The burger: When chef/co-owner Leonard Anderson opened Tongue in Cheek in late June, the plan was to always include a burger on the menu. “We want to accommodate more than one demographic, he said. "If there are two people at a table of six who aren’t that adventurous, they can get a fried-egg sandwich, or a salad, or a burger. We’re selling a lot more burgers than I ever thought we would.”
I’m not surprised, as it is one fantastic burger. Turns out that the formula is a kind-of happy medium between two burgers from Anderson’s recent professional past: the fully loaded iteration he created for the former Hanger Room, and the minimalist version from his days at W.A. Frost & Co.
At its center is a lean and flavorful grass-fed beef that Anderson fortifies with shallots, garlic, herbs (dill, rosemary, thyme, parsley and chives) and a bit of ketchup. The meatloaf-inspired mix is formed into a thick patty and grilled to a robust char. On the outside, anyway; the kitchen took my medium-rare request exactly where it needed to go, leaving appropriately velvety pinkness and plenty of juice.
Anderson keeps the falderal to a minimum. The bun, a basic beauty baked by the good people at Franklin Street Bakery, gets its blackened stripes from a quick burnish on the grill. In the cheese department, Anderson uses a mild, three-month-old Cheddar (from Castle Rock Organic Farms in Osseo, Wis.) because it boasts all the right soft, meltable qualities, which explains why he also enlists it for the kid’s menu’s mac-and-cheese.
From the garden, Anderson skips over more standard-issue lettuces in favor of arugula. “It’s my favorite green, along with watercress,” he said. “I like it because it has a little more of a bite, and the texture holds up.” House-made cucumber pickles contribute a welcome vinegar tanginess, and the finishing flourish is whatever aioli is being prepared in the kitchen that day.
“Tonight it’s a chipotle aioli,” he said. “Last night it was Sriracha. Sometimes it’s roasted garlic. I have the burger a lot. I want to change it up, so I assume that others want that, too.”
Price: $11, a top-notch value. “There are places that are charging $14, $15, $16, $17 for a cheeseburger, it’s crazy,” said Anderson. Agreed.
Fries: Included, and addictive. They’re hand-cut and fried in rice oil until they’re tantalizingly crisp and deeply golden. Anderson gives them a generous toss in herbs, sea salt and black pepper, and piles a big-old handful of them on every burger plate.
Location, location, location: Tongue in Cheek is on St. Paul’s Payne Avenue for a reason. Anderson and his co-owners – wife Ashleigh Newman and their friend Ryan Huseby (a Happy Gnome and W.A. Frost & Co. vet) all live on the city’s east side. “The neighborhood is going through a renassiance, and we want to be a part of that," said Anderson.
Address book: 989 Payne Av., St. Paul, 651-888-6148. Open 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Brunch is served 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
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