On most Fridays, I examine the virtues of a hamburger — for accuracy’s sake, it’s usually a cheeseburger — in a blog at Startribune.com/tabletalk. It’s called, naturally, Burger Friday.
Why focus on this particular sandwich, week in and week out? Because we’re truly living in a golden age of burgers.
For chefs — at least those with a shred of economic self-preservation — that means that they can’t bring anything less than their A-game to their approach to burgers.
For diners, it means that there’s a seemingly never-ending supply of great new burgers to explore, rate and appreciate. (Where’s your favorite? Share the details at email@example.com.)
Remember, this isn’t a Best Burgers in the Twin Cities compilation. It’s a rundown on the blog’s best-of-the-best installments from the past year. Here goes.
It makes sense that my favorite burger from that past 12 months is prepared at a butcher shop. Think about it: Other than the farm, where else can consumers encounter such unfiltered access to premium beef?
This single-patty beauty is rooted in the weekly arrival of a steer from a Blooming Prairie, Minn., purveyor, a pasture-raised animal that’s finished on non-GMO grains.
“They get a slow introduction to corn, through troughs in the pasture,” said Lowry Hill Meats co-owner Erik Sather. “I think that makes for really nice inter-muscular marbling. They don’t just stand there and build that big fat cap. They walk around a bunch.”
Here’s another distinction: The shop’s ultra-fresh ground beef is composed of the accumulation of trimmings solely from that single animal, a formula that results in unusually consistent texture and flavor qualities.
“Everything we cut goes into that grind,” said Sather. “There’s probably brisket, sirloin, chuck and strip in it.”
No wonder that this is one notably tender and juicy patty. The beef gets pressed — not too thick, not too thin, and a quarter-pound’s worth — onto the hot flat-top grill, “and that’s when we season it,” said Sather, noting that he relies upon nothing more than kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
It’s cooked to a straight-up medium, and each bite fairly bursts with juices. The brioche-style buns are baked on the premises, and they’re a force to be reckoned with. Pickles, made in-house, are notably crunchy, and possess a vigorous, palate-cleansing bite. As for the cheese, it’s a creamy, house-made American, and generously piled on.
“It’s basically an emulsion of milk and butter, and then a Cheddar we get from Ellsworth [Wis.] Creamery,” said Sather. “When we learned how to make it, I was surprised by how easy it is. It’s great. We use it quite a bit.”
Yep, Sather has struck upon the formula for uncomplicated cheeseburger fabulousness.
“There are so many super-fancy burgers out there,” said Sather. “I just really enjoy a super-simple burger.”
Here’s the only bummer: Lowry Hill’s excursion into burger excellence ($9) is a once-a-week routine, on Wednesdays only.
“It’s nice to be able to move ground beef,” said Sather. “But we’re not shooting to become a burger joint. Not yet, anyway.”
A nice touch? Sather divvies up the shop’s premium ground beef into ¼-pound patties for the make-it-at-home crowd.
1934 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-999-4200. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat.-Sun.
A work of art
For the burger at Esker Grove, the Walker Art Center’s new restaurant, simplicity is the key.
Starting with the bun. What a bun! It’s baked on the premises daily (by Salty Tart veteran Anna Berzelius) and it’s a classic milk-enriched recipe, soft yet sturdy, with a dark golden crown. They’re buttered and toasted on the kitchen’s plancha, the flat-top grill, which offers a texture-enhancing step that only accentuates their exceptional quality.
The patty’s all-chuck formula hails from Peterson Limousin Beef in Osceola, Wis. Chef de cuisine T.J. Rawitzer cures the beef overnight (home cooks, take note: he uses a 2 percent salt-to-beef ratio, by weight, tossing in thyme and black peppercorns), “which firms it up a bit,” he said.
Each morning, the beef is ground, then mixed with a bit of butter before being formed into thickish patties. They’re grilled on that same plancha and taken to medium, with just slight streaks of pink in the center and a robust char on the outside, with plenty of juices.
