The burger: Although mentioned before, this bears repeating. You want a memorable burger? Visit a steakhouse. Sure, the Strip Club isn't a steakhouse, but when a restaurant bears the tongue-in-cheek name of a cut of beef, it's not a stretch to assume that the kitchen has a passion for steak.
New York strip, to be precise, a 10-ounce knockout that continues to be the centerpiece of chef J.D. Fratzke's menu. He and his crew break down their primal cuts -- all sourced from Thousand Hills Cattle Co., a premium purveyor of grass-fed beef -- and the scraps are funneled into burgers. First-rate burgers.
"All we really do with that meat is grind it up ourselves, press it into patties and give it a little salt and pepper before it hits the grill," he said. "It doesn't need anything else, it's second to none. That's what happens when creatures are eating what Mother Nature intended. They're fat and happy until the day we call and have a hit put out on them."
The plus-size patty is cooked on a charbroiler, and the kitchen gives it just the barest trace elements of a charred exterior -- it's more browned, really -- while sticking to the far side of medium rare. It's a strategy that more than highlights the beef's marvelous mineral flavor notes.
It also exudes juices. It's a good thing that Fratzke relies up on a sturdy potato roll for a bun, because this is a burger that needs all the structural support it can get. "They work well with burgers," Fratzke said. "They're my favorite rolls from childhood. They remind me of Lutheran church picnics."
Order it straight up, and Fratzke tosses in lettuce, onion and a tomato slice. "A tomato on a burger is a necessity for me, even when they're not in season," he said. He wisely turns to Bushel Boy in Owatonna, Minn., which is getting better and better at coaxing flavor- and texture-appropriate winter-raised tomatoes out of its vast greenhouses.
For those craving something on a grander scale, Fratzke knocks out a version that's packed with well-selected add-ons. For starters, there's a criss-cross of Pastures A Plenty bacon (to slap the slice label on these thickly cut planks of porky goodness seems wholly inadequate). There's also a blanket of melty white Cheddar, culled from Pasture Pride, a family-owned Cashton, Wis., cheesemaker that relies upon milk from small Amish farms. Oh, and a handful of sauteed button mushrooms that the kitchen sneaks in under the patty. Add it all up, and it's definitely a knife-and-fork kind of burger.
Price: $11.75, or $15 for the "Chef's Loaded" version. At brunch, add a fried egg for $2.
Fries: Included, and divine. Fratzke sounds almost sheepish when he admits that he uses a frozen product. "It's got a lot to do with storage," he said. "Up until last year we didn't have a walk-in cooler, and we had no way to store potatoes, which is why we weren't cutting our own." Instead, he taste-tested his way through a half-dozen commercially prepared options, zeroing in on the long, slim cuts he's been relying upon for years. They're fabulous, with a delicately crispy (and brazenly salty) exterior that gives way to puffed-up potato-ey lightness.
Extra: Don't know the Strip Club? You should. Fratzke continues to be a chef to watch (ditto bartender Dan Oskey). Here's just one example: Right now, Fratzke is featuring a wild boar bourguignon that has "cold winter's night" written all over it.
Address book: 378 Maria Av., St. Paul, 651-793-6247. Open for dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Open for brunch 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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