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Burger Friday: Fika

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant news Updated: February 14, 2014 - 12:31 PM

The burger: Fika, the exceptional cafe inside the American Swedish Institute (see my three-star review here), has ventured into Juicy Lucy territory, and the winning results will no doubt change hearts and minds up and down Stuffed Burger Nation.

The Juicy Lucia -- great name, right? -- began as a birthday wish. A few weeks ago, ASI curator Curt Pedersen shared his natal day hankering for a Juicy Lucy -- the iconic cheese-stuffed burger -- with chef Dustin Thompson, who had overseen, to that point anyway, a burger- and fries-free operation. "We had a little time in the kitchen, so we sort of threw it together, and everyone really liked it," said Thompson. 

It's easy to see why. Thompson cleverly avails himself of every opportunity to translate basic Juicy Lucy components into Fika-speak. Naturally, the Juicy Lucia is served smorgas-style, an open-face sandwich that calls upon a sturdy slice of caraway rye bread. Those hoping for a crack at the kitchen's hearty Danish rye, look elsewhere, since that signature loaf "can mask flavors if you pair it with the wrong thing," explained Thompson.

The rough-hewn patty is composed of fatty brisket, and stuffed with Vasterbotten, the firm, teasingly salty cow's milk cheese that is the Swedish equivalent of Parmesan. It pairs beautifully with the rich, medium-rare beef.

From there, Thompson unfurls the Swedish culinary flags and lets them fly, including a creamy whole-grain mustard sauce and vinegar-ey pickles culled from the menu's meatballs. Along with sweetly caramelized onions, the finishing touch is a plucky flag of zesty red watercress, its deep green hues a tonic to winter-addled eyes. "I love that stuff," said Thompson. "When I can get it I tend to throw it on everything." 

It's definitely a knife-and-fork burger -- a plus in Juicy Lucyland, since there's little danger of molten cheese dribbles wreaking havoc on diners' laps -- done up in Fika's modernist sensibilities. It's also ridiculously delicious.

Price: $12.

Fries: Included, and a decent effort for a first-time French fry. To no one's surprise, they are served with a tangy lingonberry ketchup.

One night only: The one downside to the Juicy Lucia (pronouned Lou-see-ah, "She's a saint that the Swedes regard highly," said Thompson) is its limited availability. Thompson and his crew prepare it on Wednesday from 3 to 8 p.m., the one evening of the week when the museum is open. Another reason to visit: Papercut!, the fascinating psaligraphy exhibition by Danish-American artist Karen Bit Vejle, running through May 25th.

Sixty second profile: At age 25, Thompson is surely one of the Twin Cities' youngest chefs working in a leadership role. With his Norwegian and Swedish ancestry, Thompson's DNA fits his job description, although his family didn't steer too far from the meatballs-lutefisk side of their cultural heritage. He started cooking out of high school, working in the kitchen of a country club, "and it turned out that I loved it," he said. 

The Apple Valley native joined the Fika team shortly after opening chef Michael Fitzgerald launched the restaurant in the summer of 2012, and succeeded his boss last August. The two became friends while cooking at Tilia, and when Fitzgerald played host to the king and queen of Sweden, he asked Thompson to pitch in. "I ended up staying after what was going to be a long weekend," said Thompson. Lucky us.

Address book: 2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., 612-871-4907.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com 

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