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Burger Friday: Enjoy fall — while it lasts — at Electric Burger Co. food truck

The burger: With fall’s cool temperatures whispering winter's inevitable arrival -- and, with it, four or five months of indoor lunches -- I pledged to spend the week devoting my noon hours to food trucks. I didn’t get far. The moment I walked out the door of my office, I spied the Electric Burger Co. 

I really lucked out. Owner Vincent Spica was raised on McDonald’s, and he wanted to fashion a similar burger experience – the thin patty that hugs the bun's edges, the straightforward toppings – but improve upon it by using quality ingredients. Mission accomplished.

To educate himself on the technical aspects of the craft, Spica turned to two local burger-making pillars. One was Matt’s Bar, home of the famous cheese-stuffed Jucy Lucy. “I sat there for a full shift and just watched them do what they do,” he said. “They’re amazing.”

Just don’t expect a Jucy Lucy at the truck any time soon. “The cooking time is too long for us,” he said. “In the food truck business, speed is the name of the game, and we’re already at six or seven minutes.”

Exactly. I clocked the wait for my grilled-to-order burger at seven and a half-minutes. And yes, the results are worth the wait. 

He also got schooled at Revival. “The burger at Revival just blew my mind,” he said. “It turns out that I know the chef’s wife, so he let me sit for four hours and watch everything he does.”

Spica didn’t adopt Revival’s double-patty model, but he does adhere to other aspects of the restaurant’s diner-style burger. Namely, the wide, thin-ish patty. It’s a quarter-pounder, a pre-formed product that hails from Swanson Meats in Minneapolis that has a rich, fatty (to the tune of a 19 percent fat content) bite. They’re and seasoned with a blend of salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic, and fried on a flattop that shimmers with bacon fat, the patties sizzling until the centers have lost nearly all of their pink and the exteriors develop a nicely caramelized char.

Just as each patty is getting ready to come off the grill, the corresponding bun (a soft, egg-washed beauty from Denny’s 5th Avenue Bakery) gets a swipe of a house-made garlic ghee — garlic-infused clarified butter — and is toasted to a delicate crispiness on its own flattop grill.

The crunchy, gently vinegary refrigerator pickles really hit the spot. “When we first opened, we were using store-bought pickles,” said Spica. “That lasted for about two hamburgers, because we realized that they tasted too much like McDonald’s. Besides, making pickles is fun, and it’s really easy. You go to the farmers market, you pick up 20 pounds of cucumbers, and you crank them out.”

Cheese is – what else? – American. Slow-cooked onions, the final garnish, add a gentle sweet note. Yep, this is definitely one of those burgers where the well-chosen, well-handled components all fuse with one another, resulting in an old-fashioned, melts-in-your-mouth experience, one that's definitely worth seeking out. 

Price: $6.50. Cheeseburger is $7, and the “Deluxe,” made with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, cheese and a pickle-flecked "special sauce," is $8. 

Fries: Included, and excellent. Spica uses a commercially prepared product, skin-ons that are sliced into a just-thicker-than-shoestring size. “We’d like to make them, someday,” he said. “We’ve been looking for a cutter, and we can’t find one that’s this size.”

They’re the epitome of crisp. Spica takes a liberal approach to seasoning, turning to the burgers’ same garlic-forward blend. The skinny, shoestring-like cut came out of necessity.

“We have what’s joked about in the food truck community as an ‘Easy Bake’ fryer,” Spica said with a laugh. “It’s the tiniest commercial deep-fryer they make, it weighs 15 pounds. What we discovered is that going with the standard quarter-inch fry takes two minutes longer than the shoestring fry, and they’re so big that when you add them to the oil, the temperature goes down. Besides, I love shoestring fries, and they’re in keeping with the classic vibe that we’re going for.”

Back story: Spica grew up in the food business, following in the footsteps of generations of bakers and pizza makers. He moved to the Twin Cities from his native Michigan to attend college, and ended up spending a decade here, working in a small neighborhood grocery store, a bakery and a pizzeria.

After short stints in Anchorage and Houston — where he became hooked on that city’s lively taco truck scene, so much so that he began taking night shifts at a few of them — he began to hear about the Twin Cities growing food truck universe. He returned in 2012 and got busy, zeroing in on a vehicle he’s christened Lucille.

“She’s our big, beautiful bus,” he said with a laugh. “I’m from Michigan, where we give everything with four wheels a woman’s name. I’ve always loved that."

This isn’t Spica’s first foray into food trucks. His initial idea was to launch the Electric Sandwich Co. “I was going to feature this eclectic variety of sandwiches, all of my favorites,” he said. “But then I realized that the inventory list was going to be insane.”

He switched gears, and dedicated more than a year to an all-Italian operation known as Vin’s Italian, which focused on Italian sandwiches. It was fun while it lasted, but Spica didn’t see a rosy future. “Because people saw ‘Italian’ and thought we did pizza, and pasta,” he said. “You need a name that immediately announces what you’re getting, because people draw up a menu in their head, just based upon the name of your truck.”

After some market research — and a little bit of soul-searching — Spica was back at the drawing board. His solution? Burgers. Three months ago, the Electric Burger Co. hit the streets.

