Table Talk Logo


Table Talk

Talking food, from restaurants and recipes, to farmers markets and food issues

Burger Friday: Velveeta (!) makes the Mercury cheeseburger great

The burger: Fans of the double-patty cheeseburger at the former Il Foro, listen up. There’s a new double-patty cheeseburger in downtown Minneapolis, and while it’s not a carbon copy of Il Foro chef Joe Rolle’s exceptional and much-missed cheese-slathered monster, it’s got a lot going for it. And then some.

It’s the Mercury Burger at the just-opened Mercury Dining Room and Rail, and it’s definitely worth a test-drive. As is the restaurant.

At this great-looking new hangout, chef Jeff Woodyard piles on the beef in a major way: 7 1/2 ounces of what’s primarily chuck, stretched out, literally, through two very thin, well-seasoned patties that cover the width of the bun. The double patty strategy offers two advantages: speed (a pancake-like patty cooks quickly), and plenty of charred-up flavor. “With two patties, you get twice as much surface to develop all that tasty crust,” he said. “We griddle our burgers, and that’s twice as many square inches of surface as a single thick patty.”

This is an exceptionally cheesy cheeseburger. Woodyard taps two varieties, and both are fairly unlikely: Velveeta, and provolone. Yes, Velveeta, that Creamsicle-orange, melts-on-contact, brick-like American cheese-esque staple of the supermarket dairy case. Oddly, they work well as a team.

“Everyone thinks of processed cheese with such disdain, but Velveeta has such a nice, creamy melt,” he said. “And it’s one of those flavors that people grew up eating. It’s a good throwback to what our Moms fed us as kids.” As for the provolone, “It’s inert, it doesn’t compete,” he said. “And by using it, we’re not overdoing the Velveeta.” Makes sense. The oozy Velveeta goes in between the two patties, and the provolone crowns the top one.

Condiments are kept to a minimum, a decision that firmly accentuates this burger’s buttery, cheesy aura. Crunchy pickles add a much-needed acidic punch, and the finishing flourish is a swipe of a mayonnaise-Gulden’s Mustard blend. That’s it.

As for the poppyseed-topped bun, it’s what Woodyard calls “a simple milk bun” that’s made for the restaurant by Saint Agnes Baking Co. It’s got all the right attributes: tender, airy but sturdy enough to take on the scads of butter that go into the toasting process. Both sides of both halves of the bun get the buttered-and-toasted treatment. “We butter it, and butter it some more, we slather it on,” said Woodyard. “We grill it on both sides in a lot of butter. It’s an almost borderline greasy bun. It gets nice and crispy and singed, and it takes on a little of that brown butter flavor. It’s meant to be a throwback to that greasy diner burger. It’s not meant to appease anyone looking to lower their cholesterol, or worry about calories.” Trust me, I'm not.

Price: $11.95, a relative bargain, particularly for the neighborhood.

Fries: Included, as one of several side dish options (including kale coleslaw) and a must. They’re a slightly unusual shape, one that Woodyard calls a “thin plank,” and he’s right. “We sampled quite a few,” he said. Shoestrings were considered first, then rejected. “Because that’s what everyone is doing,” said Woodyard. Next up: A thicker, heavier cut, closer to the half-inch square. The staff feedback was more positive. “But on a lark, we had a blade in the kitchen that had the same width, but half the thickness,” said Woodyard. “It was more of a thin plank, and everyone liked them.” Me too. They’ve got a noticeably crisp exterior but without sacrificing a fluffy interior, and they’re substantial enough to retain heat. They twinkle with plenty of kosher salt. “It’s fun to do a fresh-cut fry,” said Woodyard. “They’re a lot of work, and that scares a lot of people away. But they taste so much better than a frozen fry.”

