The burger: When Eastside chef Remy Pettus set out to create a burger for his recently opened (and instantly popular) restaurant, turning to leaner-than-beef bison was the obvious choice.
“We’re trying to prepare foods that people feel good about eating,” he said. “We don’t want them to be gut-bombed and have to go and take a nap after they eat.”
Here’s the thing: Bison is no second-best, Burger Lite alternative. The opposite, actually. The Minnesota-raised buffalo – for this grind, Pettus chooses sirloin – is bursting with clean, robust flavor, and the thickly formed patty, skillfully cooked on a flattop to a spot-on medium-rare, is heavy with mouth-watering juices. Two bites in, and all I could think was, “Why am I not eating bison more often?”
This is a patty that stands tall, by necessity. “With something lean like bison, you have to hit the temperature exactly,” he said. “It’s easier to do that with a thicker patty.”
The choice of meat isn’t the only unorthodox element of this first-rate burger, and that’s by design. “We’re a neighborhood restaurant, and a burger is something people are going to want at a neighborhood restaurant,” said Pettus. “So doing a burger was something natural, but I didn’t want to go the typical route that everyone else is doing. I was looking for more complex flavor combinations.”
He found them. For starters, the bacon is genius. Pettus gets it in slab form from Nueske’s, the third-generation-owned pride of Wittenberg, Wis. Anyone who buys it from the package knows that Nueske’s cuts it thick (one of the many reasons why I love living in my Mac-Groveland neighborhood is that the meat counter at Widmer’s, our corner grocery store, sells Nueske’s by the slice), but Pettus goes the opposite route, slicing it prosciutto thin, par-baking it and then finishing it off on the stove to delectable crispiness. It’s a clever textural add-on – unlike the bacon on so many bacon cheeseburgers, this criss-cross is truly, memorably crispy -- and the skinny slices insert in all kinds of welcome bacon flavor without laying on the guilt.
Cheese? It’s an aged Mahon, a buttery, aromatic cow’s milk variety from Spain that's not often encountered in Burgerland. And that’s a shame, because it works, big time, particularly because Pettus wisely doesn’t lay it on too thick, allowing the cheese to subtly complement rather than overwhelm the bison.
“It’s exactly the flavor profile I was looking for,” said Pettus. “It’s a bit drier, which gives it a kind of crustiness that you won’t get from a soft, creamy American cheese.”
On the pickles front, Pettus skips the cucumber route in favor of thin-sliced baby sweet peppers, done up in seasonally appropriate autumnal colors. And the bun is swiped with a teasingly sweet jam of shallots cooked, ever-so-slowly, in bacon fat.
As for the house-baked potato bun, it’s terrific, a sturdy support system that more than holds up to the patty’s prodigious juices while remaining appealingly tender and flavorful. And here’s how hefty that patty is: it extends all the way out to the bun’s edges.
Reading through Pettus’ menu, I was struck by the number of dishes that were taunting my appetite, including roasted corvina, a fish that doesn’t get a lot of play in Minnesota restaurants, along with that can’t-miss cool-weather allure of slow-braised pork with apples and sage. And who knows? Hopefully I’ll get to them, soon. But it’s going to be difficult to resist the considerable charms of this burger.
Price: An entirely reasonable $15.
Fries: Included, and irresistible. Pettus and his crew go to great lengths to make fries that truly merit can’t-eat-just-one status. Skin-on russets are sliced and dropped in boiling water that’s mixed with baking soda and vinegar. When the water comes back to boil, the potatoes are blanched for two minutes. Then they’re blanched in hot (325 degrees) oil, twice, until the outsides crisp up but the insides remain puffy and slightly creamy. Seasoning is a liberal dose of flaky Maldon sea salt. Perfect.
Here’s my insider’s tip of the day: While the fries don’t make an appearance on the side dish roster at Eastside (which, by the way, ranks right up there as one of the great names among this year's bumper crop of restaurant newbies), Pettus is more than happy to send out a big-old pile of them for $6. Oh, and at happy hour? It’s four bucks.
Coming soon: Get ready for weekend brunch, which owner Ryan Burnet is launching Nov. 14, serving 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Here’s hoping the burger makes the cut.
Address book: 305 S. Washington Av. (at 3rd Av.), Mpls., 612-208-1638. Dinner served 5 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Happy hour served 4 to 6 weekdays.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.