The burger: I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, so here goes: You want a memorable burger? Go to a steakhouse. Be prepared to pay steakhouse prices, but in most cases, the investment is more than worth it.
That’s certainly the case at Manny’s, the downtown Minneapolis steakhouse to end all steakhouses.
For starters, what a patty! Remind me to ask my butcher to drop prime sirloin into the meat grinder the next time I muster up enough gumption to make a burger at home.
Chef Jason Smith gives his burgers the same seasoning formula that’s used on the restaurant’s steaks. Smart. Rather than announcing its own qualities, the blend works overtime to enhance the meat’s pronounced beefy oomph.
Each loosely formed, thick-ish, covers-the-bun patty tips the scales at a hefty half-pound (welcome to Manny’s, the Midwest’s big-bigger-biggest culinary capital) and they’re cooked on the same char broiler that finishes off the restaurant’s famous steaks. The stove’s high heat really does the trick when it comes to developing a tantalizingly crusty char on the exterior, while locking in all kinds of mouth-watering juices.
My burger’s patty was pretty much straight-up medium around the edges, and as I nibbled my way into the center, each bite revealed a step closer to medium-rare, the beef becoming progressively pinker, juicier and richer.
Garnishes stick to the basics. There’s a thickly cut tomato slice that impressed for its crimson color and relative (for winter, anyway) juiciness, and a fresh lettuce leaf. That’s it, and frankly, that’s all that’s required.
Oh, and cheese. It’s an add-on ($1), and highly recommended. Smith prefers the sharp, crumbly four-year-old Cheddar from Widmer’s (imported from tiny Theresa, Wis.), but also suggests the tangy St. Pete’s Blue, made in Faribault, Minn. I asked my server for his two cents, and he responded with “American,” a choice that totally hit the spot, draping its melty self over the patty and inserting a hefty salt-filled bite.
The brioche-style bun, its golden crown studded with sesame seeds, is baked for the restaurant by the in-house bakery that supplies all of Manny’s sister dining establishments, including the Good Earth, Muffuletta and Burger Jones.
Smith gives it a touch of butter and a quick toast on the stove before it meets the meat; my only wish is that he was more generous with the butter, and gave the bun a longer toast. This being more-more-more Manny’s, I’m surprised that it didn’t get that treatment.
Price: $15.95 at lunch, and, given the quality of the beef — and the portion size — it’s a relative bargain. It's served in both the dining room and the bar. During the noon hour, I prefer the casual, convivial bar.
Fries: Included, and disappointing. They have all the right attributes going for them — skin-on, hand-cut, liberally seasoned — but the ones that arrived at our table were limply greasy and barely lukewarm. A bright spot was the well-prepared side of bearnaise.
Meanwhile, at dinner: Since celebrating excess has been the restaurant’s core principle since the doors opened in 1988, it should come as no surprise that the evening iteration of the Manny’s burger ($23.95) is a gleeful exercise in caloric overkill. It calls upon a pair of 8-oz. patties — yeah, that’s a pound of beef — composed of that same ground prime sirloin. They get a brush of foie gras-infused butter (because, why not?) before hitting the grill, and then Smith uses slow-braised short ribs and crispy fried onions as a garnish. “It’s the Manny’s opulent, over-the-top treatment,” he said with a laugh.
Sixty-second bio: Smith has been in command of the Manny’s kitchen for seven months. He spent four-plus years at the Edina branch of Pittsburgh Blue — Manny’s suburban little brother — and started at the company (known as Parasole Restaurant Holdings) with a nine-month stint at the company’s short-lived Il Gatto. He’s enjoying his new gig.
“It’s fun to come to work every day,” he said. “Not that Pittsburgh Blue wasn’t fun — it was — but Manny’s has the opulence, and the big personalities. You just see so much more here, and there’s so much more that you can get away with here.”
Other people’s cooking: When he’s not eating burgers in his own restaurant, Smith has got favorites elsewhere. “Il Foro really has a great one, but I think Victory 44 and 112 Eatery are probably two of my all-time favorites,” he said. “The one that I’m really sorry to see go is the Vincent burger,” referring to the short ribs-and-Gouda-stuffed monster that was a longtime menu hallmark at the recently-shuttered Vincent. “It’s sad to not have that one around.”
Insider’s tip: I asked Smith to name the tastiest item coming out of his kitchen at the moment. “Spinalis,” he said, referring to a flavor-satured cut that’s commonly known as the ribeye cap. At Manny’s, it weighs in at 15 oz. Don’t look for it on the menu, but it’s available on request.
The menu does feature a few super-aged selections: a 65-day bone-in New York strip, and an 85-day bone-in ribeye, and both are shining stars in the Twin Cities’ beef firmament. “I’d go for the 85-day,” said Smith. “It’s got a bit of funk to it — a good funk — and it’s a serious, serious steak, for serious steak eaters.”
For me, Manny’s is synonymous with shrimp cocktail, and spectacular it is. The White Tiger shrimp are so big they can practically be seen from outer space, measuring in at 8-12 count. That’s about the largest on the market, and they’ve been coming to the restaurant from the same source for as long as anyone can remember.
Naturally, Smith and his crew treat this premium product with all kinds of tender loving care: a gentle poach in water that’s splashed with citrus and a bit of Old Bay seasoning. They’ve meaty and snappy and juicy and completely irresistible, especially when paired with the ultra-lively cocktail sauce that’s brimming with plenty of house-made horseradish. It’s $22.95, and so worth the splurge.
Address book: 825 Marquette Av., Mpls., 612-339-9900. Open for lunch at 11 a.m. daily (breakfast starts at 6:30 a.m., and dinner begins at 4 p.m.).
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.