The burger: When I visited the just-reopened Minnesota State Capitol around this time last year, I was wholly unimpressed with the phoned-in fare sold in the basement-level Rathskeller Cafe. What a disappointing mismatch to the building’s architectural splendors.
Times, thankfully, have changed. One standout example of the improvements made by operator Taher Inc. is a remarkable cheeseburger that’s totally worthy of the honor of being served in House of Cass Gilbert.
After all, showcasing the best of the state's best should be standard operating procedure at the People's House. This “Butcher Burger" is an edible representation of Minnesota's agricultural and culinary supremacy. That's a lot of symbolic weight to place on a cheeseburger, but this delicious exercise in simplicity can handle it.
No beefs with this beef. Third-pound patties are fashioned from an exceptional single-steer product (sourced from pasture-raised cattle from a Blooming Prairie, Minn., farm) that's coarsely ground at Lowry Hill Meats (that explains the "Butcher Burger" name) in Minneapolis.
“The grind is from the entire animal,” said Taher chef Matt Quist. “It’s not just chuck or brisket, it’s also the tenderloin, and other premium cuts. And it’s just from that single animal. You go to [the supermarket], and there could be the meat from 50 different animals in the ground beef.”
The patty is pressed relatively thin and cooked on a sizzling flattop grill, removed from the heat when the inside is just beyond medium and the exterior starts to form bits of crispy edges.
Then there’s the spectacular bun, baked at Baker’s Field Flour & Bread.
“That bun is the best,” said Quist. “And it’s worthy of Lowry Hill Meats’ beef.” Yes, it is.
To say that we’re fortunate to have baker/owner Steve Horton working in our community is a vast understatement. At his fascinating facility in the Food Building in northeast Minneapolis, Horton controls every aspect of the bread-making process, milling flavor-packed, single-origin grains from Midwestern farms on the premises, then channeling the results into naturally leavened breads that are baked in a wood-fueled oven. (Get a glimpse for yourself; the facility is open to the public, viewed through large interior windows).
The bun's chewy exterior gives way to a tangy, not-too-dense interior, one that easily soaks up any of the beef’s juices without any loss to its necessary structural strength. (Calling all home cooks: the buns are sold in Twin Cities natural foods co-ops and supermarkets; find the list here).The inside of the bun gets a brush of clarified butter before it’s lightly toasted, a step that slightly accentuates that slightly sour flavor. (One minor complaint: this is not a petite bun, and its heft may throw the crucial beef/bun ratio slightly off kilter. But when the bun is this good, does it matter?).
On the finishing-touches front, the kitchen demonstrates remarkable restraint. The beef is topped with two slices of a slightly sharp, Minnesota-made Cheddar from Bongards. That’s it. Any other flourish is strictly self-serve.
I skipped the long line at the condiments station (at least for the no-frills photo, above), but Taher doesn’t skimp on the selection. Beyond the basics – tomatoes, lettuce, onions, ketchup, mustard – there are impressive house-made pickles, and a rich, made-on-the-premises Thousand Island-esque sauce. My suggestion? Keep the add-ons to a minimum. With beef, bun and cheese this good, anything else tends to get in the way.
Fries: Not included (an additional $1.79). There’s a Tater Tot ($1.79) option, too.
Other improvements: Kudos to Taher for adding a few Minnesota-themed items to the menu. There’s a hoagie-style walleye sandwich (walleye is the official state fish), the fish freshly cut, battered (in a panko-Parmesan blend) and fried. A hearty chicken-wild rice soup is available, daily; yes, zizania aquatica is the official state grain. Locally produced beverages – Joia and Tree Fort sodas, Bootlegger Brewing kombucha – plus sweets (from K’ul Chocolate and Abdallah Candies) are also sold. Nice.
Where he burgers: “I live in Uptown, and I’m out almost every day,” said Quist. “I was at the new Blue Door Pub at Lyn-Lake last week. They’ve got a special on Monday: $3 for a [single-patty] burger, and another 50 cents for a slice of cheese. That burger? It was amazing. Then there’s the Bryant-Lake Bowl, it’s still my favorite Kim Bartmann restaurant. I like the Bad Breath burger [a Cajun-seasoned beef patty topped with caramelized onions, blue cheese and roasted garlic aioli], and it’s great because they don’t serve fries. We should all be sick of fries.”
Primo freebie: Yes, you should take the (free!) 45-minute guided tour of the Capitol. It’s fascinating, no reservations are required and you’ll learn (and see) lots more than if you just wander on your own. Get the details here.
Friday fish reminder: For a recent Burger Friday ranking of nine inexpensive fast-food fish sandwiches -- the top-rated version, at My Burger, is pictured above -- go here.
Address book: 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul. Cafe open 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. Restaurant open during legislative session only, which ends on May 21. (Note: the Legislature will be in recess for the Passover/Easter holidays beginning March 30 through April 8).
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.