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Burger Friday: Keeping it simple, at Simply Steve's

The burger: In relative terms, Simply Steve’s owner Steve Ramlow has been food-trucking since the genre’s Paleolithic era. 

“I started at the end of the first summer,” he said, his memory reaching back to 2010, when just a handful of mobile food operators were plying the streets of the Twin Cities. (Eight years later, there are more than 100). From the start, he’s viewed his peers as a community of friendly competitors.

 “One thing that surprised me from the get-go is how I get along with other owners, and with the food truck association,” said Ramlow. “Surprised, in a good way.”

An early innovator, he got into the business when the office building where he was operating a cafeteria lost its major tenant, and his clientele evaported. “The building was empty, and my lease was up, so I moved out,” he said. “And I bought a truck.”

Ramlow has always placed a burger — make that, burgers — at the forefront of his menu.

“Personally, I just like them,” he said. For his popular California burger, the formula is, yes, simple: a nicely fatty beef that’s fresh, never frozen, well-seasoned and cooked on the flat top grill in its own considerable juices. A gooey slice of American cheese injects another jolt of saltiness.

Onions are fried in butter, their sweetness accentuated by the grill’s heat, with the butter laying on another uncomplicated layer of decadence. Butter also plays a role with the bun, which gets a generous swipe of the stuff before it’s toasted on the grill. By the way, that bun? It’s a doozy, a brioche-like beauty that comes from the ovens at Franklin Street Bakery.

“It’s just so soft and luxurious,” said Ramlow. “It melts in your mouth.”

Indeed. It’s also larger than the basic-issue burger bun, a two-handed whopper that knocks the essential bread-to-beef ratio slightly off kilter. Still, with a bun this good, who cares?

Ramlow isn’t shy when it comes to laying on all the appropriate California-style embellishments. A juicy tomato slice. Crunchy chopped lettuce. Vinegar-laced dill pickle chips. Plenty of mayo. The combination has endured as a burger classic for a reason; it works. No fancy bells-and-whistles, just honest-to-goodness burger deliciousness. Which certainly resides well within the Simply half of the Simply Steve’s brand.

Another observation: Six minutes transpired from the moment I placed my order to when I was handed a paper boat filled with lunch. Not bad, right?

Although he makes Saturday forays to various breweries, Ramlow said that he’s focusing the bulk of his 2018 efforts on the Tuesday-through-Friday downtown Minneapolis market. He likes the vibe on 4th Street, primarily because of the proximity to the Commons, with its big stretch of lawn and handy proliferation of tables and chairs.

“Where else can you park and have nice seating right outside your window?” he said. Exactly. And what better venue for enjoying a Simply Steve’s California cheeseburger?

Price: $10.

Fries: None. The burger is served with a generous handful of potato chips.

Good morning: Ramlow is a rarity in the local food-truck universe in that he serves breakfast, an $8-and-under roster that ranges from scrambles and hash-and-eggs bowls to granola-and-berries options and a breakfast burrito. It’s a smart strategy for an ever-the-entrepreneur guy, because in order to nab a parking meter on 4th Street (the competition can be fierce), Ramlow has to arrive by 6 a.m.

“So I might as well serve breakfast,” he said. “All the other trucks don’t open until 11.”

Where he burgers: “I don’t have any favorites, I guess,” said Ramlow. “I order a burger almost every dang place I go. I could tell you about places that I don’t like. I can’t stand an overcooked patty in a bun that isn’t toasted, that doesn’t go together very well. If I had to pick a place, there’s Snuffy’s — it’s now called the Original Malt Shop — it’s near my house, in Roseville. I’ve always gone there.”

This weekend: Burger fans, listen up: the fifth-annual Twin Cities Burger Battle is taking place on Saturday (5 to 8 p.m.) at Harriet Island in St. Paul. Tickets ($60) allow buyers to enjoy unlimited food and drink (beer from Summit Brewing Co. and Fulton Brewing Co.), and can be purchased here (note: all attendees must be 21 and older). There are more than two dozen participating restaurants, and ticket holders can sound off via a People’s Choice award. The burgers-and-beer event also has a good-cause side to it, since proceeds benefit the Sanneh Foundation, which is dedicated to youth development.

Address book: Track the truck’s whereabouts on Twitter and Facebook.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.

The party is over at Bar Louie in Uptown Minneapolis

This just-started 2018 patio season will be minus a crowd-pleasing venue, because Uptown's Bar Louie has served its last Buffalo chicken totchos. The restaurant and bar abruptly closed earlier this week.

The 28-year-old Dallas-based franchise operation, with more than 100 locations nationwide, landed in Minneapolis in 2012, a major tenant in the initial phase of Uptown’s Mozaic West office-parking-retail development. The restaurant’s patio (pictured, above) occupied a considerable percentage of the building’s public plaza.

In 2013, Bar Louie took over a former Applebee's at Ridgedale in Minnetonka, with a patio overlooking the mall’s scenic western parking lot. That location quietly closed on April 4. The Uptown closure puts an end to Bar Louie's presence in Minnesota. 

"Unfortunately, our franchised Bar Louie Uptown and Bar Louie Ridgedale locations were not thriving at their Minneapolis and Minnetonka locations, and the franchisee close to close them," said a Bar Louie spokesperson in a statement. "As a company, we are sad about this turn of events with our franchisee and to be leaving these Minnesota communities."

Uptown continues to experience some major restaurant turnover. Three-year-old Coup d’etat departed its enormous footprint last fall, and the space was recently occupied by another edition of Pourhouse.

After a 36-year run, Davanni’s Pizza & Hot Hoagies pulled the plug on its Lake-and-Hennepin location last summer; it’s being replaced by Minnesota’s first branch of Bonchon, which specializes in Korean-style fried chicken. Another longtime fast-food-er, Arby’s, departed in January, an occasion that launched a candelight vigil for its iconic hat-shaped sign.

The Lotus, a Vietnamese classic that got its start in the 1980s at Hennepin and 31st, returned to Uptown last year in a building that had housed four restaurant tenants over the previous five years. In February, Fig + Farro, a vegetarian restaurant, moved into Calhoun Square, settling into a space that, over the past decade, has been home to Parella, Primebar, Il Gatto and Figlio.

Tinto Cocina + Cantina left its Bryant-and-Lake quarters last spring to relocate to 50th and Penn (and taking on a new name: Tinto Kitchen); the team behind Saint Dinette is refashioning the space into Maven, a Montreal-style bagel shop and bar. Look for a June opening.

The former Scena Tavern – another gigantic chunk of real estate – has remained empty for two years. And on 31st Street, the former Lucia’s Restaurant space has been dark since October.

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