The burger: There are several reasons why Nolo’s Kitchen & Bar chef Peter Hoff adheres to the diner-style, double-patty format for his gotta-have cheeseburger.
“Two patties means more surface for caramelization, more of that beefy, beefy flavor,” he said. “And in my opinion, when you get those 6- and 7-ounce patties, they’re harder to eat. They’re a real commitment, managing those things. You can’t keep picking them up and putting them down, you have to go head-first into them.”
Like many other first-rate Twin Cites burgers, this one wisely relies upon ground beef from Peterson Craftsman Meats in Osceola, Wis.
“It’s what Andy [Peterson] calls his ‘Chuckwagon’ blend,” said Hoff. “It’s really rich, probably close to a 70/30 [meat/fat] ratio, nice and juicy. When you’re making thin, two- to three-ounce patties, you want more fat in the grind, because you want the patties to be nice and juicy. That higher fat ratio keeps them from drying out. And, I like supporting Andy, it’s great to know that they’re just an hour or so away.”
The golden, challah-style bun – soft, with a subtly sweet after-bite, its interior crisply toasted -- plays a key role in this burger’s success. It’s baked at Turtle Bread Co.
“It’s an awesome product,” said Hoff. “I’d worked with Harvey [McLain, the bakery’s owner] before, so I knew that I should start there. He went through a 10-minute interview with me before he would commit to even providing a sample. When you’re being that thoroughly vetted, you know that you’re in good hands.”
The cheese? Two semi-melted slices of American.
“I know, it’s controversial, using straight-up American cheese,” said Hoff with a laugh. “I offend people on a daily basis. But gooey, processed cheese on a burger is absolutely fantastic. A nice, aged Cheddar just never gets that ooh-ey gooey-ness, you know?
This is a well-sauced burger. When Hoff was living – and cooking – in California, he became a card-carrying member of the In-N-Out Burger nation.
“I’ll just blatantly call myself a rip-off artist,” Hoff said with a laugh. “The In-N-Out Double-Double is the best burger there is, and this sauce is a riff on that. We slather it on everything here.”
The Thousand Island-like formula includes mustard, tomato paste and mayonnaise, to which Hoff adds grated cornichons and hard-cooked egg. It’s an umami-booster, one that really helps make this burger stand out. It should come as no surprise to learn that Hoff sells a lot of burgers.
“A ton,” he said. “In a given week, we’ll sell a couple of hundred.”
As a point of comparison, the next-most popular equivalent, a walleye sandwich, hovers in the 80-a-week ranks. Down in the restaurant’s basement bar, Hoff serves a stripped-down, quarter-pound version of the burger for seven bucks.
“It’s still got the cheese, the caramelized onions, the pickles and the spread,” said Hoff. “It’s all the ooh-ey-gooey you want when you’re three or four drinks in.”
Fries: Included, and impressive. “The deal with the restaurant is that I wanted to make simple, classic food from scratch,” said Hoff. The fries embody this straightforward, labor-intensive philosophy. He holds the potatoes for about a week (“To keep them from getting too high in starch,” he said), then they’re cut and soaked in water, overnight. They’re drained, blanched in hot oil and cooled. Once ordered, they’re fried; not once, but twice. It’s a multi-step process that yields super-crispy-on-the-outside fries that still manage to stay fluffy and mashed-potato-like on the inside. They’re liberally seasoned in a flavor-boosting blend of kosher salt, sugar, vinegar powder, rosemary, thyme and parsley.
Where he burgers: “I like the standards,” said Hoff. “I love Matt’s, and when I’m not looking for a stuffed burger, Lions Tap is always great. I love restaurants where, if you ask for something different – a change to the burger, or extra-crispy fries – and the response is, ‘Nope.’ I like going places and being told ‘No,’ because that says that they have a system, they have a way of doing things. It’s their way, and, god bless them, they feel comfortable saying ‘No, this is what we do and how we do it, and if you don’t like it, have a good day.’”
Friday fish: For those on the lookout for a Friday fish sandwich, check out my recent rankings of nine fast-food versions here.
Address book: 511 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-800-6033. Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to midnight Friday, 8 a.m. to midnight Saturday and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Burger available at lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
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