The burger: I’ll confess that I was pre-disposed to have positive feelings towards Streetz American Grill before I even got out of my car, and here’s why: For the first outlet of his proto-chain, owner Paul Harmon has repurposed a former Denny’s franchise. Not a teardown, but a top-to-bottom renovation. Picture replacing a pair of ratty Zubaz with well-fitted selvage jeans, and you’ve got an idea of how Streetz has rubbed out a longstanding blight on the suburban Bloomington landscape.
Harmon, a first-time restaurateur, obviously didn't do it alone. He tapped two Minneapolis design firms -- Tanek, for architecture, and Cue on the branding front – to scrape away every last trace of that 30-year-old Denny's template, and if there are awards for adaptive reuse done right, here’s hoping that the powers that be keep Streetz in mind.
The restaurant really stands out on the crowded fast-casual burger scene, and it’s not just because of its curb appeal. The menu is dedicated to creating spot-on iterations of American street vendor classics, including a long line of burgers.
“We started out by saying, ‘We can’t get a truly authentic Philly cheese steak in this town,’ said Harmon. “We want to be the place where locals from other places come here and say, ‘That’s where you go for the best Philly cheese steak, or the best Chicago Dog.’”
This being Burger Friday, I won’t speak to the veracity of Streetz's version of the City of Brotherly Love's most enduring working-man's culinary export (but it’s an encouraging sign that Harmon’s Philly go-to is Pat’s), or its Coney Dog. But the burger? A winner.
The beef – an 80 percent lean meat/20 percent fat ratio -- is formed into a far thicker patty than most of its quick-service counterparts. The gently seasoned, loosely packed ground chuck is clearly shaped into a hug-the-edge-of-the-bun patty with as little intervention as possible. Each patty is cooked to order on a flattop grill. I chose medium-rare, and it arrived – about four minutes later -- with an interior that was appropriately rosy if not wildly juicy, and an exterior sizzling with a lightly crusted char.
For the basic burger, toppings stick to the basics, just raw thin-sliced red onions, a pair of not-awful-for-January tomato slices and an unexpectedly crisp, deeply green lettuce leaf. Harmon and general manager Tim Malloy have the smarts to source the no-nonense buns from P.J. Murphy’s Bakery. They're a burger classic: a tender, almost milky, white bread, one that’s lightly toasted and manages to be both soft and yet sturdy enough to stand up a third-pound patty.
With so many order-at-the-counter burger chains crowding the market, locally owned Streetz is definitely a force to watch, in part because they're taking obvious pains to nail the time-tested elements that go into creating first-rate quick-service fare. "Our goal is to do simple food, really well," said Harmon. So far, so good, I'd say. Next time, I'll be back for the Philly cheese steak. And another burger.
Price: $4.95 for a burger, $5.50 for a cheeseburger, a great value. Other add-ons include mayonnaise, avocado, bacon, buffalo hot sauce, lamb/beef gyro meat, all-beef hot dogs, chili, Polish sausages and more, $5.95 to $8.95. The hand-mixed malts and shakes ($3.95) are appropriately thick and creamy.
Fries: Not included, but worth the extra cash. The “side” order ($1.95) is an extremely generous basket, and the “basket” ($3.25) could easily feed two. They're sliced relatively thick, with their skins on, and my lone quibble is that they could use more salt.
Coming sometime soon: Harmon & Co. launched a second Streetz in Hopkins about six weeks ago, this time in a reconfigured manufacturing facility. “Our plan is to do five or six of these in the next five years,” said Harmon, who noted that he has been inundated with where-and-when queries. “Give us a little time,” he said with a laugh. “We’ve only had six months with the first one. We need to rest a little bit, and get our act together.” Bottom line: “We don’t have the next one on board, yet,” he said.
Address book: 1200 W. 98th St., Bloomington, 952-888-1411 and 415 17th Av. N., Hopkins, 952-217-4406. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
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