The burger: Utter the words “veggie burger” and thoughts of flavorless hockey pucks from the grocer's freezer come to mind. Not at 6-year-old Be'wiched Deli, where an eye-catching and imaginative meat-free burger that hurls its competitors into a shame spiral.
The level of detail -- and the degree of labor intensity -- is astounding; well, until you remember that you’re in Be’wiched, where chef/owners and top talents Mike Ryan and Matthew Bickford approach every sandwich with copious amounts of tender loving care.
Let’s break it down. First off, there’s a secret ingredient: Steel-cut oats, which are steamed in a vegetable stock with cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and other crucial aromatics. The oats are cooked to a gummy consistency, becoming the binding agent that holds the patty together, a stand-in for the usual egg.
There’s plenty of texture in this patty. Sensitive to diners with nut allergies, Ryan and Bickford forgo cashews, walnuts and other veggie burger staples in favor of raw carrots. For protein, there’s quinoa and quick-cooked oats. The most noticeable ingredient is roasted and grated red beets, which give the patty its sort-of beefy color and imbues each bite with a hint of earthy sweetness.
The mixture is formed by hand into thick patties, daily, then they’re pressed overnight to coax out as much moisture as possible. Then each one is coated in bread crumbs – more texture -- before hitting the cast iron on the stove.
Next up comes one of the kitchen’s first-rate buns (just one of many excellent breads baked in this busy, watch-them-work kitchen), a sort-of brioche that the cooking crew accurately shorthands to “butter buns.” Each one is a golden, onion-topped beauty that’s soft but not squishy, yet manages to be sturdy enough so that the whole shebang doesn’t fall apart when picked up.
There’s more. The bottom of the bun gets a smear of a roasted garlic paste, while the top is dressed with aioli. The patty, its outer edges seared to a dark, gentle crispiness, is crowned with caramelized onions and a handful of fresh greens tossed in a mild citrus vinaigrette. Add it all up, and this is one veggie burger that’s the polar opposite of the big dull duds that this genre so frequently produces. A low carbon footprint is icing on the cake.
Fries: Nope. Instead, the kitchen sends out what Ryan describes as a “teaser” portion of its outstanding potato salad. One taste, and you’ll want to order a side of it ($3.50 and $5).Oh, and the tangy bread-and-butter pickles? Fabulous.
Surprisingly popular: When they were brainstorming the opening menu for their North Loop sandwich-focused restaurant, Ryan and Bickford were kicking around ideas for distinctive vegetarian options. “We sort of came up with this on a lark, and it stuck,” said Ryan with a laugh. “Its popularity took us by surprise. It’s consistently among our top five sellers"
Don't miss: The pastrami, pulled pork, tuna confit and turkey sandwiches are no-brainers; yeah, they're really that spectacular (and vegetarians, check out the asparagus-fennel number). Just don't leave the counter without ordering one of the sublime chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons. They'll take you off your Mounds Bar stealth-afternoon-trip-to-the-vending-machine routine, pronto.
Breaking news: Burger devotees will be thrilled to learn that Ryan and Bickford have been busy pulling together a new burger-centric evening menu, and will launch it in a few weeks. They gave me a sneak peek, and just reading it made me hungry.
Address book: 800 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 612-767-4330.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.