Yes, popovers: I didn’t ask Woodyard if he’s taking his cues from the nearby Oak Grill, but he’s featuring popovers on his menu (they’re not offered gratis; expect to pay $4.95 for a pair of Cheddar-infused beauties, a worthy investment). “We’re trying to put some more classic old-school items on the menu, to mix-and-match with more contemporary things,” he said. “These popovers are similar to the Yorkshire pudding you would have had with prime rib back in the 50s and 60s, although we’re not baking ours in beef fat.” They’re big and browned, with that unbeatable rise-in-the-oven trick of airiness and dense egginess, and they’re served with a pair of compound butters, one blended with lots of garlic, the other enriched with bone marrow. “They’re fun to have on the menu,” said Woodyard. “It’s the last thing that people expect to see.”

Resume: Woodyard signed on to helm the restaurant after a long career with McCormick & Schmick’s, first at several of the chain’s Pacific Northwest outlets in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then here in Minnesota for the past seven years, at both the Galleria and downtown Minneapolis locations.

The Mercury, which replaced the former Brasserie Zentral (which explains the handsome setting, which has received a few minor tweaks, including a lightened-up paint job), is the eighth marquee for the Blue Plate Restaurant Co., which also operates the Highland Grill, Edina Grill, Longfellow Grill, 3 Squares, the Groveland Tap the Lowry and Freehouse. Blue Plate's ninth, the soon-to-open Bottle Rocket, is replacing the company’s former Scusi. Mercury quietly opened on Tuesday evening. I asked Woodyard how it’s going.

“Really well,” he said. “It’s a new beast for Blue Plate, which has done smaller, neighborhood-type locations, and it’s really good at that. This is their first venture in the heart of downtown. The kitchen is massive, and beautiful, and we’re trying to make the most of it. We’re settling into a groove, and waiting for people to realize that we’re here.”

Where he burgers: “When I go out, I like to try anything, but I really like a good burger,” said Woodyard. “I think Five Guys has great burgers [Woodyard is in luck: downtown’s first Five Guys outlet just opened a block from Mercury, in RBC Plaza, 555 Nicollet Mall]. I keep hearing rumors that In-N-Out is going to show up here, and that would be great. My kids and I like to go to Burger Jones, I like their variety. But I don’t get out as much as I’d like to, because most of my nights are spent at the restaurant.”

Address book: 505 Marquette Av. S. (in the Soo Line Building), Mpls., 612-728-1111. Open 6:30 a.m. to midnight Mon.-Thu., 6:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Fri., 7:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sat., 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sun.

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

What's hot this week: Twin Cities Halloween bashes, wine and beer dinners and a major chef showdown

October, along with the six inches of damp brown leaves covering your driveway, is on its way out this week and come next Tuesday, we'll be saying hello to November and feeling closer to those irking promises of polar vortexes. Never fear, if you want to distract yourself from the impending doom of winter, there is plenty to keep you busy. In the next two weeks, enthusiastic Minnesotans can indulge in Halloween festivities of the adult variety (think tiki drinks and crafted snack stations), loads of themed wine and beer dinners, all-you-can-eat bashes and the ultimate chef showdown, Iron Fork. Read it all here, folks.

Thursday, Oct. 27:

Chilean wine dinner at Piccolo – Looking for something to do tonight? Grab a couple of last-minute tickets to this five-course dinner features wines from – you got it—Chile. Tickets are $100 per person. Piccolo will also be hosting wine dinners on Nov. 3 (with master sommelier Jesse Becker), Nov. 10 (featuring Tuscan wines) and Dec. 8 (featuring Napa Valley wines). More info here.

Friday, Oct. 28:

Taste America, Twin CitiesThe James Beard Foundation’s national tour is making a stop in the Twin Cities for an epic night featuring Philadelphia James Beard award winner Jose Garces and local stars Thomas Boemer (Corner Table and Revival) and Michelle Gayer (Salty Tart) at the Radisson Blu Mall of America. A handful of other local A-list chefs will be on hand too, including Ann Kim (Pizzeria Lola), Jorge Guzman (Surly Brewing Co.) and Sameh Wadi (Saffron Restaurant & Lounge). A tasting reception precedes the four-course seated dinner. Tickets start at $250. More info here.

