The burger: I hesitate to declare that the cheeseburger at the Draft Horse is all about the bun, because that wouldn’t do justice to several other top-notch components.
But dang, that bun. Flaxen in color and rising to an impressive crown, it’s baked next door at one of the state's great craft operations, Baker’s Field Flour & Bread. Truly, it’s something else.
“It’s made with local wheat that’s milled here, right down the hall,” said chef John Lambe. “It’s got a sweetness to it, and while it’s nice and soft in the center, it more than stands up to the rest of the burger, and it holds it all together.”
Lambe improves upon a good thing with a two-step finishing process. First, he toasts the buns in the oven (“That steams them up and softens them, in a fresh-out-of-the-oven kind of way,” he said), then he butters the insides and introduces them to the flat-top stove. “That gives them a good crunch, and a little bit of caramelization,” he said. “That toastiness also helps hold the aioli, and the juices from the patty.”
The menu bills that rich aioli as a “special sauce,” a fitting name. It’s fortified with the kitchen’s dreamy house-made pickles (more on those in a moment), chopped green onions and a splash of the house-made hot sauce. Because, of course Lambe and his crew make their own hot sauce. “I just saw some jalapeños at the farmers market,” he said.
The patty? Superb, with a juicy, intensely beefy bite that comes courtesy of Peterson Craftsman Meats in Osceola, Wis.
“It’s a fine grind, and a flavorful 80/20 blend,” he said, referring to the beef’s meat/fat ratio. “They dry age it for 21 days before they grind it, and it’s an outstanding, flavorful beef.” It sure is. Lambe forms it into patties that are thicker than the prevailing diner style but thinner than a steakhouse-inspired burger. Seasoning is just salt and pepper (with beef this good, nothing more is required) when the patty hits the stove, and the cheese is unadulterated American.
“We debated about that,” said Lambe. “I like Cheddar on a burger, and we have lots of great Cheddar cheeses. But American melts to the right consistency, and there’s just something about American that pulls on your heartstrings, and binds the whole burger together.”
Then there are the pickles: crunchy, brightly acidic and slightly sweet. In other words, perfect. They’re made on the premises, twice a week, just thin-sliced cukes covered, overnight, in an uncomplicated cider vinegar brine. If only they were sold by the jar at the restaurant’s deli case. “If you ask nicely, we’ll throw together a few extras for you,” said Lambe with a laugh.
This is a burger (that photo, above, is provided by the restaurant, and it's roughly 700 times better than the lousy images I snapped) that belongs on everyone’s to-do list, not only for the bun, and the beef, but for all the attention to detail that Lambe funnels into every decision.
The tomato slice, for starters, which was nothing short of glorious. Abundantly juicy and flavorful, it was clearly an early season arrival from a nearby grower and not a commodity pulled off a truck on a cross-country delivery route. It should come as no surprise that Lambe makes daily farmers market visits, stopping at either the main Minneapolis Farmers Market, or the Tuesday afternoon/Saturday morning Midtown Farmers Market.
“I try really hard to go hyper-local,” he said. That effort shows. And how.
Fries: An additional $2, which is a bargain, given the superior quality and can't-eat-just-one flavor. “We keep it old school,” said Lambe. “We use beef tallow in our fryer.” Bingo.
Where he burgers: “That’s a tough one,” said Lambe. “I live over south, and if I’m not making them myself, we’ll go to Northbound. But I’ve got two kids, and they definitely prefer eating burgers at home. They’re very particular these days, I’ve created little monsters. My daughter, if she orders a burger medium-rare and it’s too pink, or not pink enough, she’ll say, ‘That’s not right.’ It’s cute, but sometimes it’s a bit much for a 7-year-old.”
Home cook alert: Baker’s Field baker/owner Steve Horton doesn’t operate a retail counter — although his fascinating setup, which includes a massive, wood-fueled oven, is open for all to observe from the Food Building’s interior glass-lined corridor — but he does funnel his output to a number of Twin Cities retailers, including Seward Co-op, Eastside Food Co-op, Wedge Co-op, Linden Hills Co-op, Lakewinds Food Co-op, Surdyk’s and several Kowalski’s locations.
Address book: 117 14th Av. NE., Mpls., 612-208-1746. Kitchen open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday; bar open one-half hour later.
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