The burger: A hamburger that pretty much melts in your mouth? A rarity here in Burgerlandia. Still, an exception can be made for Murray's, where chef John Van House doesn’t bother with chuck, rump, brisket and other proletarian burger cuts.
Not inside the home of the vaunted Silver Butter Knife Steak. Instead, Van House relies upon meat cutter Boyd Freeman to diligently gather and set aside prized scraps from the strip loins, tenderloins and rib eyes that have long been the culinary backbone of this 67-year-old downtown Minneapolis institution, funneling the trimmings into a meat grinder and then into the restaurant's sublime burgers.
(Like the Silver Butter Knife, Freeman is another rock-solid Murray's foundation, having first walked through the kitchen door in 1976. "He's not going to like me saying this, but Boyd is honestly the heart of the crew," said Van House.)
With such velvety beef at his disposal, Van House minimizes thoughts of intervention, incorporating just a bit of fat (Freeman keeps a lookout during his butchering duties) to bump up the richness factor, then adding a dash of the salt-forward, proprietary seasoning mix that Van House applies to the menu's steaks.
Forget about grilling or frying. At Murray's, the name of the game is broiling, with each burger going through the same 800- to 1,000-degree heat blast responsible for the mouth-watering, caramelized sear that envelopes the kitchen’s steaks.
It isn't often that an open-faced burger arrives at the table with a tiny but noticeable pool of juices filling an indent on the patty’s surface. Those juices, when they weren’t later running down my chin, also managed to find themselves seeping into a lightly toasted, generously buttered bun peppered with sesame seeds and poppy seeds.
Garnishes? Very less is more. Expect little beyond a single lettuce leaf -- more for color than flavor, I suspect -- a pungent ring of raw red onions and a patty-blanketing tomato slice.
While I'm on the subject of tomatoes, I lucked into a gorgeous heirloom variety (so deeply golden that at first glance I mistook it for a decadently thick slab of cheddar cheese), its bright acidity a marvelous foil to the beef’s overt richness. Unfortunately, with the local tomato season sputtering to its inevitable autumn conclusion, Van House has very recently switched to hydroponically raised red beefsteak tomatoes. I'm sure they're a worthy winter replacement.
But really, with this burger, it’s all circles back to the beef. Each pudgy, 8-oz. patty is loosely formed, by hand. It hugs the bun's outer edges and is so tender that it collapses, rather magnificently, under the slightest pressure.
“Ordering our burger is like getting one of our steaks, without paying the price,” said Van House. That’s not so far from reality. The moral of this story: You want a top-flight burger, you go to a steakhouse. Specifically, Murray's.
Price: $10 at lunch, which Van House accurately describes as a “steal deal.” And then some. Think of it this way: Steakhouse qualty, tavern prices.
Insider's tip: The dinner menu doesn't include a burger per se, but Van House and his crew will prepare one at a diner's request; you just have to know to ask. The price is a flat rate of $16, with no extra charge to add up to a half-dozen toppings.
Fries: Included. They’re fine – deeply tan, veering toward brown, with a crispy, sturdy bite and plenty of that only-at-Murray's seasoning to keep things lively. But if you’re going to travel down the carbs road, why not concentrate on nibbling through that gratis basket of Murray’s famous (and famously old-school) garlic toast (pictured, above), so crisp and buttery and shamelessly addicting?
History lesson: Despite a recent renovation (which cleaned up a lot of the past mistakes of the prior makeover, and re-organized the famous Murray's dining room and bar into more user-friendly nuggets), one of the restaurant's most appealing aspects is its sense of history, a rarity in the city I like to call Teardownapolis. Take a moment to study the Murray family photos hanging in the lobby.
Address book: 26 S. 6th St. (between Hennepin Av. and Nicollet Mall), Mpls., 612-339-0909. Open for lunch 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays, open for dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Happy hour 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays.
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