The burger: What a pleasure to find chef Lucas Almendinger at the helm of the Third Bird, the Loring Park newcomer that opened in late August in the former (and more enchanting than ever) home of Cafe Maude at Loring (and, before that, Nick and Eddie). He’s a huge talent who made the short-lived Union Fish Market a notable new-in-2013 endeavor.
For the burger on his lunch, dinner and brunch menus, Almendinger is skipping beef in favor of grass-fed bison. “The focus of what I want to do here is be a Midwestern restaurant,” he said. "Bison is a little healthier than beef, and it’s unique. I’m from South Dakota, and I sort of love bison. There are bison burgers all over South Dakota, and they’re not good, so I wanted to do a good one."
Mission accomplished. Almendinger wisely exercises restraint, allowing the meat's gentle, pristine flavor to speak for itself. The only (well-calibrated) seasoning is salt and pepper, and then the thick, hand-formed patties are fried on a flattop. In butter, a welcome fat injection for the naturally lean meat.
"How do you like it cooked?" asked my gracious and well-schooled server, music to my ears. When I told her I'd prefer it the way the kitchen prefers to prepare it, she came back with "medium-rare," and that's precisely the way it arrived. (And thoughtfully cut in half; my friend and I were sharing courses).
Composition-wise, Almendinger is offering a kind-of tribute to fast-food burgers, and the muted, scrupulously attended-to details bear that out.
A Thousand Island-style dressing serves as a shout-out to the Big Mac, but Almendinger’s far more flavorful aioli-based version isn’t exactly Golden Arches territory, what with its Sriracha (for subtle heat) and cornichons (for brief acidic flashes) touches.
White onions are sliced thin and coaxed on the griddle to sweet, near-black caramelization, then finished with a splash of mustard oil. A stack of pale, crisp iceberg adds just-right crunch.
As for the bun, it's a soft, milk-laced beauty, its golden top studded with sesame seeds and its interior toasted on the grill. They're baked on the premises, and they're terrific.
There’s a story behind the choice of cheese, a Wisconsin white Cheddar. “Cheddars have the best flavor for a burger,” said Almendinger. “But a lot of the sharp Cheddars don’t melt well, so we went through this long process to find a good white Cheddar that would melt appropriately.”
Its Wisconsin roots are also a shout-out to owner Kim Bartmann’s heritage. “And we want to keep it in the Midwestern ballpark,” said Almendinger.
Would I return for a second? Absolutely, and as soon as possible. I can hear the voice of Mr. Gerlach, my high school English teacher, ringing through my brain. "A for the day," he would say.
Price: $11, and so very worth it.
Fries: None. Instead, excellent house-made potato chips that adhere to the simple-is-best mantra, just thin-sliced russets, hit with smoked sea salt and malt vinegar powder. I wanted to ask for an extra helping.
Busted: When Bill Summerville gave the contents of our table a sharp-eyed once-over, my diner's intuition guessed his question before he asked it. "Why aren't you having a glass of wine?" he teased. And really, why wasn't I? For Third Bird, Summerville has composed a dream of a list, at prices that support constant if not enthusiastic exploration. My tragic response: There was work to be done back at the office, post-lunch, and I was being a prudent, nose-to-the-grindstone Midwesterner, ergo my (delicious) non-alcoholic cocktail. But if I needed a reason to return to the restaurant -- beyond that burger, of course -- Summerville's list is definitely that.
Friendly shout-out: When tapped for a burger recommendation – one that’s not on his own menu, anyway -- Almendinger had an immediate response. “Landon’s burger is my favorite,” he said, referring to North Loop-er Landon Schoenefeld, chef/co-owner of HauteDish. “It presents simply but every element is done super-well. It’s a great burger.” I agree.
Address book: 1612 Harmon Place, Mpls., 612-767-9495. Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at email@example.com
For those who won't be among the 2,000 sitting down to dinner on St. Paul's Victoria Street on Sept. 14 for Create: The Community Meal (read the story here), consider re-creating the meal at home with these recipes, adapted from the chefs behind the event.
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. Adapted from SunnySide Cafe chef/owner James Baker for Create: The Community Meal.