Saturday, Oct. 29:

Creep & Crawl 2.0 – If you’re too old to trick-or-treat but still want to find some mischief on Halloween weekend, consider Travail Kitchen & Amusements and Pig Ate My Pizza’s not-so-spooky bash complete with games, beer chugging stations and a best-costume contest. Entry is $65 and includes an all-you-can-eat cocktail-style feast loaded with small plates, buffets and interactive food stations. Drinks will be available for purchase. More info here.

Eat Street Social/ Hi-Lo Diner Periscope Pop-Up – The theme of this one-night event, suitably, is the unholy holiday, but, of course, with a tiki twist. Head to the hut hidden alongside ESS’ main dining area for some collaborative cocktails via head slingers at both establishments. And come in disguise! More info here.

Saturday – Sunday, Oct. 29-30:

Veg FestCompassionate Action for Animals will host the two-day festival at Coffman Memorial Union at the University of Minnesota. Vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters alike can partake in the lineup of veggie-based dishes and cooking demonstrations. Admission is free. More info here.

Sunday, Oct. 30:

Chef’s Dinner Benefit Cookie Cart is hosting its fourth annual benefit at the Town & Country Club in St. Paul starting at 5 p.m.. Volunteer chefs including Ben Weiss (Butcher & the Boar) and Chris Ulrich (Mucci’s Italian) will contribute to the four-course meal. Tickets are $150. More info here.

Oyster Bash Oceanaire Seafood Room is celebrating those beautiful bivalves and plenty of other seafood with the 3-9 p.m. party at the downtown Minneapolis locale. Bites including lobster rolls, oysters on the half shell and crab cake slides will be paired with an array of white wines. Indeed Brewing Co. will provide the beer.  From 4-8 p.m. The Whiskeys will serenade from the stage, live. Tickets are $75. More info here.

Thursday, Nov. 3

Iron Fork – The City Pages’ chef battle returns at International Market Square and this time, for – why not? – a taco throwdown. The basic idea? A secret ingredient is introduced and featuring that items, chefs have to make their best Mexican street food delight. Competing chefs include Miguel Pulacho of El Burrito Mercado, Alejandro Castillon of Sonora Grill and Angelo Pennacchio of Bar Luchador. Bartenders will also be duking it out for the title of 'Absolut Mixologist'. General entry tickets are $35 and include samples from a serious lineup of restaurants and cafes including Vieux Carre, the Third Bird, La La Homemade Ice Cream and 4Bells. More info here. 

Cedar + Stone, Urban Table dinner – this Mall of America restaurant is joining with Fulton Brewing for a $85, nine-course meal prepared by executive chef Laura Bartholomew and paired with nine Fulton brews. Only 12 seats are available. The menu includes the likes of beer-braised short ribs, kabocha squash with curry soup and scallops with Fuji apple and fennel. More info here.

Saturday, Nov. 5

Erick Harcey cooks with Jack RiebelUpton 43’s Chef’s Table returns, this time with chef Harcey joined by Jack Riebel, the executive chef of the anticipated the Lexington in St. Paul. The menu for the 10-12 course gala? That will remain a surprise. Tickets are $125. Wine pairings are available for $65. More info here. Read more about chef Harcey here.

Coup d’Etat cocktail class – In case you needed another excuse for day drinking, the Uptown behemoth will be teaching patrons to create six half-sized cocktails from 1-3 p.m. Tickets are $60. More info here.

Sunday, Nov. 6

Pig Party – Another all-you-can-eat showdown from the Pig Ate My Pizza people? Yep. And while they’re at it, they’ll throw in all-you-can-drink with the ticket price ($46, a steal). Fair State Brewing Cooperative will be on site providing the beverages. As usual, there will be PAMP ‘zas and plenty of shenanigans worthy of Mike Brown and Co. More info here.

Pigeonhole dinner – Join Lyn 65 owner Ben Rients and chef Jose Alarcon as the duo begins to develop the menu for their upcoming refined Mexican cuisine project expected to land in south Minneapolis next year. The five-course dinner will have three seatings, tickets are $45. More info here. Read more about the upcoming restaurant here.

(Photo of Pig Ate My Pizza by Leslie Plesse.)

Poll: If Hillary becomes president, what title will Bill have?

See more polls
Event Calendar
  • Today
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue

No Events Available.