The burger: The turkey burger at the Craftsman has been a best-seller for as long as anyone at the restaurant can remember. "It was on the menu when I got here seven years ago," said chef Ben Jacoby. "We're still making it pretty much the same way. People keep coming back for it. It's one of those items that we can never take off the menu."
With good reason. There's the turkey itself, raised at the poultry farming gold standard that is Wild Acres Game Farm in Pequot Lakes, Minn. The top-quality grind is a balanced blend of white and dark cuts, and Jacoby follows a number of deliberate steps to enrich the meat's naturally lean profile.
For starters, onions are slow-cooked on the stove in butter; the onions give each bite of that thick patty a mellow punch, and the butter stands in for some of the rich fat that the bird naturally lacks. Eggs and butter-soaked white bread crumbs act as much-needed binding agents -- even so, this tends to be a delicate, fall-apart patty, in a really good way. Thyme and other herbs add yet another flavor dimension.
Each hand-formed patty is given a crispy pan sear, a tantalizingly browned outer shell that reveals a mouth-melting interior. Ketchup is not the condiment of choice for the darkly grilled bun (baked at the nearby New French Bakery). Instead, there's a generous swipe of creamy aioli, greened by chives, ramps or whatever is shooting out of the ground at the moment. Steering clear of standard-issue lettuce, Jacoby opts for an herbacious, slightly crunchy riot of micogreens, sourced from another local standard-setter, Dragsmith Farm in Barron, Wis. Yeah, this suprisingly juicy, flavor-packed burger is an addictive alternative for those bored by beef burgers.
Price: $13, entirely reasonable in terms of quantity, quality and -- apologies for the painfully obvious word play, but it's true -- craftsmanship.
Fries: Included, and excellent. They're cut slim, fried to a near-amber and are utterly irresistible. The zesty house-made ketchup is another find.
For added fun: Jacoby and his crew proudly present one of the city's more impressive charcuterie plates (a competitively priced $15). Still, they don't shortchange their vegetarian clientele, pulling together a modern-day chip-and-dip platter ($13) that doesn't taste or look like the dashed-off afterthought that constitutes so many meat-free snacks. Instead, expect to graze through a tempting array of bite-sized heirloom vegetables; some are served raw, others are pickled and a few are brighted through a quick blanch. All serve as edible vehicles for scooping up a full-bodied hummus, which Jacoby often tweaks with roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes or other like-minded add-ons.
One other tip: The restaurant's leafy patio is a tranquil hideaway (particularly from what can be an eardrum-pounding dining room), separated from busy Lake Street by a tall privacy fence.
Don't try this at home: Jacoby's advice for those interested in grilling turkey burgers at home? Skip the grill. "Turkey patties tend to be pretty delicate, and they'll fall part on the grill," he said. "That's why we do them in a pan at the restaurant. Whenever I grill at home, I break out the cast iron. It retains the heat, and it cooks evenly."
Jacoby (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo) also suggests topping turkey burgers by pulling together a sort-of slaw, shredding cabbage and whatever is in season -- for the past few weeks that has meant ramps -- and creaming up the combination with aioli.
Address book: 4300 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-722-0175.
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