1 tbsp. paprika
1 chicken, cut into pieces
1/4 c. low-salt soy sauce
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
1 tbsp. Old Bay seasoning
1/4 c. honey
Rinse chicken in water and pat dry, using paper towels. Rub paprika on chicken. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, ginger, pepper and Old Bay seasoning. Arrange chicken in a non-metallic baking dish (using one that just fits the chicken), pour marinade over chicken, cover and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375. Remove cover from chicken and bake 40 minutes. Remove chicken from oven, brush with honey and bake an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from oven, transfer baking dish to a wire rack to cool chicken for five minutes, and serve.
Serves 8 to 10.
Note: Adapted from Shegitu Kebede, co-owner Flamingo Restaurant in St. Paul. “The Flamingo Restaurant only serves this dish when green beans are in season,” writes Seitu Jones of Create: The Community Meal. “The green beans in the Fosolia for Create: The Community Meal will come from the Hmong American Farmers Association.”
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 1/2 lbs. green beans, halved and ends trimmed
1/2 lb. carrots, peeled and julienned
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1/2 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1/4 jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a large skillet over medium-low heat, slowly saute onions until caramelized. Add green beans, carrots, green pepper, red pepper, jalapeno and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have slightly softened. Season with salt and pepper, transfer vegetables to a platter and serve.
Officially, Landon Schoenefeld of HauteDish in Minneapolis is the winner of this year's Chef Challenge at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. He earned the title of Master of the Market with his Chilled Cream of Tomato Soup, with layers of flavor that included an eggplant puree and a medley of gorgeous summer mini-vegetables that was the backbone of a ratatouille, to be blanketed with a luscious cream of tomato puree.
But the real winner is the home cook, who can make this deceptively simple recipe for dinner -- as well as the one from his competitor, Drew Yancey, executive chef of Borough. Drew prepared his take on the classic Spanish sauce romesco and served it as part of a carefully plated display of beautiful fresh, carefully prepared vegetables.
The dueling efforts show how technique, great ingredients and a good eye are important in the prep of not only restaurant-quality dishes, but those we prepare for the ones who gather at our table.
Here's how the competition worked: With 20 minutes and $50, each chef raced to buy their ingredients among the stalls at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Then, with a 30-minute limit for prep, the chefs served up their dishes to four judges: Lynne Rossetto Kasper of the radio show “The Splendid Table;” Ragahvan Iyer, cookbook author; Stephanie Meyer of Minnesota Monthly, and me.
The North Loop Neighborhood Association donated $500 to YouthLink Homeless Shelter, in honor of the competition. The funds will be used to continue cooking lessons that emphasize quick and easy meals with local ingredients. For the recipes, see below.
The competition is sponsored by Country Financial.
Chilled Cream of Tomato Soup
Note: This was the winning recipe, from Landon Schoenefeld, chef/co-owner of HauteDish in Minneapolis, from the Master of the Market competition at the Minneapolis Farmers Market.
• Eggplant purée (see recipe)
• Ratatouille (see recipe)
• Garnishes: Sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes (the more variety and color the better), pickled teardrop peppers (or substitute peppadew), tiny fresh basil leaves, sea salt, olive oil
• Cream of Tomato Soup base (see recipe)
Put a pool of the charred eggplant purée on the bottom of each soup bowl. Add a nice scoop of the ratatouille on top. Arrange the sliced heirloom tomatoes and peppers artfully around the ratatouille and eggplant purée. Carefully top with the tiny basil leaves and flecks of sea salt. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Let your guests bask in the wonder and glory of the season, before you pour the soup base over the vegetables. Serve chilled or at room temperature.
Charred Eggplant Puree
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Note: From Landon Schoenefeld, chef/co-owner of HauteDish in Minneapolis.
• 1 large eggplant
• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• Juice of 1 to 2 lemons
• Salt to taste
Char the eggplant over an open flame until it is completely black and burnt. Purée with the olive oil and lemon juice; season with salt.
Makes about 4 cups.
Note: From Landon Schoenefeld, chef/co-owner of HauteDish in Minneapolis.
• 1 medium eggplant, fine diced
• Olive oil
• 1 zucchini, fine diced
• 1 summer squash, fine diced
• 1/2 red onion, fine diced
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1/2 c. finely chopped sweet pickled peppers
• 8 fresh basil leaves, cut in chiffonade (in thin strips)
• 1/4 finely chopped tomato
In a sauté pan over medium heat, sweat the eggplant in olive oil until golden brown; drain in a colander. In the same sauté pan over medium heat, sweat the zucchini and summer squash together in more olive oil until softened; drain in a colander.
