The burger: Two years ago, when chef Keven Kvalsten took over the leadership at FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar in downtown Minneapolis, there was a lamb burger on the menu. He dropped it, until a small but vocal group of regulars cried foul. It reappeared, with a few tweaks, and while it continues to have a small but vocal following, it’s not the kitchen’s bestseller.
I would argue that it should be, and that’s not a knock against the other burgers – beef, bison and veggie – on the menu.
“Lamb is tricky,” said Kvalsten. “There are people who hate it, but there are also people who truly love it.”
Count me in that second category. For those who reside in the I-hate-lamb world, or at least tiptoe around its edges – it might help to know that the FireLake kitchen knows what it’s doing, lamb-wise. For starters, Kvalsten uses animals raised at Peterson Craftsman Meats in Osceola, Wis., the same outfit that supplies premium beef to many of the region’s top burger purveyors.
Kvalsten seasons the ground meat with salt, pepper and seasoning mix that has been a FireLake kitchen staple for forever (“It’s been used here since Paul Lynch opened the restaurant,” said Kvalsten, speaking of his predecessor’s predecessor, who opened the Radisson Blu hotel restaurant in 2003).
The lean ground meat is loosely formed into thick, wide patties and cooked on a grill that’s fueled by wood charcoal and dried apple wood. Radiating a clean, herbaceous flavor, the pasture-raised meat takes to that grill beautifully. It cooks quickly, gaining a nice sear on the outside while maintaining a slightly pink, medium-rare center.
That hefty patty fits neatly into a first-rate bun. “We used Saint Agnes, for years, but they unfortunately closed their doors,” said Kvalsten. “We tested a bunch of different buns from various bakeries, and the milk bun from New French Bakery was the closest to what we were using. Aesthetically, it looks good, the top of the bun has a beautiful shine. And it just tastes like it’s imbued with butter, almost like brioche.”
Garnishes are designed to complement the lamb’s distinctive flavor. A layer of peppery arugula prevents the lower bun from becoming soggy, and red onions, sliced into thin ribbons and pickled in red wine vinegar, insert a punchy bite. Cheese, and plenty of it, is tangy chèvre. The finishing touch is a swipe of harissa-laced aioli, a slow-burn alternative to sweet, acidic ketchup.
Kvalsten knows his way around burgers; his track record includes a long list of memorable iterations at Republic, Red River Kitchen and other prior gigs. With this lamb burger, he’s crafted a fine option for those looking to break the monotony of beef burgers. Check it out.
Price: $17, and worth it. As a cost savings, consider sharing; that chèvre-smothered lamb is richer than the average beef cheeseburger, and the plus-size proportions make it a total knife-and-fork burger.
Fries: Included. They’re long, salty, golden and extra-crispy. In other words, delicious.
Where he burgers: “I have a guilty pleasure and I’m going to say that it’s Culver’s,” said Kvalsten. “Culver’s, on a road trip, usually hits the spot. When I go out, it’s typically not for a burger, it’s not usually something that I could just eat five days a week, it’s more of an occasional craving kind of thing. But I’ll finish my son’s burger, if it comes to that.”
On the subject of lamb burgers: I can't wait to try the lamb burger ($13) that chef Mike Decamp is serving in the lounge at the just-opened P.S. Steak. It's his re-creation of the famous lamb burger served in the same stunning room during its La Belle Vie years, when Decamp was cooking in that restaurant's kitchen. Have you tried it? What did you think? Share your reaction at email@example.com.
Address book: FireLake Grill House & Cocktail Bar, 31 S. 7th St. (in the Radisson Blu hotel), Mpls., 612-216-3473. Open 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 6 a.m. to midnight Friday, 7 a.m. to midnight Saturday and 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details: firstname.lastname@example.org.