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Burger Friday: At Lake Harriet's Bread & Pickle, a best-selling burger

The burger: Bread & Pickle, the seasonal and scenic dining pavilion that's perched on the northwest shore of Lake Harriet, sells a lot of burgers. 

“They’re our No. 1 menu item,” said Mo Moore, director of purchasing and culinary operations for the Bartmann Group, the restaurant’s owner. “Last year, we sold 27,000 burgers.”

That translates to roughly 200 burgers a day during the restaurant’s five-month season. 

Practice clearly makes perfect. There’s a reason these burgers are so popular: consumers obviously recognize quality – and value – when they see it. 

Starting with the bun. When the name over the door starts with “Bread,” that component had better be good, and it is. Moore partners with Denny’s 5th Avenue Bakery in Bloomington, which bakes a bun to his specifications.

“The texture goes well with all of the ingredients we put into it,” he said. “And it’s got a good patty-to-bun ratio. It’s not too much bread for the meat.”

The beef is also first-rate. Moore works with Peterson Craftsman Meats – supplier of a wide swath of the Twin Cities’ top burger makers – creating a custom Bread & Pickle blend and forming it into time-saving quarter-pound patties. 

“They have a special die that gives us the proper diameter and width,” said Moore. “The fat-meat ratio and the thickness are right where we need it. It stays juicy when we cook it.”

It does, a miracle for a quick-service burger; my order, during a busy dinner rush, took less than 10 minutes to materialize. Once the beef hits the flat top grill – a five-foot-wide stove that’s reserved exclusively for burgers -- Moore and his crew season the meat with a salt-forward seasoning blend.  

The format sticks to a fairly classic framework. A basic burger – which includes crunchy, vinegary pickles and a swipe of a “special sauce” (one background ingredient is truffle oil) is $6. “The Works” adds sweet caramelized onions, shredded iceberg lettuce and a thick and surprisingly juicy (given the off-season date) tomato slice, for $8.25. In between is a California-style iteration – lettuce and tomatoes, no pickles – for $7.50.

Want a cheeseburger? Moore tosses in a slice of white, Wisconsin-made Cheddar for an additional $1.25. 

“Kim [Bartmann, the restaurant’s owner] is from Wisconsin, and Wisconsin makes really good cheese,” said Moore. “I like it because there’s nothing unnatural, there are no food dyes.”

One of the most fruitful decisions the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has made in recent years was to open up food-and-drink facilities to private vendors: Sea Salt Eatery at Minnehaha Park, Sandcastle at Lake Nokomis and Bread & Pickle at Lake Harriet (pictured, above). (The bad news: the refectory at Bde Maka Ska, home to Lola’s on the Lake, was badly damaged in an early Thursday morning fire). 

Moore certainly agrees. His workplace, now in its ninth season, has become one of the city’s great warm-weather haunts, drawing a hugely diverse, democracy-in-action crowd that comes for the enchanting setting and the thoughtful counter-service fare. 

“My office has the best view of anyone in the world,” he said. “If you like dogs, you see all kinds, every day. And the cyclists, and the runners, and the families having fun, and the people hanging out. It’s a great atmosphere, and it’s such a beautiful spot. You can’t ask for much more than that.”

Price: $6 to $8.25, a notable value. Add a second patty for an additional $3.

Fries: An additional $3 and $5, and terrific. They’re a frozen pre-cut product (“There’s no way we could handle hand-cut fries,” said Moore), and they’re taken to a crispy, golden finish in the kitchen’s fryer, then pelted with plenty of salt.

Check it out: There are all kinds of reasons to appreciate Bread & Pickle, including the local beers (on tap and in tallboy cans), the four affordable ($7 to $8) tap wines, the refreshing lemonade and iced tea, the excellent ice cream (from Sonny’s), the Jonny Pops (an ideal air-conditioner-on –a-stick on a sweltering summer’s day) and the short but does-the-trick breakfast menu, a godsend for those who work up an a.m. appetite on the lake’s walking and bike paths. 

Where he burgers: “I am most definitely a burger eater,” said Moore. “Outside of our organization [a family of restaurants that includes Red Stag Supperclub, Barbette, Pat’s Tap and Tiny Diner, among others], it’s Lions Tap, without a doubt. They are phenomenal at what they do. I live in Lakeville, and it’s worth the drive to Eden Prairie.”

