The burger: After logging nearly six years in the kitchen at Restaurant Alma, chef Benjamin Rients has set out on his own. After what appeared to be an endless construction process, his Lyn 65 Kitchen & Bar quietly opened last week.
At the menu’s center is something far outside Rient’s Alma orbit: a burger. Scratch that. A phenomenal burger.
“I want to set us apart from Alma,” he said. “I want this to be a neighborhood place, and a burger is important to a neighborhood place. Besides, I absolutely love cheeseburgers. We’re approaching it the way you would at a fine-dining restaurant. Why not take some craft and put that into a burger? ”
Why not, indeed. The unseen mechanics are suitably impressive. And elaborate. The patty owes its ultra-rich aura to fat-laced short ribs, cured for 48 hours in salt, peppercorns, garlic, red onion, parsley and thyme. A grind blended with chuck and sirloin – the arithmetic is roughly 50 percent short rib, 25 percent chuck and 25 percent sirloin – is hand-formed into patties and grilled on a flattop. “That way, the patty sits in its own fat and caramelizes,” said Rients. “It’s using the fat that’s already there.”
When the patty comes off the grill, it gets a brief respite in, yes, more fat. Butter, specifically. “It’s the way we were taught at Alma, to rest our proteins,” said Rients. “If you have that fat underneath, it acts as a natural barrier, and the patty might not release as much of its juices.”
It works. When I cut into the patty, its gently crusted char revealed a velvety, unabashedly pink, tantalizingly juicy center. “We’re shooting for medium to medium-rare,” said Rients. “But we’ll take it to well-done if that’s what people want. I respect that. People should be able to get what they want to get.”
The burger was inspired by a trip Rients and his wife made to Chicago a number of years ago, which included a meal at Bandera. The experience obviously made an impression.
“It was right when I started cooking, and the only thing we could afford was the burger,” he said with a laugh. “It was amazing, and really the first time I had a burger that I’d been shocked by. They borrowed elements of the classic Chicago hot dog. I’ve been thinking about that flavor profile for a long time.”
Naturally, a fine-dining level of care and feeding goes into the garnishes. The top of the lower bun gets a generous swipe of coarse mustard. That's covered with a layer of dill pickles, which serves as a protective barrier between doughy bun and juice-laden patty.
A second pickle treatment -- this time, a sweet pickle relish blended with chopped raw onions -- is spooned over the patty. Both add a much-needed acidic note to counter the beef’s powerful voluptuousness, as does the slice of an obviously well-raised tomato. Rounding out the equation is a crinkled lettuce leaf and a well-composed house-made mayonnaise. As with all classic formulas, this one works. And how.
From the get-go, Rients planned to call upon American cheese. “I love American on a cheeseburger,” he said. “It’s what belongs on a cheeseburger. It melts the best, it’s salty, and it’s perfect in a hipster-ish kind of way, you know? The ‘Ah, who cares, let’s put American on this thing.’”
As for the bun, it’s ok. Not bad – more than serviceable, actually -- but it doesn’t measure up to the fellow components. Rients is on it, already toying with switching it out for a pretzel bun. “We’re going to be constantly changing things,” he said.
From a profit-and-loss standpoint, Is a cheeseburger worth all of this effort? “I’m going to say ‘Yes,’” said Rients. “At least until I can’t stand it any longer.”
Fries: Included. Although they’re well-seasoned and obviously fresh, their pale color and forgettable texture makes them a bit of a shoulder shrug.
Beyond burgers: The fried chicken is a Lyn 65 must-order, a revelation in the opposites-attract formula that is delicately crisp and outrageously juicy. Rooted in a David Chang recipe, the painstakingly labor-intensive process would quickly knock KFC out of business, but then again the Colonel’s fried chicken never tasted like this.
Like the burger, Rients enlists his four-star kitchen know-how to elevate the familiar. The birds are cured for two days, then soaked in buttermilk. Borrowing a technique behind superior-quality French fries, the chicken is cooked twice. First comes a low-temperature poach in duck fat (“We’re huge fans of duck fat over here,” said Rients), followed by a dredge in a (gluten-free!) rice flour- rice panko mixture. Then it’s taken to maximum crispiness in rice bran oil, a chef favorite for all kinds of reasons: a high smoke point, an ability to keep fried food from feeling greasy and a gift for maintaining a neutral flavor profile.
At the fryer, Rients and his crew take what is clearly destined to become a signature dish to a deep, mouth-watering mahogany, and the meat radiates succulent chicken-ey goodness. The portion – very nearly a whole chicken – could easily feed two, and that’s before considering the highly complementary side dishes, including a crunchy, sneakily spicy coleslaw and wickedly creamy grits. The whole shebang is a steal at $20.
Snap out of it: There’s a reason why Rients’ cramped workspace is presided over by a poster-size image of Nicolas Cage, taken from one of Rients’ favorite movies, “Moonstruck.” “It reminds me of this place,” he said, describing the scene where a sweat-soaked Cage is stoking a wood-burning oven in a stifling basement bakery. “We’ve got this 1,000-degree oven going at all times, it’s hot and sweaty here. [The poster] is our good luck charm.”
Address book: 6439 Lyndale Av. S., Richfield, 612-353-5501. Dinner served 4 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Bar open to midnight Monday through Thursday, to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday and to 11 p.m. Sunday.
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