The burger: When the new Saints ballpark opens across Broadway Street from his Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market in 2015, chef Lenny Russo is going be ready. Burger-wise, anyway.
Russo didn’t serve a burger at the original Mac-Groveland incarnation of his local-local-local restaurant. “We couldn’t bring in the whole animal – because we didn’t have the room – consequently, we didn’t have the byproduct,” he said. Translation: Heartland 1.0 lacked have the physcial resources to deal with the hefty shoulder clods that Russo prefers to funnel into his burger.
That all changed when the restaurant relocated to spacious new Lowertown digs in 2011. The trade-up afforded Russo all kinds of fun-and-games opportunities.
Including a burger, ground fresh from that muscular shoulder meat. It's sourced from seemingly every top-flight restaurant’s go-to heritage breed grass-fed beef supplier, and a familiar name to Burger Friday readers (I swear, there's no kickback involved). Yes, I'm talking about Peterson Limousin Farms in Osceola, Wis. Or, in Russo-speak, “Andy and Wayne Peterson,” a knee-jerk familiarity that's natural to this most farm-focused of chefs.
Once again, the Petersons' product is of such superior quality that it requires almost nothing to catapult it into hamburger fabulousness. Sometimes the meat is so lean that Russo grinds a bit of the animal’s fat back into it. Seasonings are simple, just a splash of Worcestershire sauce and a bit of salt and pepper before the patty hits the charbroiler grill. Lightly charred and cooked to a fragrant, deeply pink medium-rare, it’s the kind of patty that runs appetite-inducing juices from the very first bite.
Another chief asset is the burger's first-rate bun. It's baked on the premises, naturally, by the talented Ben Buirge, a deeply golden beauty that's just barely toasted on the grill. It's one of those rare burger buns that couples milky softness with an inner strength, one that stands up to the patty’s prodigious juiciness. If they're available for sale for the home-cooking crowd in the restaurant's Farm Direct Market, I haven't seen them. Here's hoping they are. Perhaps Russo could sell them alongside the exceptional cinnamon-packed breakfast rolls that I can’t seem to stop consuming.
Russo knows that a great patty and an equally top-notch bun don't require investing in a lot of embellishment. Restraint would be the word that best describes the modest garnish roster. Tender lettuce, a tomato slice possessing more flavor than a late-November tomato should have, and a couple super-tangy bread-and-butter pickle slices. That's it. And it works.
Actually, there's one more item: two (house-made, naturally) condiments. There's a gutsy mustard, but it's upstaged by an ever-changing ketchup formula, made using “whatever fruit we happen to have in the house,” said Russo. “Sometimes we’ll add peppers, which technically are also a fruit. We’re always doing something wacky.” Whatever the combo, it's a welcome break from the universality that is Heinz. We would expect no less from Heartland.
Fries: Included, and made from potatoes Russo taps in southeastern Minnesota and southwestern Wisconsin. The crew hand-cuts them, stores them in the freezer and pulls them out when needed, and they're terrific, twinkling with coarse salt and brimming with unadulterated potato goodness.
The kitchen serves them by the generous handful, pairing them with wide, shallow trays filled with ketchup and mustard. What a great idea: the tray's surface area -- much larger than the standard mini-ramiken or stainless steel portion cup -- means you can drag those long fries through a pool of sauce, really bathing a significant percentage of each fried potato in a maximum amount of that excellent ketchup. Genius.
Celebrate: Ok, so he's not including a burger on his three fixed-price ($75) four-course New Year's Eve dinners -- one beef-pork-duck, another featuring freshwater fish, the third vegetarian -- but consider reserving a table in Russo's serene, loft-like dining room for your ringing-in-the-new-year venue.
Price: $14. Dinner only, bar only.
Address book: 289 E. 5th St., St. Paul, 651-699-3536. Open 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with food orders available through 9:30 p.m. Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday and through 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Talk to me: Have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com .
The burger: A burger -- scratch that, a top-notch burger -- has been part of chef Fernando Silvo's menu at Harriet Brasserie from the day the Linden Hills restaurant opened in spring 2012.
It's definitely the Chanel suit of burgers: Understated and uncomplicated, an instant classic. "It was never my intention to do something extraordinary," Silvo said. "It's just plain and simple. Everyone is doing so much with their burgers, and I tried to avoid that. Some people just want a straightforward burger, and that's what I'm giving them."
When a burger is this basic, the attention to detail has to be rigid and relentless. And it is. Like so many other smart chefs around town, Silvo is tapping the pasture-raised cattle raised at Peterson Limousin Farms in Osceola, Wis. His cut of choice is shoulder, in part because of its appealing fat-to-meat ratio. Silvo tempers the muscular meat's natural low-level gaminess by invoking a rudimentary cure, grinding it with just salt, pepper and bay leaves and slipping it into the refrigerator for a quietly transformative 24-hour stay.