“In most cities, there’s a burger truck, but there wasn’t one here,” he said. “Burgers are a classic item, and they’re universal, and they transcend seasonality. No one wants to touch a hot Italian sausage sandwich when it’s 95 degrees outside.”

Hometown team: Spica also sells one of the city’s great portable meals, the all-beef Kramarczuk hot dog, a reflection of his deep-seated affection for the Northeast Minneapolis culinary landmark. “I mean, walking into that store is like Christmas Day for me,” he said. “They’re an institution in this town, and an amazing company to support, partly because the name not only speaks for itself, it sells itself.” The condiments — mustard, a curried ketchup, sauerkraut — also hail from Kramarczuk’s, but not the bun. That’s from Denny’s. They're $5 a pop, or $6 with sauerkraut.

Address book: Follow the truck’s whereabouts on Twitter. Spica usually parks it weekdays on 2nd Av. between 5th and 6th streets. “But now that the weather is growing cooler, we might bounce over to Marquette on Mondays and Tuesdays,” he said. In the evenings, find the truck feeding folks outside a local brewery; for an up-to-date calendar, go here.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at

Burger Friday: Enjoy a final, fleeting taste of summer at Dari-ette Drive-In

The burger: Come September, I generally have a predictable reaction when the evenings begin to turn cool. I imagine a ticking clock hovering somewhere above the venerable Dari-ette Drive-In, counting off the days until owner Angela Fida yields to Minnesota’s slide into winter and pulls the plug on her seasonal, semi-outdoor business. The inevitable usually occurs sometime in October.

“It depends on the weather,” she said. “It’s unpredictable.”

In other words, it’s now-or-never time for a crack at the drive-in, and its signature item, at least for burger lovers: the third-pound Burger-ette.

Come on, what else where they going to name it? First, the stats: It’s a third-pound beef patty, formed into a flat, bun-sized disk and grilled to just-past medium, so there’s enough char to tickle the taste buds.

The sesame seed-studded bun is one of those pleasingly soft monsters, large enough to handle the patty, not to mention the essential roster of California burger-esque garnishes. There’s a thick-cut (but disappointingly flavorless) tomato slice, what feels like half a head of cool, crunchy iceberg lettuce, a slice of gooey (and super-salty) American cheese and enough mayo to make a smallish chicken salad.

Add it all up, and the Burger-ette is one of those two-handed, unapologetically sloppy burgers (in the vein of the Big Mac or the Whopper, only better) that's notable for its whole-hearted simplicity, and its value. Don’t wait until next April – when Fida reopens – to get a crack at it.

Price: $7.

Fries: Extra. The Burger-ette “basket” version includes crisp, salty, deeply golden fries – and a side of coleslaw – for $2.50. Or, for the same price, skip the fries and indulge in a different kind of carb: a side order of spaghetti. Don’t want coleslaw? A straight-up serving of those can't-eat-just-one fries is $1.99.

History lesson: Fida grew up at the Dari-ette, which sprang to life on July 21, 1951. Fida’s father’s parents were the original owners, and her parents, John and Lois, met while they were both working at the restaurant.

They married, and raised their daughter in the house next door. Her first job? Taking orders on the switchboard. She was in kindergarten. By the time Fida was 12, she had matriculated to the responsibilities of the soda station, and the rest is history. Her parents turned the business over to her at the end of the 1998 season. Lois, age 79, “Still gives me a couple of hours a day,” said Fida.

With the assistance of a number of second- and third-generation employees, who return to the corner of Minnehaha and Birmingham, year after year, Fida is keeping a rapidly evaporating genre alive. Sure, there are a handful of other drive-ins in the metro area – Minnetonka Drive In, the Galaxy Drive In, Wagner’s Drive In and the Peppermint Twist come to mind – but the Dari-Ette is the only one operating within the city limits of either St. Paul or Minneapolis. I can’t imagine the East Side without it.

Lay of the land: Unlike many classic drive-ins, the Dari-ette features a modest indoor dining room, and for those who want to get out their automobiles, Fida maintains a few picnic tables out front (it should be noted that Fida runs a tight ship; the place is spotless). But the ideal Dari-ette experience involves taking in the whole ritual from the vantage point of your car: selecting a parking spot, ordering through the squawky speaker, getting your meal delivered via carhop and watching them cantilever a tray off your car door’s partially raised window.

The menu is peppered with one-of-a-kind touches. Kid meals arrive in a cute cardboard car. The kitchen’s spaghetti sauce is bottled and sold by the pint, quart and gallon. The soft-serve malts run the flavor gamut, from caramel to pineapple to marshmallow to my personal favorite, crème de menthe (well, a non-alcoholic knockoff, anyway). 

The soda fountain nostalgically pours cherry Cokes, vanilla Cokes and cherry 7-Ups. The pizza burgers take me back to my high school cafeteria, in a good way. And how many drive-ins feature spaghetti, rigatoni, garlic toast and pasta e fagioli? 

“We’re still here because we don’t change things,” Fida said. “I keep it as it is. People like that.”

Address book: 1440 Minnehaha Av. E., St. Paul, 651-776-3470. Open 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. daily.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at

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