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Burger Friday: Muffuletta

Posted by: Rick Nelson under Restaurant reviews Updated: November 22, 2013 - 4:31 PM

The burger: Chef Matthew Ellison isn’t exactly sure when the kitchen’s Asian-accented pork burger first materialized at Muffuletta. Ellison has been at the helm of the 36-year-old St. Anthony Park landmark for the past year, and this heaping helping of a burger predates him, "by at least 12 or 13 years,” he said. "Maybe longer."

This much is clear: Ellison would be run out of town if he yanked it from circulation. It’s that popular. But for a burger of such distinction, it’s surprising that it doesn’t enjoy a higher profile. Where are all the best-burger accolades that trumpet far less memorable examples of the genre? Where is the Facebook tribute page?

A few details: The thick patty is formed with top-quality ground pork (from Fischer Family Farms Pork, the go-to commercial pork producer in Waseca, Minn.), blended with a lively five-spice mixture, soy sauce and plenty of green onions. Crushed peanuts add pleasant crunch and a bit of richness to this otherwise this lean, flavorful meat.

Because he's dealing with pork, Ellison grills each patty until it's clearly cooked through, yet it remains juicy and succulent. The flavor doesn’t end there. Rather than a dull ketchup/mustard routine, there’s a zingy Thai peanut sauce, and in place of the standard lettuce it’s shreds of crunchy Napa and red cabbage. Tangy house-made pickles are the finishing touch.

Regulars will probably notice that the burger's challah bun has disappeared, replaced by a sturdy, complementary potato bun, baked in parent company Parasole’s Minneapolis bakery and lightly toasted.

The whole shebang is terrific -- juicy and messy and teasingly spicy -- and it's certainly a welcome detour off the beef burger highway. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Ellison.

“When I come in for lunch with the family, it’s what I get,” he said. Enough said.

Price: $11.95 at lunch, $12.95 at dinner.

Fries: Included, with a choice between potato (slim, crispy, barely golden, lightly salted and fabulous) and sweet potato (not cloyingly sweet, pairs nicely with the well-seasoned pork).

Address book: 2260 Como Av., St. Paul, 651-644-9116, www.muffuletta.com. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday (Asian burger not available during Sunday brunch).

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

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