The burger: When the sign outside the front door proclaims “Home of the Greatest Burger,” that had better not be hyperbole. Or a case of laurels-resting, which would be understandable, because the front door in question belongs to 85-year-old Sandy’s Tavern in Richfield.
The Ericksons, Debra and Jeff (“But I go by Eric because my last name is Erickson,” he said) bought the place in 1980, and while I’m clueless about the menu before their tenure, the couple has certainly captured, in all of its enduring appeal, the essence of the no-frills, tavern-style burger.
All the necessary details are present and accounted for. The quarter-pound patties are pressed fairly thin, enough for the beef to reach the bun’s edges. This isn’t the kind of place where a chalkboard proudly proclaims the beef’s provenance, or details the patty's painstakingly tailored blend of cuts. Still, the Ericksons take care with their supply chains. For years, they’ve buying beef — fresh, never frozen — from Swanson Meats, which also handles the patty-making process. “They have a big, expensive machine that makes the patties look homemade,” said Eric Erickson. “So we might as well let them do it.”
They’re cooked to a routine medium (“Unless someone requests on the rare side,” he said), and once they’re inserted into a toasted bun, they fly out of the kitchen piping hot.
The bun, from Franklin Street Bakery, is part of this burger’s appeal.
“Without getting too technical, it’s not too much bread,” said Erickson, referring to that key burger bun-patty ratio. “It fits, and it toasts up nice on the grill. With a lot of other buns out there, all they are is air. They don’t toast as well, and they fall apart when you start laying on the mayo.”
And a big-old smear of mayonnaise is was what my California-style burger received, along with a thick tomato slice, a few crunchy lettuce leaves, a spoonful of soft (and softly sweet) cooked onions and a handful of vinegary (but institutionally semi-dreary, it must be said) pickle chips. It’s kind of messy (don’t ask for a fork and knife, because there aren’t any, which maybe explains why each table is armed with a napkin dispenser), two-fisted, bargain-priced burger that pairs well with a Grain Belt. Yeah, that sign isn’t false advertising.
Price: Single-patty burgers start at $5 (a double is $8.75). Add cheese for 25 cents/slice, and make it California-style for an additional 75 cents. Other add-ons (mushrooms, bacon, egg) are extra.
Fries: Not included (an additional $3.50 for a half-order, pictured, and $6 for a full). They’re prepackaged crinkle cuts, fried to a notable crispiness, with fluffy interiors, and they do the job. Why crinkles? “It’s just what the customers demanded, and that’s what we gave them,” said Erickson.
House specialty: Of the various burger permutations on the menu, the one that’s made the most lasting impression is the Olive Burger, a cheeseburger topped with sour cream and green olives. “Folks come from all over for it,” said Erickson.
Where he burgers: “This place kind of spoils you, because it’s the best burger around," said Erickson. "Everything else is just filling your stomach. But Culver’s is probably the best one outside of this place.”
Taste of the past: The Ericksons purchased Sandy’s in 1980 (“She’s the brains behind it,” said Erickson, referring to his better half), and a search through the Strib’s archives indicates that they’re probably the property’s fourth owners. The couple bought it from a family that had owned it since 1948. And yes, there was a Sandy. He was A.B. “Sandy” Crans, and at the time of his death in 1948 he had operated the tavern for seven years. Before that, the place was called Chapman’s Tavern and was owned by Harry Chapman. Although the building resembles a house, Erickson said it was probably never a residence. “Everything I’ve heard from the older crowd is that it was built to be a tavern,” he said. “I talked to the gentleman who did the original plumbing in the place, and that’s what he said, too.” The reason why beer is the only alcoholic libation served can be encapsulated into a single word: Tradition. “Post-Prohibition, if you were south of Lake Street, all the bars were beer bars,” said Erickson. “You could only be a beer joint.”
In other burger news: Meanwhile, a mile and a half to the west, it looks as if Shake Shack — the national chain turns out a memorably delicious fast-food burger — is getting closer to opening its location in the northwest corner of Southdale's parking lot, near the 66th-and-France intersection. Construction is in its last stages, and the hiring process has started. Stay tuned.
Address book: 6612 Penn Av. S., Richfield, 612-869-9945. Kitchen open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Cash only, and there’s an ATM on the premises.
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