The burger: The thousand-dollar bill bears the image of Grover Cleveland. But if you’re going to link a POTUS to an over-the-top burger – as the Freehouse sort-of does, with its “1,000 Dollar Burger” -- the brain’s knee-jerk response (well, mine, anyway) might naturally kick up our nation’s most corpulent leader, William Howard Taft.
Scratch that. My inner history major has just slid way off the rails in a majorly convoluted way. It doesn’t matter that Cleveland was the only White House occupant to serve non-consecutive terms, or that Taft, the only president to also be seated as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, stood 5-foot 11-inches and tipped the scales at 340 pounds. What’s important to note is that the Freehouse, which opened in December in the North Loop neighborhood and is the work of the Blue Plate Restaurant Co. (purveyor of such establishments as the Highland Grill, the Lowry, Scusi and 3 Squares), is grilling up a burger that, if not quite worth a thousand bucks, at least lives up to its $15 asking price. And then some.
Like Taft, this burger is a big boy, probably landing in the third- to half-pound range. It's a thick, rough-hewn and supremely juicy patty that’s seared to a modest char on the outside and a near-velvety medium-rare on the inside.
Flavor-wise, it really packs a wallop, thanks to a grind of chuck, brisket and sirloin (sourced from the go-to place for premium burger beef: Peterson Limousin Farms in Osceola, Wis). Beef this delicious needs little or no embellishment, although chef Elgin Harris, following a trend, goes one step further by boosting the patty’s already luxurious mouth-feel by adding creamy duck fat into the mix.
Forget about lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions, whatever. This burger is arrives nearly naked, just a barely noticeable slice of white Cheddar that’s slipped in under the patty. Then, taking a clue from the steakhouse universe, where sizzling porterhouses and filets often receive a last-second finishing touch in the form of a pat of butter, Harris crafts a compound butter using a splash of the restaurant’s dark, malty, house-brewed stout. When the burger is delivered to the table, that flavorful dollop has already started to melt, spreading its goodness in tiny rivulets before disappearing entirely into the seared meat.
A patty this hefty needs a suitably sturdy wrapper, and the kitchen doesn’t disappoint, opting for a house-baked English muffin, notably thick, nicely chewy and beautifully crusted with golden corn meal. Truly, superb.
Fries: Included, and pleasant enough, with a barely crisp skin-on shell that covers a soft, semi-fluffy interior.
Add-on: The menu’s “handhelds” section features four other burgers beyond the “$1,000,” including a well-crafted and imaginatively seasoned turkey burger ($12), with warm but not super-spicy curry and pepper accents.
Added bonus: The great-looking restaurant is that rare downtown eat-and-drink establishment with its own (free) parking lot.
Address book: 701 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-339-7011. Open 6:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
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