Cheese is American, and two slices, a happy extravagance. Other add-ons adhere to the familiar-is-best rule: chopped iceberg lettuce, and plenty of it (“Please don’t think any less of me,” he said with a laugh. “It’s not there for nutritional value, it’s about texture, and about familiarity”), superb house-made pickles and a pair of sauces: The top bun is finished with a swipe of a robust stone-ground mustard, and the bottom bun gets a luscious house-made aioli.
It’s a foolproof equation. By sticking to the principles of simplicity and familiarity, Rawitzer has produced a burger ($12, served with house-made potato chips) that more than earns a “museum-quality” rating.
723 Vineland Place, Mpls., 612-375-7542, eskergrove.com. Lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Tue.-Sun., dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 5-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 5-9 p.m. Sun.
Barnes & Noble has remade its Galleria outpost, relocating the 25-year-old store from the mall’s main floor down to the lower level. The bad news? It’s noticeably smaller than its predecessor. The good news is that it’s roughly 62 times more attractive, and it contains a restaurant. A good one. It’s called Barnes & Noble Kitchen, and the Galleria location is just one of three cafes for the 600-store chain.
Wouldn’t you know it? The menu features an outstanding burger ($16, served with habit-forming “crispy potatoes”), which is labeled “brisket burger,” although in reality the thick patty is a brisket/chuck blend.
“I love a pure chuck burger,” said executive chef consultant Sheamus Feeley. “But if the animal doesn’t have the right intermuscle fat and marbling, it can come out a bit too lean. In a lot of ways, adding in brisket makes it a steak-eater’s burger. There’s more background, and richness — to bolster the chuck’s flavor — without all that white fat.”
As for the bun, it’s a brioche-style beauty. “We take it further, by toasting on the griddle with a bit of butter,” said Feeley. “You know when you have a great grilled cheese sandwich, and the bread gets slightly crunchy, with that unctuous interior? You get that crispness of the golden brown toast, but you also get that softness. That’s what we’re doing here.”
He’s right on the money about the patty’s flavor. It radiates a deep, beefy punch that remains prodigiously juicy, and mouth-wateringly fragrant.
Condiments are straightforward and effective. There are enough vinegary, slightly sweet pickles layered on top of the bottom bun to flood the patty zone. Kudos also to the leaves of tender, garden-fresh butter lettuce. The top bun receives a generous swipe of creamy Dijonnaise, and a few snips of raw red onion are definite day-brighteners.
Another plus: a sharp Cheddar, one that’s aged a few months (“just enough to put an edge on it,” said Feeley), blankets the top of the patty, capping a superb burger experience.
“Having a craveable burger and some kind of fried potato is soul-satisfying and enriching,” said Feeley. “It’s the litmus test for any new restaurant.”
3225 W. 69th St. (3230 Galleria), Edina, 952-929-4366, barnesandnoble.com. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sun.
Keep in mind
Other burgers that made highly favorable impressions over the past year include the double cheeseburger ($15) at Nighthawks (3753 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-248-8111, nighthawksmpls.com) and the bargain-priced ($6-$10) “no frills” burger at Blackbird Cafe (3800 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-823-4790, nighttingalempls.com).
Then there’s the double-patty Velveeta(!)-topped burger ($11.95) at Mercury Dining Room & Rail (505 Marquette Av. S., Mpls., 612-728-1111, mercurympls.com), the classic burger ($15, with life-changing fries) at Meritage (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, 651-222-5670, meritage-stpaul.com) and the “Steakhouse” burger ($12) at Stewart’s (128 N. Cleveland Av., St. Paul, 651-645-4128, stewartsminnesota.com).
Novelty seekers might consider the excellent beef Wellington-inspired burger ($14) at Revé Bistro & Bar (200 E. Chestnut St., Stillwater, 651-342-1594, revebistroandbar.com), and the elk-beef blend burger ($18.95) that’s stuffed, Jucy Lucy-style, with smoked Gouda, at 6Smith (294 E. Grove Lane, Wayzata, 952-698-7900, 6smith.com).
In the mood for a (vast) improvement on McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich? Look no further than the spectacular iterations at Eastside (305 Washington Av. S., Mpls., 612-208-1638, eastsidempls.com) and Sea Change (806 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-225-6499, seachangempls.com). Keep in mind that both versions ($14 at Eastside, $12 and Sea Change) are lunch-only items.