The burger: Wednesday is now my favorite day of the week. That’s when Erik Sather and his crew feature a life-affirming cheeseburger on their menu at Lowry Hill Meats.
It makes perfect sense that a butcher shop would have the goods to back up a burger of merit, and now I’m wondering why more don’t get into the act.
This beauty of a burger is rooted in the weekly arrival of a steer from a Blooming Prairie, Minn., purveyor, a pasture-raised animal that’s finished on non-GMO grains.
“They get a slow introduction to corn, through troughs in the pasture,” said Sather. “I think that makes for really nice inter-muscular marbling. They don’t just stand there and build that big fat cap. They walk around a bunch.”
Here's another distinction: the shop’s ultra-fresh ground beef is composed of the accumulation of trimmings solely from that single animal, a formula that results in unusually consistent texture and flavor qualities.
“Everything we cut goes into that grind,” said Sather. "There’s probably brisket, sirloin, chuck and strip in it.”
No wonder that this is one notably tender and juicy patty. It’s a quarter-pounder, which for Sather is an easy-to-handle quantity.
"It also makes for a lighter and simpler sandwich,” he said. “You don’t eat it and then go back to work feeling heavy. Then again, a smaller patty means that there’s also room for two.”
(I love the way this Bar La Grassa vet thinks. He’s already got an insanely good single-patty burger; I can’t even begin to comprehend how it would rate as a double. Perhaps, one day, we’ll get to find out.)
The beef gets pressed -- not too thick, not too thin -- onto the hot flattop grill, “and that’s when we season it,” said Sather, noting that he relies upon nothing more than kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. “That’s my instinct as a cook. You season to order. But I also think that salt slowly cures the animal protein, and you can end up with a firmer texture than you want.”
It’s cooked to a straight-up medium, and each bite fairly bursts with juices. Which leads me to the placement of the lettuce. Those fresh green leaves are not sitting under the patty by accident; that's strictly an engineering feat.
“The lettuce catches all the juices,” said Sather. “That way, the bun doesn’t get soggy. And in all honesty, it’s a quicker way to build a burger.”
Did I mention that our order arrived in just under the seven-minute mark? That’s not quite fast food, but it’s pretty darned close. The tomato brimmed with just-right color and juice attributes. The pickles? Also fantastic. So crunchy, with such a sharp, palate-cleansing bite. They’re the work of staffer Michelle Jensen.
“When we opened, she said, “Hey, I’m going to make pickles,’” said Sather. “And since she’s won second-place ribbons at the State Fair for pickles, I don’t mind her making our pickles. Not at all.”
(Naturally, they’re also available for sale, in the store’s refrigerator case. A small carton runs $6. Buy them.)
As for the cheese, it’s a house-made American, and there’s plenty of it, thank goodness.
“It’s basically an emulsion of milk and butter, and then a Cheddar we get from Ellsworth Creamery,” said Sather. “When we learned how to make it, I was surprised by how easy it is. It’s great. We use it quite a bit.”
Attention must be paid to the bun. Dear lord, that bun. It hails from the Salty Tart. Sather renders the leaf lard from the shop’s Berkshire or Red Waddle hogs, then passes it off to baker Michelle Gayer, who, not for nothing, has a handful of James Beard Foundation award nominations to her credit. Gayer switches out some of the butter in her brioche recipe for that silky lard, and, trust me, magic happens. It also explains the “pork fat bun” name.
They’re given a brush of butter and toasted, and the warmth from the flattop unlocks even more delicate softness. Even that deeply golden color fairly epitomizes "mouth-watering.” You can’t imagine how delicious they are, truly.
(A plus for those preparing burgers at home: Gayer makes her once-a-week delivery on Wednesday mornings, and a small, get-them-while-they-last cache of four-packs ($5) are reserved for sale at the counter. Buy them.)
Yep, Sather has struck upon the formula for uncomplicated cheeseburger fabulousness.
“There are so many super-fancy burgers out there,” said Sather. “I just really enjoy a super-simple burger. Just a good bun, a good slice of tomato and a good piece of lettuce. That’s all you need.”
Agreed. Its only downside? The once-a-week thing, a schedule that, unfortunately, isn't going to open up anytime soon.
“It’s nice to be able to move ground beef,” said Sather. “But we’re not shooting to become a burger joint. Not yet, anyway.”
Price: $9. A considerable bargain, given the quality on display. They’re available all day. Or until supplies last. “As long as we have Salty Tart buns, we’ll make burgers,” said Sather.
Fries: None. Instead, carb-load on the over-the-top cheddar crackers imported from Collective Goods in Madison, Wis. (Sather’s business partners), sold at the counter. In other sandwich news, it should be noted that Monday is meatloaf sandwich day at the House of Sather, and weekend mornings are all about ham-and-egg sandwiches on English muffins. Thank goodness the fantastic buttered radish sandwich is available daily.
Try this at home: The shop’s extraordinary ground beef retails for $7 per pound; for the same price, Sather even helpfully divvies it into 1/4-pound patties for lazy cooks like yours truly. Since it’s prime Weber/Char-Griller/Big Green Egg season, I asked Sather if he had any recommendations for those who prefer to grill their cheeseburgers, rather than use a flattop.
“I just did a bunch at home,” he said. “I brown them off on both sides on the grill. Then I put them in a cast-iron skillet and put the skillet on the grill, and let the cheese melt. That way, if the cheese drips, it won’t flare up. But you still get that nice charcoal- or wood-flavored heat into the burger.”
For those who — gasp — want to move beyond burgers, here's what Sather says about current grilling trends:
"It’s Father’s Day weekend, so I’m rooting for pork chops, they’ve been a favorite of mine lately,” he said. “We have a ton of great sausages, and they’ve been popular. And people have been getting briskets, pork shoulders, whole chickens, the kind of thing where you focus on one single big thing, and then you chop it up and serve it. That’s a really great way to grill.”
Park it: Yes, parking can be tight in this neighborhood, particularly since Hennepin Avenue is in the throes of a massive reconstruction project. But fear not: the ever-accommodating shop has a handful of parking spots in a small lot behind nearby Lowry Hill Liquors; enter on Colfax Avenue.
Address book: 1934 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-999-4200. Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.