Metro Transit: Route 6U gets within a few blocks of the lakeside pavilion that houses Bread & Pickle. Or jump on the historic Como-Harriet Streetcar Line, which connects the south shore of nearby Bde Maka Ska to a platform at W. 42nd St., a short walk from the pavilion. For the trolley’s schedule, go here.

Address book: 4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Mpls., 612-767-9009. Open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through May 26; post-Memorial Day, it’s 7 a.m. to 9 p.m daily.

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At St. Paul's Keg and Case Market, Gazta is out and O'Cheeze is in

Gazta & Enhancements, the charming and well-stocked cheese/wine/cocktail bar in the Keg and Case Market in St. Paul, has closed.

"It’s really hard, because Gazta is truly everything we love to eat," said Tony Fritz, who owns the 8-month-old restaurant with his wife, Haley Fritz. "We travel around the world to eat cheese, and we built Gazta as a reflection of who we are as people.”

But this corner of the food hall won’t stay fallow for long. The Fritzes are converting the space into a brick-and-mortar version of their popular O’Cheeze food truck.

“We feel like Keg and Case Market doesn’t have an affordable food option,” said Tony Fritz. “We want to offer something that fits the needs of families, and the neighborhood.”

A menu of moderately priced grilled cheese sandwiches in a number of permutations — along with soups and salads — will fit that bill.

In March, the couple closed their first brick-and-mortar version of O’Cheeze. The short-lived venture was located on the skyway level of the Baker Block in downtown Minneapolis, near two other fellow food truckers, Vellee Deli and Green + the Grain.

“The skyway is a pigeonhole,” said Tony Fritz. “The market in the skyway is, ‘Gimme lunch, and let me go back to my office,’ and we want to be more than ‘Here’s your sandwich, have a nice day.’ We want to serve an all-day need.’”

At Keg and Case Market (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo), the O’Cheeze bar will tap local beers, and following in the footsteps of Gazta, it will also feature a long list of specialty cocktails. Standards, too.

"If you want a gin and tonic, you’ll be able to have a gin and tonic,” said Tony Fritz.

The counter-service operation will open at 10 a.m. and serve to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and to midnight Friday and Saturday. Sunday hours are yet to be determined.

As for closing Gazta, Tony Fritz said that it wasn’t an easy decision.

“The concept did very well, and we’re really sad to see it go,” he said. “But we just don’t have the square footage for it. Only 42 people could fit in the place, and when you’re doing customized cheese plates (pictured, above, in a Star Tribune file photo) and croque madames and monsieurs, we couldn’t seat everyone, especially during the busy times. Realistically, it should have been at least three times bigger."

Their truck business is going strong. Private events are driving a lot of business.

“We have 36 graduation parties booked,” said Tony Fritz.

But he added that they’ve given up on the Twin Cities’ food truck epicenter, the area around 2nd Avenue and 6th Street in downtown Minneapolis.

“That’s where you build your clientele, but we’re having a hard time with the toughness of it,” said Tony Fritz. “Everyone is fighting to get that spot, because you can make five hundred to a thousand dollars more if you do. But it’s a rat race, with big trucks competing and maneuvering in tight spots. It’s not safe. It’s just not worth the trouble, and the stress, and the headache.”

Instead, a new strategy will concentrate on developing different downtown locations.

“We want to show people that there’s a lot more to downtown than 2nd Avenue,” said Tony Fritz. “You don’t have to put up with standing on a tight sidewalk, shoulder-to-shoulder. Street food is supposed to be fun and casual. Minneapolis is beautiful in the summer, and we should all enjoy it, and go for a stroll. We hope that it will work and we’ll get people on board.”

(Track the truck’s whereabouts on Twitter, @O_Cheeze).

They’ll also be parking their bright yellow vehicle at events. This weekend’s 24th-annual Art-A-Whirl is a good example. The Fritzes are taking over the parking lot at the Johnson Paper & Supply Co. (806 14th Av. NE.) and hosting what they’ve dubbed Quincy Street Bash 1.0, a first-annual gathering that will run Friday, Saturday and Sunday and will include O’Cheeze and the couple’s Dough Dough cookie dough truck, along with the Gastrotruck truck, plus beer and cocktails.

“We’ll add live music next year,” said Tony Fritz.

Meanwhile, construction will continue at Keg and Case Market. O’Cheeze should open on May 24.

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