The burger: The no-frills patties coming off the charbroiler at Flameburger have restored my faith in the much-imitated but rarely improved-upon diner-style burger.
The namesake item at this 39-year-old Little Canada institution -- located down the street from another east metro icon, Hoggsbreath Bar -- is sold in quarter- and half-pound variations, and while the more modest of the two easily satisfies any standard-issue burger craving, the weightier version has the kind of sigh-inducing heft rarely elicited in a fast-food burger joint. In other words, "the Flame" is great, but the "Super Flame" is better.
Don’t expect frills. I’m having a hard time picturing anyone in the kitchen folding duck fat, uncured bacon, 85-percent-butterfat French butter or any other chef-induced flavor booster into the patty’s ground beef. Frankly, I’d be shocked to learn that this beef was seasoned with anything beyond a cursory shake of salt and pepper.
Instead, you’ll get an obviously hand-formed beef patty (“Fresh, never frozen,” said co-owner Adam Elazab) that’s expertly cooked on that flame-shooting charbroiler until there’s a barely pink but gently juicy interior and a gingerly charred exterior.
Garnishes continue along the ascetic route. A few vinegar-ey dill pickle chips insert a welcome acidic bite, and grilled onions (which could have been grilled a bit longer) hit the sweet spot right where it counts. Kudos to the crisp lettuce leaf, but the lifeless tomato slices did little more than add a dash of color.
Not that a cottony, flavorless tomato came as a surprise. After all, I was seated in a restaurant with its own ATM machine; in this hash (brown)-slinging venue, no one in their right mind would expect to encounter a big-old slice of a juicy, lovingly raised heirloom tomato. (But a guy can dream, can’t he?).
But when it comes to the bun, there’s no skimping. As it does for so many top-flight burger-makers, St. Agnes Baking Co. supplies the sesame seed-freckled bun, which gets a light toast on the flattop grill. Elazab described the technique as “steamed,” with the buns placed over an onion slice. It’s a clever touch, one I’m going to remember the next time I make a burger at home.
The add-ons don’t stray too far afield. There’s bacon, and it’s fine. Cheese, however is a must, a gooey slice of American that injects all the right salt notes.
Here's my shorthand-ed summary: Fancy? Not in the least. Consumed every morsel? Yep.
Price: Quarter-pound burgers run $4.75 to $7 (a tremendous value), half-pound burgers fall in the $7.10 to $9.45 range.
Fries: Extra ($2.10), and worth it. They’re the crinkle variety, a frozen product that’s fried to order (the sound of gurgling grease add an animated background noise to the wide-open diner) until they’re slightly golden, barely crunchy and utterly addictive. The prodigious portion would appear right at home at a truck stop. “We usually pile them on until they fall off the plate,” said Elazab. Works for me.
Be prepared: Spend more than two minutes within the confines of this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it establishment (be on the lookout for the yellow sign), and every fiber of clothing on your back is going to absorb the scent of Eau de Greasy Spoon.
24/7/365: Flameburger is that rare Twin Cities eatery that welcomes customers around the clock.
“We love being open 24 hours,” said Elazab. “A lot of our business comes in the middle of the night – we’re really busy, all night -- which makes us wonder why other restaurants don’t do it.”
(The restaurant, which dates to 1976, was once connected to several other Twin Cities Flameburger outlets, including the one remaining outpost in Columbia Heights. Today, the two remaining Flameburgers share little more than a name).
Elazab, who co-owns the restaurant with his sister Amanda, sells a lot of burgers during the hours between last call and dawn.
The No. 1 seller? That’s easy. “It’s the Sunrise Flame,” said Elazab. “It’s a bacon cheeseburger with an over-easy egg on top.”
But other popular choices include the Mega ($14.95) and Double-Mega ($26.50), bacon-topped bruisers that tip the scales at 1 and 2 pounds, respectively.
“The bar crowd loves them,” he said.
Me? I’m picturing one of those 2-lb. hamburger family packs at Cub – done up as a single burger -- and wondering how anyone can possibly consume that much beef. But, hey, mine is not to reason why.
Address book: 2534 Rice St., Little Canada, 651-483-8444. Open 24 hours.
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