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Mercy in downtown Mpls. ignites backlash against double-patty cheeseburgers

The burger: Prepare for the backlash. After years of flying high in the local burger stratosphere, has the double-patty cheeseburger started its descent?

Witness its conspicuous absence from the menu at Mercy, chef Mike Rakun’s just-opened remake of Marin Restaurant & Bar in the Le Meridien Chambers hotel in downtown Minneapolis.

“Double-patty burgers are great, and there’s a time and a place for them,” he said. “But when it comes to a burger, I like to get a nice, big, beefy bite. You can cook [a single patty] to temp, and it’s nice and juicy. And when we make them at home, this is how we do it, with a big, thick patty. Besides, everyone else is doing a double.”

He’s not kidding on the whole big-bite thing. This bruiser of a 6-oz. patty radiates an ample (that's being modest) beefy flavor. It’s all due to the in-house grind, a luxe mix of chuck and brisket, fortified by a few secret weapons: trims from the menu’s tenderloin, New York strip and sirloin steaks. Here's proof postive that it's usually a good idea to order a burger at a steakhouse, or a steak-centric restaurant. “It also doesn’t hurt that our beef is 100 percent prime Niman Ranch,” said Rakun. Um, no, it doesn’t.

The patties are prepared on a flattop grill — mine was taken to a precise medium, as requested — with a slightly sizzled, caramelized char on the top and bottom surfaces and a significant amount of juices lurking on the inside, waiting to be released. 

Holding true to its Old School Cheeseburger name, the garnishes are simple, and effective: a suprisingly juicy tomato slice, a flurry of shredded iceberg lettuce and a disk of soft, white Gouda cheese.

There are also chopped (and nicely crunchy) raw onions. “I love raw onions,” said Rakun. “Whenever I’m cutting onions, I usually eat them, I’ve been doing that since I was little. Plus, they pop against a heavy burger. And you can cook onions, but don’t you already get enough of that caramelized flavor when you cook the patty on a flattop?” Point well taken.

Oh, and fanastic pickles, with garlic and dill lingering in each bite. “We were going for a Claussen-style flavor,” he said. And there's a nod to the Special Sauces of the world, although this one is curiously lacking a foundational ingredient: ketchup. It's not missed. Instead, there’s Dijon mustard, a house-made mayonnaise, a little smoked paprika and a barrel-aged Worcestershire sauce. The results add a touch of zing, but don’t overwhelm. Well done.

Finally, there’s the (toasted) bun. “It’s a damned good one, isn’t it?” said Rakun. Yeah, it is, although let’s get real: the generous levels of butter would elevate a Wonder Bread bun. “We put Harvey at Turtle Bread up to the task of making us a challah hamburger bun. This is what he dreamed up, and it’s awesome.” Agreed.

Has the single-patty burger found an audience? “We’re selling a ton, it’s kind of ridiculous,” said Rakun. “But people here love their burgers. I’m beginning to think that the burger might be the Minnesota state dish.”

Price: $14, and justified [see Niman Ranch, above].

Fries: None. Instead, a generous handful of potato chips, admirably rendered. They’re parchment-thin and delicately crisp, with nary a trace of greasiness and a nuanced but effective touch with the salt shaker (years of overseing health-conscious Mill Valley Kitchen has clearly rubbed off on Rakun). I may never be able to face a bag of Old Dutch, ever again. Wait, who am I kidding?

But what's the deal with skipping the fries?  “I dunno,” said Rakun. “We do offer them, and if you want to get a side of fries [price: $8], more power to you. But I think chips are a nice little crunch contrast with a burger. They’re certainly a little lighter than a big handful of fries, especially at lunch. We want people to be able to walk out the door and feel good about themselves.”

Timely price reduction: Rakun offers the same burger (minus the chips) for 10 bucks during happy hour(s), a very good deal, indeed. “It hurt to put that price on the menu,” he said with a laugh. Take a seat anywhere in the bar and order between 3 and 6 p.m. daily, as well as anytime between 9 p.m. and whenever the kitchen calls it quits. "Wicked" ticketholders, are you paying attention?

Address book: 901 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-252-7000. Open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Burger served during brunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends), lunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays) and dinner (3 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday).

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Gray Duck Tavern opening in St. Paul with Minnesotan name, international flavors



A soon-to-open downtown St. Paul restaurant has a name most Minnesotans will recognize and maybe chuckle at:

Gray Duck Tavern.

Yes, that’s an homage to the childhood game Duck, Duck, Gray Duck (which of course in every other state of the union is called Duck, Duck, Goose).

From there, though, the playfulness veers in a decidedly un-Minnesotan direction.

Chef Don Gonzalez, who took a break from the restaurant scene to work in development at Taher, Inc. after seven years at the helm of Forepaugh’s in St. Paul, will run the kitchen at Gray Duck in the historic Lowry Building at 345 Wabasha Street (pictured above, courtesy of Gray Duck's Facebook page).

“I had kids and I was at the point where I wanted to see what having nights and weekends off would be like,” said Gonzalez of the restaurant break. “But I just missed cooking. It’s a beautiful thing. I missed that team environment.”

 A California native who has traveled the world, Gonzalez’ vision for the restaurant reflects those wide-ranging experiences, with a globally inspired comfort food menu in the making.

Expect a host of carved meats at dinner time such as prime rib, a Singapore broil and Cuban pork lechon with bitter orange and mojo sauce – which will be repurposed into sandwiches for lunch – as well as a lot of family-style plates and handmade pasta. There might be a coconut curry, Asian noodle bowls and falafel. A preview at Lowertown’s Green Lantern this week also featured samosas, Thai chicken wings and savory-sweet elote corn soup.

“America is a melting pot of flavors, techniques and people,” Gonzalez said. “So it would be a shame to be limited by just a single genre.

“It’s who I am, so it’s hard not to think in those terms,” he added. “I like to eat the world’s food, not just what’s in our neighborhood.”

Look for a late-May debut for the restaurant, which is a project of Madison Restaurant Group.

Madison Restaurant Group also owns Green Lantern, Public Kitchen + Bar, Handsome Hog, Ox Cart Ale House, Fitzgerald’s and Eagle Street Grille

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