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Burger Friday: Taking on a beefy Iowa tradition at Dakota Junction in Mound

The burger: After a vacation hiatus, Burger Friday is back, with a bit of a twist. This week’s recommendation isn’t exactly a burger, but it’s close. It’s the Iowa tradition of the tavern — or loose meat —  sandwich. Its origins reach back to the 1920s, and it was made famous by the Maid-Rite chain.

This sort-of burger is exactly how it sounds; it's a ground beef delicacy that doesn’t go the pressed-into-a-patty burger route. Instead, it’s somewhat Sloppy Joe-like, minus that classic’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink tomato sauce.

“It’s the sloppy Joe without the slop,” said Stephanie Bolles, owner of the Dakota Junction in Mound. Exactly. The sandwich has been a staple at her cute, modern-day Main Street cafe since Bolles opened the doors nearly two year ago. It’s an affectionate nod to her mother, who holds many fond memories at the Maid-Rite in the hometown of her youth, New Ulm, Minn.

“She was in high school at the time, and she’s now almost 80, so that was a long time ago,” said Bolles with a laugh. “But she said to me, many times, ‘Will you make the Maid-Rite?’”

Who could turn down a mother’s wishes? Certainly not Bolles, who went back to the drawing board “many, many times” before coming up with a suitable recipe.

The process couldn’t be more straightforward. Locavore-minded Bolles uses a lean, grass-fed beef, and it isn’t browned, it’s steamed. Not in water, but in a fragrant, flavor-boosting beef broth. “It crumbles as it steams,” said Bolles.

The end results are similarly basic. A heaping serving of that hot, flavorful ground beef is spooned into a well-made bun that gets the buttered-and-toasted treatment. Garnishes are kept to a mininum, just a generous swipe of plain yellow mustard, a few tangy pickle chips, a shot of sweet, hot-off-the-grill red onions and a slice of American cheese. Anything else would feel superfluous.

It’s delicious, and the winning Dakota Junction "Maid-Rite" is better than my memory of the actual Maid-Rite version that I enjoyed during my last excursion into Iowa (the company operates 29 locations in the Hawkeye state, and maintains three Minnesota franchise outposts, in St. Cloud, Bemidji and Brainerd).

“We sell a lot of them,” said Bolles. I believe it.

Price: $7.

Fries: Included, and nicely done. They’re skin-on, generously seasoned and suitably irresistible. 

Check it out: The sandwich is available at lunch, Monday through Saturday. For bargain hunters, Monday is the night of nights, when Bolles offers three $5 options, the best of which is, naturally, the loose-meat sandwich, with fries.

Bike it: The restaurant was designed to resemble a storybook small-town train station. Bikers, walkers and runners can rejoice in the fact that the adjacent railroad line has been converted to the Dakota Rail Regional Trail. It’s a pleasant jaunt westward to Gale Woods Farm, which Bolles uses to stock her pantry. Use the trail’s calorie-burning opportunities to indulge a massive slice of the restaurant’s divine carrot cake, which is packed with all the usual flavor suspects (golden raisins, pineapple, walnuts) and is baked by Bolles’ talented mother-in-law, Margaret Bolles.

Address book: 2281 Commerce Blvd., Mound, 952-479-1519. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

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James Beard fundraiser lands in Minneapolis

Jonathan Waxman

Jonathan Waxman

Mark your calendar for Oct 2 -- and get out your wallet -- for a meal worthy of James Beard, when Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto in New York City joins local chefs in a fundraiser that extends to 10 cities for the James Beard Foundation.

The event, called Taste America, will be held locally at Loews Minneapolis Hotel (601 First Av. N., Mpls.), and will begin at 6:30 with a cocktail and tasting reception, followed by a 7:30 p.m. meal.

The four-course dinner menu will feature the culinary talents of Waxman, and local chefs Gavin Kaysen of Spoon and Stable and Timothy Fischer of the Loews.

The reception features fare by restaurateur Kim Bartmann of Biltwell Restaurants, chefs Thomas Boemer of Corner Table, Jim Christensen of Heyday, Taya Kaufenberg of Tiny Diner, and Lenny Russo of Heartland.

Andrew Zimmern, of the Travel Channel's "Bizaare Foods," will emcee the event.

To follow the epicurean tour this fall (Miami, Charleston, Phoenix, Seattle and Boston, among the stops), go to Twitter: #jbftasteamerica. Part of the proceeds goes to the JBF scholarship fund for local culinary students. 

Tickets for the event are $250; order them here.

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