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A top Twin Cities chef debuts a gotta-eat new burger at Monello

The burger: Not content to produce one of the Twin Cities most remarkable burgers, chef Mike DeCamp is at it again. This time, for a summer menu he's composed for the patio at Monello, DeCamp has borrowed elements of the popular burger he serves at Constantine (the cocktail destination that’s a flight below Monello in the Hotel Ivy), then adds a few uncomplicated twists, including a second patty. He’s dubbed the results the “Dirty Double,” and, good readers of Burger Friday, it is phenomenal.

Those two thin, small-ish patties will never be described as "bruisers," but they pretty much embody all that is good about the word "decadence," at least from a burger standpoint. DeCamp starts with the same over-the-top chuck-brisket-butter formula (the ratio is six parts beef to four parts Minnesota-made Hope Butter) that he uses for his Constantine burger. To make the “Dirty Double” really stand out, DeCamp goes one ingredient better, incorporating bacon to the grind.

Along with that ridiculously tasty (if artery-clogging) beef-butter-bacon equation, what really makes this burger shine? The onions. DeCamp lavishes plenty of soft, sweetly caramelized onions over the patties.

“I think beef and onions is a great combination, one that’s hard to top,” he said. “My favorite burger in the Twin Cities is at Lions Tap, and in my mind, this burger is a little similar to what they do there. They do griddled onions, although to be honest, they never have enough.”

Which explains why he unabashedly piles them on, until that deep, earthy flavor infuses — but doesn’t overwhelm — every bite.

When I asked DeCamp for details on the bun, the conversation was so memorable that I’m replaying it here.

Nelson: That bun is fairly perfect for the burger.

DeCamp: Yeah, it’s kind of like a cottage-style sesame seed bun, it’s kind of a Big Mac-ey thing.

Nelson: Are they made on the premises?

DeCamp: No, we buy them.

Nelson: Where do you buy them?

[Long pause]

DeCamp: Um, the store.

[Extended laughter ensues]

DeCamp: For real. I’m not trying to be cagey. We get them at Cub.

And where's where this hamburger-bun snob learned a major lesson: one of the Twin Cities’ top chefs shops at Cub (“Chefs —  They’re just like us!” would be the Us Weekly headline), then applies his know-how to flip a perfectly serviceable bun into an occasion. The secret? Butter (and plenty of it, of course), and heat. Warming the bun softens it (and subtly enhances its yeasty flavor), and when all that butter comes in contact with the stove’s heat, it transforms the bun’s inner flat surfaces, giving them a delicate and delectable toastiness. Follow this practice at home, folks. Your burgers will improve, without question.

DeCamp also doesn’t skimp on the cheese. The patties are cloaked with so much bright orange American cheese that they could be mistaken for having been dunked in a fondue pot. His secret? He skips the large blocks of wholesale cheese and heads straight to the dairy case at Cub for packages of individually wrapped Kraft slices.

“It’s just got a different texture from those big blocks of cheese that we would normally buy at the restaurant,” he said. He’s right: Kraft's gooey consistency is right on the money. (It does make me wonder: is separating cheese slices from their wrappers the most dreaded duty in the kitchen?).

Yes, this a sloppy-looking burger, but it's not-too-big scale means that it's easily handled with two hands; just keep the napkins nearby. Final touches include a layer of crunchy, tangy pickles  —along with a chopped pickle relish  — tucked under the bottom patty.

“It’s just all the familiar flavors, you know what I mean?” said DeCamp. I do, indeed.

Price: $14, and totally worth it.

Fries: Extra, at $7 a pop.

Where he burgers: “To be fair, there aren’t too many burgers that I don’t like," said DeCamp with a laugh. "There are just so many options right now. I love the Nook, but that’s a terrible one to say, because it’s everybody’s go-to. I know it’s a cliché to pick your own spot, but I could eat the Constantine burger almost every day. They’re just the right size. Oh, and Dusty’s Bar in northeast Minneapolis. It’s not really a burger, it’s an Italian sausage patty. When I was at La Belle Vie, I used to go to Dusty’s every Friday for lunch.”

Address book: 1115 2nd Av. S., Mpls., 612-353-6207. Patio open 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The “Dirty Double” burger is also available at Constantine (located on the lower level), which opens daily at 5 p.m.

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

End of a (sandwich) era as Be'wiched Deli closes in North Loop and Plymouth

 

Photo by Steve Rice/Star Tribune.

 

Goodbye, pastrami. 

Be’wiched Deli, the first-rate North Loop sandwich destination – and maker of the metro area’s most swoon-inducing pastrami – quietly closed earlier this week.

“It was a good run,” said chef/co-owner Mike Ryan. “Restaurants have life spans, and they close all the time. You have to evolve with the market. I’m a nine-dollar sandwich joint, not a twelve-dollar cocktail place.”

Unfortunately, both Be’wiched locations – the North Loop original, and its short-lived sibling in Plymouth – have called it quits. The North Loop location opened on Sept. 10, 2007.

"I sold a scone and a cup of coffee to a guy in a grey polo shirt as a first sale," said Ryan.

The closure is a major loss. When they opened their revolutionary counter-service outfit, Ryan and co-owner Matthew Bickford introduced a smart, seemingly recession-proof business plan: to channel the high-end culinary practices that they’d amassed in high-end kitchens (Restaurant Alma, La Belle Vie, D’Amico Cucina) into elevating the humble, taken-for-granted sandwich. It was fine-dining-meets-Subway.

By scrutinizing every detail in the sandwich-making process, from technique to ingredients, Be’wiched transformed an everyday staple into an occasion. The kitchen’s output radiated craftsmanship, and elegance, rarities in today’s Jimmy John’s/Potbelly universe.

Along with that peppery, house-smoked pastrami (which was also the star in a critically acclaimed weekend egg-harissa sandwich, pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo), the kitchen made magic with all kinds of staples, from turkey to smoked ham to egg salad.

Two standouts were the transformation of the workaday tuna salad sandwich, which relied upon a confit of sushi-grade fish. The pulled pork sandwich, the tender, spiced-up, molasses-brushed meat piled high on a dream of an onion bun, will long be the standard by which others are (or, at least, should be) measured. It’s no wonder that Be’wiched developed a busy catering operation, with revenues that eventually exceeded its retail counterparts. 

Ryan and Bickford weren’t just culinary pioneers. When they opened Be’wiched in 2007, they were forward-thinking in their choice of real estate (that's the restaurant's North Loop location, pictured, above). 

“Now the North Loop is the most competitive restaurant neighborhood in the state,” said Ryan. “Don’t get me wrong, the neighborhood is great. But gentrification is real, and cool little places are being pushed out by higher rents. That’s a market condition, and I’m not immune to it.”

The pair expanded to Eat Street in 2012, but rather than clone Be’wiched, they opened Icehouse, a music-focused venue. Bickford eventually took over that property's operations, and Ryan concentrated on Be’wiched. Icehouse remains open, where Ryan continues to be an equal partner. 

After Ryan deals with the details of the restaurants’ closure – making the final payroll, paying the last of the sales taxes – he’s moving ahead.

“I’ve loved being my own boss for these past 10 years, it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he said. “But I’m not too proud to work for someone else. Shake Shack is opening near Southdale, and you can bet that they’re going to get my resume. It’s a very well-run company, with a great product, and I can get behind that.”

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