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Burger Friday: Wise Acre Eatery

  • Blog Post by: Rick Nelson
  • October 1, 2013 - 8:33 AM

The burger: Wise Acre Eatery chef Beth Fisher has a singular source for the beef she uses in her burgers. It's the restaurant's own farm -- located about 45 minutes west of Minneapolis in Plato, Minn. Along with supplying the Fisher's larder with its vegetables, chicken, turkey and pork, the sustainably-focused farm also lovingly raises Scottish Highland cattle, a breed recognized for its impressive horns, bushy coats and premium flavor. 

With access to such superior-quality beef, Fisher wisely keeps the focus where it should be, which is on the patty. A Watertown, Minn., butcher grinds the meat, a changes-frequently combination of leftover cuts: round, chuck and blade and others. "It's really the things that I don't want to cook," Fisher said with a laugh. 

It's obvious that Fisher and her crew take great pains to keep from overworking the beef during the patty-making process, because this is a noticeably thick and exceptionally tender effort; the slightest pressure results in tiny, mouth-melting crumbles of beef falling away from the patty.

Seasoning is a model of restraint, just salt and pepper, sprinkled on just before the patty hits the cast-iron griddle. Then it's magic time: Fisher lays a ham steak-sized slice of the restaurant's extraordinary bacon (more on that in a moment) next to each patty. If everything's better with bacon, then zeroing in on bacon fat is surely an exponential improvement. It's a brilliant strategy; the pan's heat releases fat from the bacon, creating a sizzle effect that helps the patty's exterior develop a lightly charred (and richly flavored) crust. Meanwhile, the patty's interior is carefully brought to a clean, deeply pink and ultra-juicy bite. 

When it comes to add-ons, Fisher sticks to her basics-are-better philosophy. Cheese is a tangy, ultra-oozy slab of Michigan-made triple-cream brie. Greens? Just a tiny (and, yes, fresh from the farm) basil leaf. The plate -- actually, it's a jelly roll pan, lined in paper -- is decorated with a few of the kitchen's crunchy, slightly vinegary quick (as in 24-hour) pickles, but by all means don't treat them as decoration; they are meant to be devoured. Oh, and there's that monster slice of bacon.

The farm's first-rate Berkshire pork is proof positive that well-cared-for pigs yield blue ribbon-worthy bacon. It arrives at 54th and Nicollet in slab form, liberally striped with fat. Fisher cuts it into generously thick slices, then par-bakes it, the oven's heat blossoming the meat's just-right smokiness ("The guy that smokes our bacon is a true artist," she said). A finish on that cast-iron grill coaxes each slice into a gentle crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside state.

That beef-bacon combo is quite the one-two flavor and texture punch, and it's South Beach Diet nirvana without its brioche-style bun (from Main Street Bakery in Edina, and given an enthusiastic toast on the grill). Still, this locavore's burger is best relished in its fully intended format. 

Price: $14 at brunch (9 a.m. to 3 p.m., daily) and $16 at dinner (5 p.m. to close, Monday through Thursday), and well worth it. Fisher keeps the burger off the menu during weekend dinners, "But if you ask for it, we'll probably do it," she said.

Fries: Included and made, naturally, from potatoes cultivated on the restaurant's farm. After a run with Kennebecs -- the starlet-of-the-moment in the potato firmament -- Fisher is currently relying upon ultra-starchy russets, cutting them fairly thin and frying them to a deep gold. They're terrific, and even better after an enthusiastic dunk in the kitchen's spirited rhubarb ketchup.

Home cooks: The farm's ground beef is now being sold at the restaurant ($6 per pound), along with strips of that swoon-inducing bacon.

Bonus round: Don't leave without a detour into Fisher's frozen custard, served straight up or with a bevy of wicked-good toppings, including a lovely rhubarb-caramel sauce and of course a peanut brittle peppered with some of that bacon. Another perk: Because the restaurant is owned by the partnership behind Tangletown Gardens, the Wise Acre boasts lavishly and imaginatively landscaped patios. 

See for yourself: The restaurant's annual and extravagent farm dinner is scheduled for Sept. 8. Fisher and her crew will be preparing a hyper-seasonal, multi-course meal, with wine pairings by Wise Acre general manager Caroline Glawe. Cost is $175 per person, reservations at 612-822-4769.

Address book: 5401 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-2577.

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

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