The burger: Three cheers for the $5.75 burger at Tap Society. That price is not a typo. Isn’t it refreshing to encounter a fresh, made-to-order hamburger at that everyday price? Especially inside the prosperous 55419 ZIP Code?
Owner Mike Fritz spent a decade traveling around the country for Macy’s, building restaurants in the company’s stores. Along the way he also did his fair share of eating, observing and taking notes for the day when he would step out on his own.
Fritz test-drove his burgers-fries-shakes concept for several months via a series of Sunday and Monday night pop-ups at Cave Vin. Tap Society debuted last month, moving into the 46th-and-Grand storefront that most recently housed Kings Wine Bar. He’s just getting started.
“The idea is to get this first one up and running and get it right,” said Fritz. “Then we’ll build upon that with more locations. Down the road, there’s the possibility of franchising.”
This is one of those what-you-see-is-what-you-get burgers. No extraneous bells and whistles.
“I wanted to keep it classic,” said Fritz. “And I wanted to keep it simple from an execution standpoint because I wanted to keep prices low.”
What a blessing in this world of $15 burgers. The framework is uncomplicated: a thin-ish, 4-ounce patty, one that cooks on the flat top grill in about four minutes, until the exterior develops a bit of caramelized crispiness and the interior lands on a no-nonsense medium. Size-wise, the patty doesn’t quite reach the bun’s outer edges, but the meat-bread ratio remains well within acceptable boundaries.
Minimalism is the theme here. The bun – soft, warmed and nicely toasted – is baked at Denny’s 5th Avenue Bakery in Bloomington.
Chopped onions are also cooked, briefly, softening them and enhancing their sweetness. A small pile of them are slipped under the patty. The other garnish is a hefty dollop of a standard mayo/ketchup-based sauce. Cheeseburgers rely upon a gooey slice of American.
That’s it, a back-to-basics bar burger role model. Prepared with integrity, it recalls the output of fast-food chains without also mirroring their bland, factory-made ways. It’s not ridiculously oversized, nor can it be characterized as small (in other words, there’s value here). And, yeah, it pairs really well with beer.
Price: $5.75, and cheeseburgers are an additional 50 cents. Double patty burgers are $7.50, double patty cheeseburgers are $8.50.
Fries: Not included. A (generous) half-basket is $4.25, and a full is $6.50. They’re hot, golden and crispy, and liberally seasoned with a garlic-black pepper blend. “Everybody does salt fries,” said Fritz. “We like the taste of the seasoning. We just wanted to do something different, and good.”
The self-serve beer wall: The list runs the gamut, from mass-market standards (Coors Light, Miller Lite) to locals (Fulton, Bauhaus Brew Labs, Lupulin, Pryes, Surly, Fair State, 56) to outside-of-Minnesota craft labels (Toppling Goliath in Decorah, Iowa; Victory in Downingtown, Pa., and Cigar City in Tampa), and all are priced by the ounce: 26 to 80 cents, with the vast majority falling the 44- to 47-cent range. Turnover is emphasized.
“We try to tell everyone that their spot isn’t safe,” said Fritz. “We’re rotating beers through all the time. You might come back two or three times a week, and you’ll see two or three new beers every time you come back.”
Here’s how it works: before pouring, customers hand over a credit card number to activate a swipe-able card. When you’re ready to pour, you hold the card in front of a reader, which unlocks the tap, measures the amount poured and tallies the value into the card. When you’re ready to leave, you can return to the front counter, sign off on the total and pick up a receipt, or you can drop the card into a box and have the tab charged to your credit card.
Fritz encountered the technology while working in Chicago. “Because we charge by the ounce, it’s a fun way to get to sample a bunch of different beers that you wouldn’t normally get to try, and do it without having to go through a bartender,” he said.
There's also the savings in labor costs. That's certainly the impetus behind the self-service food ordering system, with diners placing their orders on an easy-to-follow iPad-like devices and the food is (quickly) delivered to the table.
“That also helps our labor model from a business standpoint,” said Fritz. “But it’s also more efficient for our customers. They can come in and get a beer right away, and then order food when they want, without having to track down a server.”
By the way, six of the wall’s 26 taps are reserved for ciders and wines, “Because not everyone drinks beer,” said Fritz. “We want to be a neighborhood hangout, we want to be inclusive.”
Address book: 4555 Grand Av. S., Mpls., 612-354-7045. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
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