In the same pan, sweat the red onion in more olive oil until soft. At the last second, add the garlic and sweat for a moment more before draining in a colander. At this point you can combine all the sautéed vegetables together in a mixing bowl and add the pickled peppers, basil, tomato and enough olive oil to dress the vegetables. Season with salt.
Cream of Tomato Soup Base
Makes about 8 1/2 cups.
Note: From Landon Schoenefeld, chef/co-owner of HauteDish in Minneapolis.
• 6 large ripe heirloom tomatoes (he used a mixture of Brandywine, Candy Old Yellow and Black Krim)
• 2 to 3 garlic cloves
• 20 leaves of basil
• 1 1/2 tbsp. sea salt
• 1/2 c. local honey
• 1 c. cream
• 1 c. extra-virgin olive oil
Cut the tomatoes up in large chunks and toss with garlic, basil, salt and honey. Allow the tomato mixture to macerate for 15 to 20 minutes.
Purée the tomatoes in a blender for up to 5 minutes or until completely smooth. Add the cream and olive oil with the blender running and purée for a minute more. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt and honey if needed.
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.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When a restaurant is as firmly entrenched in the city’s dining-out psyche as the Modern Cafe, it’s easy to take it for granted.
But given its influential track record, the restaurant that everyone shorthands to “the Modern” deserves better. Ever since the day in 1994 when Jim and Patty Grell opened their contemporary diner in the home of the beloved Rabatin’s Northeast Cafe, the Modern has played a key role in reviving the neighborhood and the Twin Cities' food-and-drink scene.
Twenty years in the restaurant industry is a milestone worthy of a major celebration, and the Grells are delivering just that, with a series of celebratory dinners taking place every night this week.
From Tuesday through Friday, the kitchen is setting aside its regular menu -- sorry, no pot roast -- and preparing a special six-course dinner. The evenings' dishes have been created by previous Modern chefs, who will also be spending specific evenings back in their old stomping grounds. Here’s the rundown, dish-wise and chef-wise:
* Salmon with sweet corn polenta, yellow tomato puree and puffed farro salad by Phillip Becht of the soon-to-open Victor’s on Water. Becht was at the Modern from 2003 to 2011, and he will be appearing Tuesday.
* Pork and beans, by Mike Phillips of Red Table Meat Co. Philips was at the Modern from 1995 to 1998, and he will be appearing Wednesday.
* Potato gnocchi, with pork confit and brown butter hollandaise by Scott Pampuch of the University of Minnesota. Pampuch was at the Modern from 1996 to 2003, and he will be appearing Thursday.
* Walleye egg rolls with dill and ginger kimchi, by Matt Morgan of the Bachelor Farmer. Morgan was at the Modern from 1994 to 1996, and he will be appearing Friday.
* Creamed corn, with smoked green tomato creme fraiche butter by Ella Wesenberg, who has been the Modern's chef de cuisine since 2009. She will be appearing Saturday.
Price? A very Modern-esque $55. No reservations.
"It has been really fun to get all these chefs together," said Jim Grell, adding that each is going to contribute an amuse-bouche or two on the night they visit. "Mike is going to bring his slicer in, he's got a four-year-old prosciutto," said Grell. "And Matt is set on making Ritz crackers with peanut butter and pickles."
On Saturday, the focus is taking a major turn. "We're going to scrap the entire menu and make fried chicken," said Jim Grell. All of the details haven't been hammered out just yet. "We're still kind of putting it all together," he said. "But it's going to be cheap, and we'll be doing great sides, too."
Grell added that he has one hope for Saturday's festivities. "That the plumbing will back up," he deadpanned. "Like it did on the very first day, 20 years ago. At least this time, I'll know what to do."
|Restaurant Bargains (4)||Holidays (45)|
|Deals (2)||Farmers markets (67)|
|Baking (62)||Chefs (105)|
|Cookbooks (41)||Cooking at the cabin (5)|
|Farmers and foraging (32)||Healthy eating (35)|
|Locally-produced food (72)||Minnesota newsmakers (135)|
|On the national scene (108)||Openings + closings (33)|
|Recipes (111)||Restaurant news (247)|
|Restaurant reviews (61)||Beer (2)|
|Food, beer, wine events (31)||TV food shows (26)|