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Posts about Restaurant reviews

Burger Friday: Mission American Kitchen

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: March 7, 2014 - 1:24 PM

The burger: If the half-pound burger at Mission American Kitchen & Bar is good enough for downtown's captains of industry, it's good enough for the likes of me.

People-watching is a big draw at this 10-year-old IDS Center hot spot. During any given noon hour, a healthy majority of the Hubert White mailing list appears to be congregating over salmon BLTs, Cobb salads, open-face Reubens, French dip sandwiches and other straight-up renditions of all-American fare. (The kitchen's speed and the service staff's unflappable nature are two other major assets, along with that 100 percent address).

If they're smart -- and let's face it, this crowd didn't get where they are by floundering in the shallower percentiles of their B-school grading curves -- they're also making a habit of the Mission burger, which is almost as noteworthy for what it isn't as for what it is.

What it's not is complicated, just a very what-you-see-is-what-you get monster (so big that it tiptoes into knife-and-fork territory). No runny egg yolk to make a mess of that hundred-dollar Talbott tie, no painstaking prepared sauces that a nervous job candidate can't properly pronounce, no exotic bun that will fall apart when it gets into someone's hands.

Instead, the kitchen delivers a loosely packed, thickly formed patty, gingerly seasoned and brought to a faint char, with a barely pink, nicely but not outrageously juicy (see Ruined Tie Comment, above) interior.

The bun is of the soft white variety, barely toasted. Condiments go the bare-bones route: a rash of sweet, not-quite-crunchy grilled onions. A pair of tomato slices that at least look as if they might have come from the summer sun even if they don't taste that way. A single garden-fresh romaine lettuce leaf. And a melty slab of quietly sharp Cheddar.

In short, no surprises, no showy add-ons, just solid burger goodness. Those who prefer their burgers on the conservative side will be all over it. 

Price: $13.

Fries: Included. Those who gravitate towards the skinny-and-crispy side of the french-fry spectrum will probably not find satisfaction at Mission. The long, skin-on, hand-cut fries are more limp than firm, with a solid, deeply potato-ey bite.

Bear in mind: Consider yourself a rookie if you lunch at Mission minus a reservation. Walk-ins, don't despair: the restaurant's sunny, four-sided bar is one of downtown's most appealing dine-at-the-bar venues.

Address book: 77 S. 7th St. in the IDS Center, Mpls., 612-339-1000. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday.

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

Burger Friday: Slim's

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: January 31, 2014 - 4:37 PM

The burger: “This is a four-napkin burger,” said my friend, as he tried – without much success – to keep control of all the components spilling out of the two-fisted bacon cheeseburger he had in his grip. I nodded in agreement. We were deeply immersed in a tremendous quick-service burger experience at Slim’s, and soon enough I was running neck-and-neck in the paper napkin tally.

What a smart entry in the fast-food burger wars. The Slim’s version sports a hand-formed patty , its hefty 6 ounces pressed into a relatively thin shape (one that hugs the edges of the plus-size bun) and seared on the flattop until the rough-hewn outer edges take on a crisp, flavorful char.

It’s piping hot, and that heat makes quick work of the melty blanket of American cheese. Aside from the chewy beef bacon – a thoughtful add-on for the pork-averse – toppings include tangy red onions, a heavy dose of vinegar-ey pickle chips, a crispy Bibb lettuce leaf and a few forgettable tomato slices, all working in concert to create a quintessentially all-American fast-food experience, Grade-A division. The malts and shakes, hand-scooped and mixed to order, are an added bonus.  

The highly agreeable soft white-bread buns, swiped with butter and given a light toasting, hail from Denny’s 5th Avenue Bakery.

How good is the Slim's burger? “I had every intention of eating half and then walking away from the rest,” said my friend. “And look: I ate the whole thing.” Same here.

Price: Hamburger $4.50, cheeseburger $5, bacon-cheeseburger $6, all a first-rate value.

Fries: An additional $2, and worth it. They’re skin-ons, cut fresh daily. Their rich potato flavor is enhanced by a light sprinkle of a house-made seasoning blend.

The back story: Brothers Omar (“Slim” is his childhood nickname) and Yunes Abuisnaineh renovated and expanded a former Starbucks into their cheery year-old restaurant (pictured, above), which also cranks out chicken wings, pizza, gyros and cheese steak sandwiches. 

The brothers are locals. "I grew up here, this is right in my neighborhood," said Omar, and he's not exaggerating; he graduated from Park Center Senior High School, which is just down the street. Their business started in 2011 as a tiny chicken wings-and-pizza takeout joint before traded up to their big 69th-and-Brooklyn Blvd. location last winter. A convenient drive-through opened in earlier this month.

Another deep-fried specialty is the basket ($4) of crisp, liberally seasoned potato chips, cut long and skinny and paired with two sauces. “Take me straight to North Memorial,” said my friend, as he began to tackle that pile of chips in earnest. Don't miss them.

