The burger: Frustration was the mindset that eventually led Alan Scholer to create his Bad Gyros food stand. Fresh out of college and working as an analyst at a downtown Minneapolis bank, he would spend his lunch hours grazing his way through the food truck scene. His verdict?
“Underwhelming,” he said. “The gyros in particular were really bad.”
An encounter at the Minnesota State Fair pushed him over the career cliff.
“I had this gyros that was so absurdly lousy that I knew that I could make a better one,” he said.
Soon enough, Scholer was enrolled in the culinary program at St. Paul College, which led to a summer internship at Travail Kitchen & Amusements.
“That was an incredible experience,” he said. “Mike [Brown], James [Winberg] and Bob [Gerken] are so amazing, and so hard working. They taught me about work ethic. I still have their voices in my head, telling me to work faster and make smarter movements.”
Still, fine dining, even Travail’s carnival-like iteration, wasn’t for him.
“It was wonderful, but I’m just more interested in street food,” said Scholer. “I just want to focus on items that aren’t found elsewhere in the Twin Cities food scene. Just a couple of items -- where I make all of the components -- and then see how it goes.”
How it goes is delicious, the polar opposite of the stand’s tongue-and-cheek name.
Last Sunday, Scholer and his friendly crew were offering two items: steamed buns filled with turmeric-scented tofu and pickled vegetables, and spectacular lamb-pork sliders. By the time I arrived, the former was sold out, and Scholer was doing a brisk business with the latter. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why. These globally influenced burgers are painstakingly constructed, from the ground up.
The patty is a blend of locally sourced, pasture-raised ground lamb and ground pork (the ratio is roughly one-third pork, two-thirds lamb), a welcome change from beef burgers. The meats – no filler – are formed into 2-ounce meatballs, which are prepared in a two-part cooking process. First, they’re braised in a stock that’s redolent of onions, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander and star anise. That low-and-slow step is followed by a quick one: on a hot flat top stove, Scholer smashes them into a patty shape and fries them until the exteriors sizzle into a gently crispy char but the interiors remain juicy.
The ingeniously composed condiments are first-rate. The patties are lightly drizzled with an oil that Scholer infuses with garlic and Szechuan peppercorns. It’s got a teasing, slow-burn bite that’s shrewdly defused with a cooling, fatty swipe of Japanese mayonnaise that’s dolled up with mint, cilantro and sweet onions.
The topper (literally, as it’s brushed across the bun) is a punchy sesame seed paste, inspired by a classic condiment from China’s western reaches. Scholer roasts sesame seeds then blends them with tamari, wild flower honey, a touch of balsamic vinegar and plenty of garlic that he purchases from his farmers market neighbors. The results play beautifully against the lamb’s slight gaminess.
The buns are egg-glazed, brioche-style and appropriately slider-sized (the meat-bread proportions are right on the money), and they hail from Grandma’s Bakery.
In short, it may be peak tomato and sweet corn season, but I'll be headed to the farmers market for smashed lamb meatball sliders, which Scholer packages in pairs, rather than as a single two-fisted burger. Why?
“At the farmers market, I’m catering to an early lunch crowd,” he said. “A big burger on a Baker’s Field bun is too much for some of these people, and it would probably be prohibitively expensive to make. Sliders are easy to share, and that makes it more sellable.”
Smart. Scholer started Bad Gyros last fall with the help of his girlfriend, Briana Olsen, and already they’ve become a fixture at three local farmers markets.
“We want to get into the Mill City Farmers Market,” he said. “That would be a big step for us.”
Price: Two sliders for $10, a major bargain.
Next up: “More bao buns,” said Scholer. “We’re going to do an ice cream bao bun for Open Streets, on Nicollet [Sept. 23]. It’s going to be a s’mores-like sandwich, with different toppings. I really like making ice cream. We’ll be outside Butter, they’re my new commissary. This bao bun sandwich is a collaboration between the two of us.”
Where he burgers: “I’ll start off by saying I went to Hamburguesas El Gordo and thought it was a California burger on steroids,” said Scholer. “I liked it, a lot. But I’m going to have to say the Borough burger. It’s still the equivalent of a big rib eye at a steak joint. I haven’t made a hamburger patty that decadent yet.”
Address book: Find the stand every Sunday at the Linden Hills Farmers Market, 2813 W. 43rd St., Mpls. (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), and every Tuesday at the Midtown Farmers Market, 2225 E. Lake St., Mpls. (3 to 7 p.m.). The stand also switches every other Saturday between two markets: Midtown Farmers Market (8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and Northeast Farmers Market, 629 NE. 2nd St., Mpls. (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.).
Save the date: The Woman's Club of Minneapolis is opening its rooftop -- with its incredible Loring Park and downtown Minneapolis skyline views -- to the general public on Friday, Aug. 24 for "Burger on the Rooftop." From 6 to 8 p.m., guests can enjoy third-pound burgers, fries, coleslaw and chocolate chip cookie sandwiches for $18. Reservations at 612-813-5300 or email@example.com.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here’s a special request: If you’ve got a favorite burger at the Minnesota State Fair (just not the one at the Midway Mens Club, which is my fairgrounds go-to), I’d love to hear about it.