The burger: It's basic logic, really, although such an unfettered thesis still managed to take some time to sink into my concrete-filled cranium. But it goes something like this: If you hanker for an outstanding hamburger bun, order a hamburger at an outstanding bakery.
But finding a burger-making-bakery is not as easy as it sounds. Let's face it; the hamburger is hardly a bakery staple. Except at Sun Street Breads, where the "Best Dang Burger Ever" is a holdover from the bakery's terrific and much-missed dinner service. After it went away at the end of 2012, co-owners (and spouses) Solveig Tofte and Martin Ouimet quickly resurrected this popular item for their daily lunch menu.
Thank goodness. It should come as no surprise that Tofte, the baker in the family, knows how her way around a hamburger bun, one that mysteriously manages to be pleasingly soft, yet sturdy enough to handle the demands of a third-pound patty. It's one of those buns that rises in the oven to a lovely low dome, puffed but not vacuously airy, and its interior toasts up like a dream. If only Tofte sold them at her bread counter (at least I've never seen them there), although that would mean that I would actually have to prepare a burger at home. Better to place myself in the hands of other, far more skillful burgermeisters.
About that patty. It's a house-ground blend of tri-tip and chuck, fortified with a bit more beef fat for an extra-rich profile. As patties go, it isn't terribly thick, but it is one that manages to fill itself out to the bun's outer edges. Mine was cooked to medium, -- a little beyond, actually -- yet it was impressively juicy. The secret to its seasoned, flirtingly salty bite is a swipe of mustard that goes across the raw patty just before it hits the flattop, a technique that also encourages the formation of a tantalizingly browned crust.
Garnishes? Nothing fancy, just dimpled butter lettuce, a truly juicy and flavorful tomato slice and a thin shaving of raw onion, along with a choice of cheeses (nothing highfalutin here, just white cheddar, Jack and Swiss). The only missing element -- in my book, anyway -- is a pickle (and I'm guessing that Tofte has a fantastic, tradition-laden family pickle recipe that she hasn't had time to implement in her work kitchen). Turns out that it's not ego talking when Tofte proclaims "best darn burger ever" status; there's a ring of truth in it. It's certainly Minnesota's best darned bakery-made burger.
Price: $10.75. Beer-and-burger fans get a price break, too; buy a burger, and Ouimet will cut the cost of a beer (local craft names, naturally) in half.
Fries: Included, and difficult to resist. Hand-cut and skin-on, the fryer transforms the long, slender fries into deeply golden -- almost caramel-tinted -- fries, with just a bare trace of greasiness, a deep potato flavor and tons of salt.
Extras: Where to begin? It's truly a challenge to leave this counter-service place without one of Tofte's crackled, super-tender Domino cookies, a cocoa-brown sugar treat pocked with white chocolate chips. Although her ridiculously flaky fruit turnovers are similarly tempting, as is her buttery, almond-ey ode to her Norwegian heritage, a tart she calls Frystekakke.
But I'll let you in on a little secret, in the form of my go-to Sun Street sandwich. Tofte tags it "Linnea's Choice" (named for the couple's daughter), and it's the kind of repast I wish I'd found in place of the omnipresent peanut butter and jelly that occupied my lunchbox when I was slogging my way through Palmer Lake Elementary School. It's a generous pile of flavorful, incredibly moist pulled turkey (freshened in turkey stock to preserve that marvelous mouth-melting texture) in between slices of a sturdy whole wheat-oatmeal bread. Its appeal is straightforward simplicity; no bells, no whistles, just your basic motherly love, in sandwich form. Here's the best news: Straight up, it's $4.75; add in lettuce and tomato for an extra 50 cents. Either way, it's one of the Twin Cities' great lunch bargains (there's a ham version, too, and it's similarly awesome). I'm willing to wager that I make "Linnea's Choice" a twice-a-month habit, minimum.
Address book: 4600 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-3514.
Talk to me: Have a favorite burger? Tell me all about it at email@example.com.
Oh, and this: Apologies to Taste readers for this inaccurate flag in Thursday's edition. When the section was sent to the printing plant on Wednesday morning, I had every intention of visiting the Gray House and checking out chef/owner Ian Gray's fabled goat burger. That evening, in fact.
After all, Gray had tweeted that it was back on the menu, and he had featured it in a mouth-watering photo on the restaurant's Facebook page. Besides, I'd reveled in its wonders last year when I reviewed the restaurant, and knew that after visiting Singing Hills Goat Dairy last month -- Gray's supplier -- that this was one burger that definitely required scrutiny.
Unfortunately, I arrived at the dinner-only restaurant only to find that the goat burger wasn't on the menu. Bummer. Turns out that demand had been so unpredictably high that Gray's goat meat inventory had been depleted in a few days. Our helpful server kindly retreated to the kitchen to inquire if there was any possibility of a goat burger, despite its absence on the menu. Alas, no. A disappointment, certainly (a reaction compounded by my ravenous post-gym hunger and our tedious hunt for a parking spot in traffic-clogged Lyn-Lake), but clearly a First World problem, right?
To be honest, I was surprised the restaurant was actually open for business that evening, because the night before, Gray was the chef in charge at an Outstanding in the Field dinner, an enormously complicated and time-consuming venture held on the exceedingly picturesque Singing Hills farm in Nerstrand, Minn. After putting themselves through that grueling endeavor, I had half-imagined that the Gray House staff would be sound asleep, or, at the very last, availing themselves of a beer-stocked pontoon boat in some nearby lake.
The takeaway here is that we should all be aware of -- and appreciate -- the sometimes tenuous connections between farm and kitchen; Singing Hills produces relatively few goats for meat production, so it's a blessing when Gray can get his (talented) hands on this remarkable product. We were assured that a fresh delivery of goat meat was on its way Saturday, when Singing Hills co-owners Lynne Reeck and Kate Wall return to the Twin Cities for their weekly chevre-and-yogurt stands at the Mill City Farmers Market and the Fulton Farmers Market.
The evening's other lesson? To embrace one of President Ronald Reagan's favorite mottos, "Trust, but verify." I should have checked the posted menu on the restaurant's website before fighting traffic. Next time.
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