The burger: Climbing the stairs to Annie's Parlour, I made a sobering calculation. I've been eating cheeseburgers at this Dinkytown institution for nearly 40 years. How did I get to be that old? The only reassuring part of that equation is that, during that time, I don't know that the formula for the burgers has ever changed.
I’m old enough to remember when Perine’s Books occupied the building. When the longtime U of M staple disappeared in the late 1970s, multiple tenants moved in. That’s when restaurateur John Rimarcik opened Greenstreets on the second floor.
It didn’t fly. “Greenstreets’ food will not have anyone racing back,” wrote Minneapolis Star critic Karin Winegar. Ouch.
Fortunately, Rimarcik (owner of the Monte Carlo in the North Loop) had been operating a very successful burgers-and-malts joint since the mid-1970s on the other side of campus, on Cedar Avenue in the West Bank neighborhood. It was called Annie’s Parlour, and he eventually imprinted the name and the concept on Greenstreets; it’s been popular ever since.
With good reason. The burgers are excellent. They always were.
In an era when diner-style, double-patty cheeseburgers blanketed in gooey American cheese are the standard, it’s refreshing to occasionally revisit a different kind of classic.
At Annie’s Parlour (and at Rimarcik’s other burgers-and-malts operation, the Convention Grill in Edina), the format is different: a thick single patty (it must weigh in somewhere in between a quarter pound and a third pound) that reaches to the bun’s edges.
The seasoning could never be described as aggressive, and that freshly ground beef is cooked to a no-nonsense medium-well on a flattop. The exterior gets a bit of crispy char, the interior remains juicy and all traces of pink have disappeared.
The bun? It’s warmed but barely toasted, pillowy but sturdy. Cheese is Muenster, pepper Jack, American or Swiss, but to me it’s unthinkable to get anything else but the smoky sharp Cheddar, which gives the otherwise unadulterated burger a much-needed bite.
The sole garnish is a few crunchy dill pickle chips. And really, nothing else is required. It’s pretty much perfect, as is.
Price: Burger is $5.95, cheeseburger is $6.95, total bargains.
Fries: Additional $5.95 for a half order, $6.95 for a full order. I can't recall the last time I encountered a portion size as large as the Annie's "large" French fries (pictured, above). Seriously, they're the ultimate in college value meals. The fries themselves are hand-cut, skin-on russets, and those who appreciate a crisp fry will get into these. But work quickly. Unless you're sitting down with a smallish fraternity, you'll have a difficult time getting through all those fries, and their appeal begins to evaporate as they cool. Which is quickly, especially as you start to dig into the pile and pull from below. Which is why a half-order will do, even with a large-ish group. But, if you've got a table full of fries lovers, this might be one of the Twin Cities' great bargains.
He's a "maltophile": The malts (17 flavors, $6.95) still arrive in a frosted stainless steel mixing cup and are (expertly) poured tableside, and they live up to expections.
From the get-go, Annie’s malts had such a sterling reputation that they once made an appearance in the Taste section’s well-read Reader Request column, where readers would ask Taste staffers to track down restaurant recipes.
“There is nothing complex about a malted,” wrote reader Mark Mallory of Minneapolis on Feb. 28, 1979. “But how does Annie’s Parlour turn out its first-rate malts?”
The response: “Annie’s manager, Greg Rutter, sent directions for a malt, plus a host of hints on making malts.”
Here’s the recipe:
MALTED MILKS A LA ANNIE’S
Makes 1 generous serving.
• 4 generous scoops vanilla ice cream
• ¾ c. milk
• 1 tbsp. malt powder
• Fresh or frozen fruit or canned chocolate or butterscotch syrup
Keep all ingredients and mixing utensils cold. Ice cream should be soft enough to scoop. Do not use the “extra high quality” ice cream or prestige, expensive varieties, but, also, not the low-cost economy type.
Combine ice cream, milk, malt powder and fruit or syrup before mixing using a malted mixer or a blender. If blender is used, set on short, moderate-speed cycles.
Use more or less milk, according to flavoring consistency and quantity desired. Malt powder is a must; it helps achieve the desired composition. Additional malt powder will not make the malt richer, nor will it affect the flavor.
In a 1978 Minneapolis Star story, Rimarcik (pictured, above, in a 1979 Star Tribune file photo) was described as a “maltophile,” and offered a few suggestions. “Nutmeg is to a good malt what salt is to soup,” he said, and he relied upon Kemps ice cream at his restaurants.
In 1986, Rimarcik spoke with Star Tribune reporter (and future Minneapolis mayor) R.T. Rybak. "The most noticeable changes in the restaurant scene here over the years has been that hamburgers keep getting bigger,” is how Rybak summarized Rimarcik's comments. Ever the classicist, Rimarcik offered these words: “Overall, I think people still want traditional foods that are well-prepared,” he said.
Thirty-three years later, that still describes the Annie's Parlour burger.
Other observations: The restaurant's patio, a second-story deck, has terrific views of the downtown Minneapolis skyline. The wide-open blank slate of a dining room hasn't changed much over the years, except that it's sadly looking more than a little shopworn. I kept gazing at the battered but still beautiful wood floors -- and the beat-up tabletops -- and calculated how long it would take to refinish them, a sure sign that I'm watching way too much "Flip or Flop."
Address book: 313 14th Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-0744. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. The second-story restaurant is wheelchair inaccessible.
Metro Transit: Routes 2, 3 and 6.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.