, and they're seared on a 350-degree flat top grill.
That’s a whole lot of burger for the money. “You can’t beat the price,” said Erickson, getting in what he thought was the last word. Agreed.
Price: A single-patty burger is $4.75, a steal, and a double version runs $7.50. Cheese and/or “California” toppings — lettuce, tomato and mayo — can be had at 75 cents a pop. For the double California cheeseburger (pictured, above), the price is $8.75, another steal. An even better deal? Take a friend along, ask for a knife, and split it.
Fries: An additional $2, and not bad. They’re a pre-made, skin-on, straight-cut product. Mine teetered a little toward the greasy side of the fries spectrum, and they would have benefitted from a healthy interaction with the salt shaker.
Where they burger: When Ostlund said that he’s not a burger eater outside of work (and who would be, given the ones he makes?), I turned to Erickson. “I really like the burgers at Anchor Fish & Chips,” he said. “Burger Moe’s, they have a pretty damn good burger, pardon my French. I like Matt’s, and the Nook. The other one I like is that place just north of Red Wing, I’ve forgotten the name of it, but it’s great.” For the record, he’s speaking of King’s Bar & Grill in Miesville, Minn., and, once again, he's right. It is great.
Address book: 1400 E. 66th St., Richfield, 612-866-0318. Open 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily; burgers served to 11 p.m. daily.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org