Each patty is flattened into a thick, rough-hewn thing, and then grilled, until the center is mouth-melting, fall-apart pink, and each boldly beefy bite streams juices (this is definitely a two-napkin burger). Holding it in your hands -- and yes, if there was ever a two-fisted burger, it's this one -- the Harriet burger feels so substantial, so solid, so right. Even as it disappears.
Beef this good requires little in the way of distracting embellishments, and Silvo wisely exercises topology restraint: a thin, melty and gently sharp slice of Cheddar, a criss-cross of crispy thick-sliced bacon and a small mound of onions and Hen of the Woods mushrooms that have been nurtured on the stove with a generous amount of butter and the barest, faintest traces of truffle. That's it.
The effect is sublime, and I haven't even gotten to the bun, a golden, gleaming, egg-washed thing of delight. It somehow manages to be sturdy enough to hold up to the heavy-duty demands of that patty, yet it never veers into doughy ponderousness.
Silvo said he auditioned countless contenders to play the role of hamburger bun, and nothing was doing it for him. Then a local fine-foods purveyor turned him onto a bun that the company orders from a New York City bakery. Bingo. "It's obviously not super-local, which goes against my philosophy," Silvo said. "But I can't lie. They can't be beat."
No wonder this monster sells. And sells. "Maybe more than I want it to," Silvo said with a laugh. "I don't want people to think that we're a burger joint. I like to see people eating something else, too."
Fries: Included, and a joy. Silvo goes to great pains to achieve french fry greatness, cutting, rinsing and drying the potatoes the day prior and double-frying them. His labor pays off. Only the most supremely disciplined among us could be content with just one.
Price: $14. So worth it.
Address book: 2724 W. 43rd St., Mpls., 612-354-2197. Open for brunch 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 8 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Open for dinner 5-9 p.m. Sun.-Thu. and 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
Talk to me: Have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The burger: When she opened Yum! Kitchen and Bakery eight years ago, there was a simple reason why owner Patti Soskin included a burger on the menu.
“Because everyone wants a hamburger once in a while,” she said. “And having a damn good burger on the menu is a good thing.”
You’ll get no argument from this Yum! regular. Soskin’s tarragon chicken salad sandwich has been my default order, practically since Day 1 – so much so that I’d forgotten that she even had a burger on the menu, that’s how crazy I am for that sandwich.
But when a friend reminded me that the Yum! burger was a longtime favorite, I investigated. And now I understand why. Soskin is right. This is one damn good burger.
I’ll reveal a little bias here: I’m head-over-heels when it comes to the rich, eggy and bewitchingly golden challah at Yum! (so much so that it's my Thanksgiving stuffing's secret ingredient). Sliced and toasted, it’s the foundation for that one-of-a-kind chicken salad sandwich, and Soskin and her crew wisely employ the same formula for their burger buns, swiping them with a hint of butter and coaxing them into a slight toast on the grill.
Then there’s the patty. It's a ground-in-house blend of chuck and tenderloin scraps, loosely formed into wide, thick patties. There’s definite discipline in the seasoning, just the right amounts of salt and pepper. The kitchen prepares them two ways, grilled or pan-seared.
“It’s the Burger King-McDonald’s thing,” said Soskin with a laugh, explaining why she offers a choice between the two cooking methods. Turns out that the majority of customers order their burgers grilled. But Soskin admitted that she prefers the pan-seared version, and I’m with her. The skillet’s flat surface evenly distributing the stove’s high heat across the patty, burnishing the meat with a tasty caramelized crust, leaving the inside wonderfully juicy.
Another reason to love: Patty and bun are an exact fit.
“I’m nutty about that,” said Soskin with a laugh. “Don’t give me a burger that doesn’t cover the bun.”
Toppings are kept to a minimum, just the standard tomato slice, raw onion and lettuce leaf. Cheese (at an additional 50 cents) melts as expected. That’s it, although who needs anything more? Not me.
Price: $8.95, and, like the vast majority of items across the Yum! menu, a tremendous value, with both quantity and quality equally in play.
Fries: Not included (although they’re worth the $5.25 upcharge, and then some). Instead, the burger shares the plate with a big-old handful of the kitchen’s superb potato chips. I always make a silent vow to eat just one of them, but their crispy, salty and barely greasy ways foil my not-so-steely reserve, every time.
Celebrate: On Nov. 18th, Soskin is marking her restaurant’s eighth birthday with what I consider to be a near-priceless giveaway: free mini-cupcake versions of her divine Patticake, an ultra-moist, super-chocolatey cake crowned with an indecently generous layer of vanilla buttercream icing. Don't miss it.
Address book: 4000 Minnetonka Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-922-4000. Open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at email@example.com.
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