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Burger Friday: Check out this wood-fired cheeseburger at Stillwater's newest hotel

The burger: It was only a matter of time before the wood-fired grill craze that’s sweeping through Twin Cities restaurants – Young Joni, Popol Vuh, In Bloom – found its way to Burger Friday. 

Chef Tim Favre is relying upon burning oak in his kitchen at Matchstick, the restaurant inside the new Hotel Crosby in downtown Stillwater, and using the method to create a doozy of a burger. The effect is not unlike utilizing a backyard Weber Kettle: the beef's flavor is enhanced by the smoke, and the intense heat emanating from those glowing embers invests the patty’s surfaces with a slightly crispy char.

Home cooks who end up with dry, overcooked hockey pucks could take a lesson from Favre, who really does it right. One secret is extra-fatty meat. The beef is in an-house grind, a ritual performed daily. The formula is based on measuring three relatively equal parts: lean Black Angus chuck plus trim from well-marbled sources: short ribs and Wagyu steaks.

While some of the grind’s texture-enhancing fat seeps out and falls into the fire (in a cast-iron pan or a flat-top grill, the patty would cook in, and retain some of, its own juices) there is a benefit to dripping fat: the spatters spark flavor-enhancing smoke. 

The premium meat, loosely formed into thick, irregularly shaped patties, is seasoned with just salt and pepper, and cooked to a precise medium. Just before it’s served, the patty is transferred to the flat-top grill, where Favre adds the cheese. It’s a slightly funky (in a great way) four-year-old Cheddar, from Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, Wisconsin’s premium Cheddar producer. Favre takes a spare approach to this prized product, a welcome change from the current smothering-the-patty-in-cheese trend.

“I didn’t want to have a burger that’s oozing with cheese,” he said. “It’s easy to hide a burger under a half-pound of American cheese, and throw pickles on it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I love that kind of burger (see “Where he burgers,” below). But that’s not what I wanted to do.”

Other garnishes, all served on the side, include leaf lettuce, raw red onion and a tomato slice that gets zapped with a hint of smoke, a sharp way to deal with the inevitable winter tomato blahs. No pickles. The bun is the New French Bakery’s potato bun, with a gleaming egg wash crown.

“You want a soft bun, but you also want a bun that holds up well,” said Favre. He brushes a bit of butter on the inside of the buns before they’re toasted. “Toasting is critical,” he said. “It forms that slight crust on the bread, and that’s what holds up the fat of the patty.”

Right now, Favre is serving the burger at lunch; it’s not on the dinner menu. Those in the know can request it, and if there’s ground beef in the kitchen (a limited amount is created each day), Favre and his crew will make it happen.

“Maybe we’ll put it on the bar menu,” he said. Here’s hoping.

Price: $12.

Fries: Included. “They’re an afterthought, honestly,” said Favre with a laugh. “We had our hands full, opening this place. We’re buying them. One of the great new trends is oil-blanched fries that are really good. I’m not opposed to doing a frozen fry, because if you’re doing them in-house, and you mess up the process, then the fries aren’t good.” Yes, they are: thick-cut, skin-on and golden, with a fluffy interior and a pleasantly crisped-up exterior.

Where he burgers:Parlour,” said Favre. “It’s classic Americana. It’s a burger that's just oozing with cheese, that’s one of the reasons why it’s so good. And it’s the crispness that they get on the beef, paired with the pickles that they do really, really well.”

Address book: 232 N. Main St., Stillwater, 651-571-0111. Opens at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. Sunday.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at Burger Friday returns Feb. 1.

Ten things you need to know about chef Gavin Kaysen's new North Loop restaurant

Demi, the small-scaled sibling to Spoon and Stable and Bellecour, is scheduled to open in mid-February. 

1. Demi has an opening date.

It’s Feb. 15, and it’s no coincidence that it’s the day after Valentine’s Day. “That’s on purpose,” said Kaysen. “I’ll deal with it in 2020. Valentine’s Day will be on a Friday next year, and we’ll do the whole weekend as Valentine’s. But this year, it’s not worth it.”