Address book: 6901 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Center, 763-512-2000. Open 10:30 am. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 10:30 am. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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

Burger Friday: Pat's Tap

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: January 17, 2014 - 12:19 PM

The burger: If “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Hollywood’s latest paean to excess, had a burger promotional tie-in, a leading candidate could easily be the Bacon Burger at Pat’s Tap.

With its insane 50-50 blend of beef and bacon, the patty pretty much defines “over the top.” Like so many top-flight Twin Cities burgers, the former is sourced from Peterson Limousin Farms in Osceola, Wis. As for the latter, chef Matt Gray purchases ends and scraps from premium pork-meister Tim Fischer of Fischer Family Farms Pork in Waseca, Minn.

This is not one of those burgers where an all-beef patty is topped with a criss-cross of crispy thick-cut bacon. The fatty, teasingly smoky cured pork is mixed, raw, with the beef. The marriage is conducted in the kitchen’s big Hobart mixer.

“That beef is so lean, and then we add a bunch of bacon to it,” says Gray with a laugh. The blend is hand-formed into 6-ounce patties, and no matter how long they languish on the grill, the patties end up tinted to medium-rare on the burger color chart (the results remind me -- visually, anyway -- of the Spam burgers my mom made when I was a kid), thanks to all that pork.

“We could cook them for 14 years and they’ll still be pink,” said Gray, who prefers to take them to medium-rare, “just warm enough so that the bacon melts,” he said. Fine by me. It's a remarkable flavor (only reinforcing the theory that bacon improves everything it touches), with that top-shelf bacon permeating every bite but not completely overshadowing its beefy counterpart. The word gilded comes to mind.

When I mentioned to Gray that I lasted through about three before my appetite cried “uncle” -- that’s how rich this burger is -- he laughed. Turns out, the Bacon Burger is dietary chicken feed compared to the menu’s Big Cheese Burger, which is crowned with 2 ½ Lipitor-defying ounces of fried Cheddar cheese.

“I recommend them for when you’re slightly hung over, or when you have a nap scheduled,” said Gray.

Back to the Bacon Burger. Not content to leave well enough alone, Gray continues on the more-more-more melody by blanketing said patty with a slab of melt-friendly Swiss cheese, then showers the whole shebang with crispy fried onions, thinly shaved and breaded with a Cajun-inspired seasoning. The simple white bun, baked by the New French Bakery, shows remarkable restraint. It arrives with just the barest, faintest trace of a toast. Still, Gray can’t resist brushing the cooktop, pre-toasting, with a conspicuous bit of clarified butter.

My take? This unwieldy burger is a definite reach-for-the-knife-and-fork-er, and I was all over it. I’m not alone; Gray sells upwards of 270 Bacon Burgers per week.

Price: $14. Bacon -- particularly top-shelf bacon -- doesn't come cheap, remember?

Fries: An additional $2. They’re ultra-crisp (Gray fries them in rice oil) and generously salty, and the enormous handful is a fine complement to this unusually – and unusually delicious – burger.

Add-ons: Along with renewing my deep and abiding appreciation for the kitchen’s night-owl hours – work-ethic-centric Minneapolis still goes to bed far too early -- I’d forgotten what a pleasant getaway Pat’s can be at lunch. I’ll be back just for another crack at the robust tomato soup and Gray’s amusing (and addictive) obsession with recreating the iconic Cheez-It cracker. The 2-for-1 Bloody Marys (weekdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) are also a draw.   

Address book: 3510 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-8216. Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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

Burger Friday: The Strip Club

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: January 10, 2014 - 12:17 PM

The burger: Although mentioned before, this bears repeating. You want a memorable burger? Visit a steakhouse. Sure, the Strip Club isn't a steakhouse, but when a restaurant bears the tongue-in-cheek name of a cut of beef, it's not a stretch to assume that the kitchen has a passion for steak.

New York strip, to be precise, a 10-ounce knockout that continues to be the centerpiece of chef J.D. Fratzke's menu. He and his crew break down their primal cuts -- all sourced from Thousand Hills Cattle Co., a premium purveyor of grass-fed beef -- and the scraps are funneled into burgers. First-rate burgers. 

"All we really do with that meat is grind it up ourselves, press it into patties and give it a little salt and pepper before it hits the grill," he said. "It doesn't need anything else, it's second to none. That's what happens when creatures are eating what Mother Nature intended. They're fat and happy until the day we call and have a hit put out on them."

The plus-size patty is cooked on a charbroiler, and the kitchen gives it just the barest trace elements of a charred exterior -- it's more browned, really -- while sticking to the far side of medium rare. It's a strategy that more than highlights the beef's marvelous mineral flavor notes. 

