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Our food critic reviews McDonald's new 'fresh' beef – and kinda, sorta likes it

The burger: The biggest news to come out of McDonald’s since all-day breakfast is the recent advent of the fresh beef patty. Yes, there’s a reason why McD’s burgers have such grey-ish hockey pucks at their center – the patties are frozen when they hit the grill.

But thanks to a “Commitment to Quality” initiative at fast-food chain, there’s a new burger on the menu. Make that burgers: the fresh beef patty is available on all Quarter Pounder options, as well as the “Signature Crafted Recipes” burgers; versions include white Cheddar-bacon-barbecue sauce, and white Cheddar-gaucamole-pico de gallo-buttermilk ranch. (Note to self: now that it has been adapted by a corporate monolith that rang up nearly $23 billion in sales in 2017, “crafted” has been officially rendered meaningless as a culinary bellwether).

Who would have thought the word juicy would earn a place in the McDonald’s lexicon? But it’s true. Another welcome surprise is that the beef is well-seasoned. And because the 4-oz. patties are cooked to order (the wait was maybe three minutes, tops) to a no-nonsense, no-pink medium, the beef actually borders on sizzling, a descriptor that hasn’t been present, for ages, in the vocabulary at the House of Ronald McDonald. 

Amid the praise, there’s a slight hitch: it’s still McDonald’s. Which means the rest of the burger has some serious catching up to do. 

The vacuous, cottony bun is the biggest disappointment, serving little purpose other than as a beef-and-cheese delivery vehicle. It had been toasted, once upon a time, but the warmth had long dissipated; by the time it reached me, it radiated limpid sogginess. At least the beef-to-bun ratio is right on the money.

As for the condiments, kudos to the American cheese double-whammy, with slices on top of and below the patty, the patty's heat transforming both into a nicely gooey state; Mayor McCheese would be proud. The raw onions add requisite crunch and tangy bite. 

But the pickles? They’re nearly flavorless, and lacking that pleasing sense of pickle-chip snap. And the beyond-bland mustard; is “yellow” now a recognized flavor? Come on McDonald’s, carry that Commitment to Quality all the way through. 

Price: At the chain's Dinkytown outlet, the single Quarter Pounder with Cheese is $4.39 and the Double Quarter Pounder is $5.59.

Fries: I’ve long believed that McDonald’s serves the best fast-food french fry. Probably because it’s the fry I grew up eating, and those early experiences forge powerful, lasting impressions, don’t they? It has been a while since I’ve indulged in an order of McDonald’s fries, and while I wasn’t bowled over by this week's experience, they weren’t half bad. Overcooked, and underseasoned, sure. But they still managed to approach that ideal crisp-outside/fluffy-inside formula. 

Don’t do it: The shake I ordered? Gross. In the You Get What You Pay For department, it was everything a person could hope for in 61-cent upcharge (I ordered the Extra Value meal, pictured, above, where $6.59 bought a cheeseburger, medium-size order of fries and a medium soft drink). Which is, not much. Creamy, yes, and thick-ish. But the barely-there chocolate flavor was the equivalent of Swiss Miss standing in for hot cocoa. Worse, it was overpoweringly sweet. Headache-inducing sweet. Big surprise: the “small” size, tipping the scales at 530 calories (and it’s reduced-fat soft serve!), represents 90 percent of an adult’s daily recommended amount of sugar. Thanks, but no thanks.

Address book: McDonald's has 50 or so Twin Cities metro area outlets. Find one at mcdonalds.com.

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

Shake-up at Midtown Global Market: The Rabbit Hole to close, new restaurant moving in

There’s good news and bad news at the Midtown Global Market.

The latter, first. The Rabbit Hole, the Korea-via-Los Angeles gastropub that is a shining star of the south Minneapolis food-and-drink complex, is closing. After five years, owners (and Los Angeles transplants) Thomas and Kat Kim have decided not to renew their lease.

“The Midtown Global Market and Neighborhood Development Center embraced, lifted up and supported our crazy dreams and continues to do that for so many other people who have the dream and determination to own their own business,” is the message that the couple shared with their fan base.

That message is where the bright spot comes in. The Kims have encouraged fellow MGM tenants Hassan Ziadi and Samlali Raja, the enterprising couple behind the market’s Moroccan Flavors, to take over the space and launch Ziadi’s Mediterranean.

“This has been my dream for 25 years,” said Ziadi. “I’m very, very happy.”

The plan is to open somewhere between Sept. 1 and Sept. 15. Until then, the space will undergo a renovation, to give it a traditional Moroccan feel, said Ziadi.

Lunch will be an all-you-can-eat buffet. “An upscale one,” said Ziadi. Dinner will include pan-seared scallops with mushrooms, slow-roasted lamb shank with prunes and apricots, seven-vegetable couscous, a scallops-shrimp-swordfish platter, and shrimp with chermoula.

The move is mirroring the Rabbit Hole’s MGM trajectory. In 2012, the Kims’ initial effort at the market was a counter operation – the Left Handed Cook – and two years later they matriculated to their sit-down restaurant, taking over the space that had been previously occupied by several short-lived tenants.

“Tom and Kat are very nice people, and we’re lucky to have done this with them,” said Ziadi. “Thomas is working with me on the bar program. They’ve been so helpful, so wonderful.”

There’s even more good news: counter-service Moroccan Flavors (pictured, above) is staying put, so those with a couscous craving can rest easy.

Meanwhile, don’t delay in getting into the Rabbit Hole for a last shot at the crispy bacon-tossed Brussels sprouts, the crazy-delicious poutine, the double-fried chicken wings and the brisket-kimchi fried rice. The last dinner is June 30. 

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