2. All seating will be made via prepaid online reservation.

The plan is to offer a 2-hour experience and a 2 1/2-hour experience. “We’re not saying how many courses we’re going to do,” said Kaysen. “The reason is two-fold. One, if we can see that you can consume more food, we’ll be happy to give you more. If you eat like me, you can eat 30 courses in two hours. But second — and frankly, more important — is when you put a course number on something, people start to count, and when you start to count, you start to lose some of the value and the romance of the experience. If I say, ‘OK, it’s a 15-course menu,’ at around course 10 you might be thinking, ‘Can I do five more?’ And you start to psyche yourself out. And I just want you to relax, I want you to enjoy the experience.”

3. The reservation pool is opening, soon.

The online service will commence the first week of February. “Our goal is to charge $95 for the 2-hour experience, and $125 for the 2 1/2-hour experience,” said Kaysen.

4. Demi will be up-close-and-personal dining.

Much of the cooking at the 20-seat restaurant will be performed in front of guests, who will be seated at a 20-seat, U-shaped counter that surrounds a cooking station and is flanked by a second cooking line. “I’ll be here a lot, because this is your dream as a cook, to be this close to people,” said Kaysen. There will be a ratio of two guests per one member of the staff. “The whole intention is that the cooks have to know how to serve, and the servers have to know how to help the cooks,” said Kaysen. “Everybody is equal.” The team is headed by Spoon and Stable veterans, including chef de cuisine Adam Ritter and general manager Tristan Pitre.

4. The 1,200-square foot space was designed by Linda Kaysen — she’s Kaysen’s spouse — and Shea Design, the Minneapolis firm behind the look of Kaysen’s two four-star properties, Spoon and Stable and Bellecour.

“It was rewarding to be part of Gavin’s team, where every aspect of the space was thoughtfully designed, curated and executed,” said architect David Shea. For those interested in the design details, the dining counter is fashioned from walnut, the adjacent central work station is covered in milky Carrara marble, the velvet-covered swivel counter stools are West Elm’s “Mid Century” model and the walls are painted Benjamin Moore’s jewel-like Vandenberg Blue. “My wife picked that color out,” said Kaysen. “I expressed to her that I wanted more of a dark space compared to our other spaces, which are so light. So she picked this color because it’s so rich, and warm.”

5. The restaurant is peppered with plenty of artist-designed details.

Kaysen’s brother Sean Kaysen crafted beautiful wood service trays and boxes, including sleek storage containers for the custom steak knives that were created for the restaurant by Jackson Schwartz of Hennepin Made in Minneapolis; the knives’ handles were fashioned from a tree on nearby Nicollet Island that was felled by lightning. The delicate, one-of-a-kind ceramics — made by Chicago potter Ashley Lin — just might make the restaurant’s dishwasher the most valuable person on the payroll. (Provided photos, above, by Libby Anderson).

6. The place is subtly steeped in history.

The building dates to the late 19th century, and the original tenant, the Barrington Hall coffee company, is referenced throughout. Sean Kaysen fashioned parts from three coffee roasters into the planters that greet guests on the sidewalk. After Barrington Hall invoices and brochures were discovered in the building’s attic, Twin Cities artist Laurie Borggreve cleverly incorporated some of their elements into a memorable artwork that graces the dining room.

7. There’s a poetic side to the restaurant.

Seemingly looking ahead more than a century, a Barrington Hall brochure featured the following poem, named “Lucile” by the 19th-century poet English Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton:

“We may live without poetry, music, and art

We may live without conscience, and live without heart,

We may live without friends, we may live without books,

But civilized man cannot live without cooks.”

Nice, right? “At one point, we talked about calling the restaurant ‘Lucile,’” said Kaysen.

8. Demi was designed to be conversation-friendly.

“I think it’ll have energy, but I don’t think it’ll be super-loud,” said Kaysen. “And I think it needs some energy. If it’s 20 people and it feels like church, then I’m going to have a problem with that.”

9. The menu will change frequently.

“The goal is to try to change it at least once a month,” said Kaysen. “We might find staples on the menu that always stay the same. For example, no matter what time of year, the very first thing you’ll get is a broth. Maybe in the summer it’s a cold broth, and in the wintertime it’s a warm broth, because your hands are so cold from being outside.”

10. The restaurant is located on the same North Loop block as Spoon and Stable; they face one another across an alley.

“We have a guest who eats at the Spoon all the time, he’s the best,” said Kaysen. "When we first opened, he said, ‘You know, Gavin, the main landmark in the North Loop is Sex World, and you’re going to change that.' That’s a lot of pressure.”

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