It also exudes juices. It's a good thing that Fratzke relies up on a sturdy potato roll for a bun, because this is a burger that needs all the structural support it can get. "They work well with burgers," Fratzke said. "They're my favorite rolls from childhood. They remind me of Lutheran church picnics."

Order it straight up, and Fratzke tosses in lettuce, onion and a tomato slice. "A tomato on a burger is a necessity for me, even when they're not in season," he said. He wisely turns to Bushel Boy in Owatonna, Minn., which is getting better and better at coaxing flavor- and texture-appropriate winter-raised tomatoes out of its vast greenhouses.

For those craving something on a grander scale, Fratzke knocks out a version that's packed with well-selected add-ons. For starters, there's a criss-cross of Pastures A Plenty bacon (to slap the slice label on these thickly cut planks of porky goodness seems wholly inadequate). There's also a blanket of melty white Cheddar, culled from Pasture Pride, a family-owned Cashton, Wis., cheesemaker that relies upon milk from small Amish farms. Oh, and a handful of sauteed button mushrooms that the kitchen sneaks in under the patty. Add it all up, and it's definitely a knife-and-fork kind of burger.

Price: $11.75, or $15 for the "Chef's Loaded" version. At brunch, add a fried egg for $2.

Fries: Included, and divine. Fratzke sounds almost sheepish when he admits that he uses a frozen product. "It's got a lot to do with storage," he said. "Up until last year we didn't have a walk-in cooler, and we had no way to store potatoes, which is why we weren't cutting our own." Instead, he taste-tested his way through a half-dozen commercially prepared options, zeroing in on the long, slim cuts he's been relying upon for years. They're fabulous, with a delicately crispy (and brazenly salty) exterior that gives way to puffed-up potato-ey lightness.

Extra: Don't know the Strip Club? You should. Fratzke continues to be a chef to watch (ditto bartender Dan Oskey). Here's just one example: Right now, Fratzke is featuring a wild boar bourguignon that has "cold winter's night" written all over it.

Address book: 378 Maria Av., St. Paul, 651-793-6247. Open for dinner 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Open for brunch 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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

Burger Friday: Andy's Garage

Posted by: Rick Nelson Updated: January 4, 2014 - 8:40 AM

The burger: Watching the crew do their thing at the grill at Andy's Garage is half the fun of ordering a burger at Andy's Garage. Each third-pounder starts as a baseball-scaled meatball, and the moment it hits the flat-top grill, the short-order cook on duty reflexively reaches for a cast-iron press and shmushes -- Smashburger-style -- that hefty blob of ground beef into a flatness that stands apart from the thick-pattied burgers that are currently in vogue.

That relative thinness -- a half inch, tops -- translates into a brief cooking time. We're not talking Wendy's-Burger King speed, but the wait is short enough that the Andy's experience tiptoes into fast-food territory. Except that the beef is fresh, not frozen, and the resulting patty -- lightly seasoned, cooked well into medium -- tastes that way.

The old-school garnishes don't surprise, but they don't disappoint, either, with a generous amount of crisp, fresh leaf lettuce, a not-horrible (for the dead of winter, anyway) tomato slice, a handful of commercially produced (but relatively decent) pickle chips and a choice of fresh or fried onions. Add-ons include a half-dozen cheeses (75 cents each) and goodies along the lines of bacon ($1) and mushrooms (50 cents). It's true: Sometimes simple pleasures really are the best.

The crowning glory is the bun, baked roughly 100 feet away at another Midtown Global Market tenant, the Salty Tart. It's one of the Twin Cities' great burger buns, with a glossy, high-rising dome so deeply golden that it's nearly copper-topped. It's sturdy enough to hold up to a big-old third-pound burger and a mountain of garnishes but gently softened via an enriching dose of milk. This is the happy outcome of when a James Beard-nominated chef (in this case, the Salty Tart's Michelle Gayer) turns her attention to the lowly hamburger bun. Can you imagine what she'd do with a doughnut? (Daydream no further: Gayer defaults to pastry cream-filled brioche, and it's nothing short of faux-doughnut nirvana).

Price: $6.25, $6.45 for an initial slice of cheese.

Fries: A $2-$3 upcharge. All burgers are served with house-fried potato chips, and they're a suitable substitute for the (terrific) fries. They're thicker than the average Old Dutcher-er, wonderfully crisp and salty, and certainly fresh. Spend enough time around Andy's Garage -- no more than the few minutes it takes to receive your order -- and you'll undoubtedly hear (and probably feel) the staccato thwack of the table-mounted potato cutter as it slices its way through a gigantic russet. Yeah, that's fresh.

Bonus round: The hand-mixed malts, another example of Andy's embrace of old-fashioned Americana, are also several cuts above the soft-serve versions that are the standard at fast-food chains. Moderately priced, too: $3.25-$4.25.

Address book: 920 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-886-2602. Open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.

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




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