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What were the 5 best Twin Cities burgers of 2017?

First things first: this is not one of those Best-Burgers-in-the-Twin Cities lists. 

Fans of the Parlour burger (pictured above) or the Revival burger, or the Lowry Hill Meats burger, or the Nook burger. I’m with you. They’re all the greatest. But because they weren’t featured in this year’s Burger Friday blog – which shines the spotlight on gotta-try Twin Cities burgers – they’re not included here.

Instead, I’ve revisited 2017’s 30-plus Burger Friday installments, and selected the five that really stand out. 

Notice that four out of five burgers share a single trait. That commonality is no coincidence, and it underscores one major reason why the Twin Cities continues to cultivate such a remarkable dining scene; it’s because metro-area chefs have easy access to top-flight ingredients from a remarkable (and continually expanding) community of farmers. Here are the five:

ESKER GROVE

The burger: When the Walker Art Center debuted its gorgeous new restaurant last December, chefs Doug Flicker and T.J. Rawitzer included a (sorry for this) museum-quality burger on the menu. It starts with a doozy of a bun, baked on the premises and enriched with milk. The patty? An all-chuck formula (sourced from Peterson Craftsman Meats, the pride of Osceola, Wis.) that gets an overnight cure before it's fortified with butter, formed into thick-ish patties and nurtured in its own juices on the flat top grill to an ideal medium, bordering on medium-well. Cheese is appropriately salty American (two extravagant slices), and the pickles are superb. Finishing touches? A pair of sauces. It’s an instant classic.
Price: $12, a more-than-suitable amount, one that, given the level of quality, verges into deal territory. 
Fries: None. Instead, it’s paper-thin, house-made potato chips.
Address book: 723 Vineland Place, Mpls., 612-375-7542. Lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Note: Esker Grove's burger is a lunch-only item.

CAFE ALMA

The burger: Chef Matt Sprague keeps burger fans happy with turkey burgers and lamb burgers, both on his daytime menu. On Thursday evenings, he channels his considerable burger-making talents in a more traditional direction – beef – and the results are spectacular. Sprague adheres to the popular double-patty formula, but not blindly; the sirloin-heavy patties are noticeably weightier than their counterparts on the diner-style skinny-patty spectrum (“Sometimes, when patties are smashed super-thin, they tend to dry out,” said Sprague). Condiments squarely land in the “restrained” camp, which keeps this quality beef (from Peterson Craft Meats) at the forefront: shredded iceberg lettuce, house-made bread-and-butter pickles that own the “right-on-the-money” label, a few slices of American cheese (with backbone-strengthening boosts from a smoky Gouda and a funky blue cheese), and a Russian dressing-like sauce that brazenly cranks up the umami quotient. The toasty, buttered-up brioche bun, baked on the premises, is nothing short of perfect.
Price: $12. A bargain, especially considering the favorable potato situation (see Fries, below). 
Fries: None. Instead, the Alma Double is served with the kitchen’s epic “Crispy Smashed Russet Potatoes,” and they’re so good that you ought to do yourself a favor and add a side order ($8); you’ll thank me. 
Address book: 528 University Av. SE., Mpls., 612-379-4909. The Alma Double is served in the cafe on Thursday evenings only, after 5 p.m. The cafe is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

MERCY

The burger: This single-patty beauty just might play a role in turning the tide on the popularity of the double-patty burger. The beef is exceptional: an in-house grind that’s a Gold Card mix of Niman Ranch prime chuck and brisket, fortified by trimmings from the menu’s tenderloin, New York strip and sirloin steaks. Uncomplicated garnishes (including a heaping handful of shredded lettuce, a ketchup-free sauce that adds zing but doesn’t overwhelm, and enough thin-sliced, vinegary pickles to nearly constitute a salad) ring true to its “Old School Cheeseburger” name, and the buttery, challah-style bun (baked at Turtle Bread Co.) is first-rate. As for the cheese, it’s Gouda, a welcome departure from the American-draped burgers that are all the rage.
Price: $14 during the day, $15 at dinner, and justified (see Niman Ranch, above). Drop in during happy hour(s) – that’s 3 to 6 p.m. daily – when Rakun shaves the price to 12 bucks.
Fries: None. Instead, a generous handful of house-made potato chips.
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).

FULTON BREWING CO.

The burger: This sort-of burger places a Hall of Fame-level Minneapolis dish at its center: the meatloaf from the late and highly lamented Modern Cafe. Chef Scott Pampuch enriches the beef (big surprise, it’s from Peterson) with the menu’s excellent porchetta, which is ground and blended into the ground beef in a 1-to-4 ratio. Pampuch treats the notably rich beef-pork mix like any burger, portioning it into hefty 6-ounce balls and carefully formed into a patty (one that’s big enough to stretch to the bread’s edges, a key trait) just before it hits the charbroiler. Shout-outs to the brewery abound. The bread is grilled in butter that’s blended with Jameson whiskey, a key ingredient in the brewery’s “War and Peace,” a dark-roast coffee stout. Butter-sauteed mushrooms get a finishing touch with that stout when it deglazes the pan. (By the way, that bread is the superb Baker’s Field pain de mie, a soft Pullman loaf that’s sliced thick and toasted to a dark, dark brown). Other wisely chosen condiments include a pair of Swiss cheese slices, along with an equal-parts combo of mayo and ketchup that Pampuch jazzes with a pinch of Old Bay seasoning. Truly, this is a patty melt that is not to be missed.
Price: $13. Pair the burger with the brewery’s "War and Peace," naturally.
Fries: Not included, but a must ($5). Skinny and golden, they’re liberally tossed in a salt that’s infused with the flavor of the floral- and citrus-scented hops (they’re dehydrated, compressed and finely ground) that the brewery uses for its West Coast IPA. What a great idea.
Address book: 414 6th Av. N., Mpls., 612-333-3208. Taproom open 3 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 Sunday.

BULL'S HORN FOOD & DRINK

The burger: This uncomplicated, old-school dive-bar burger is bound to generate some serious chatter up and down Burger Nation. It recalls the most winning attributes of the fast-food burgers of my 1970s childhood. Chef/co-owner Doug Flicker may be cooking in a former 3.2 joint, but he doesn’t stint on quality; yep, he’s sourcing flavorful grass-fed beef from the Peterson folks. “I was shooting for a balance,” he said. “It all kind of comes down to proportions. A good hamburger is a combination of everything, it’s not just the meat. The patty shouldn’t be too thick, so when you take a bite it all blends together: the beef, the bun, the cheese, the lettuce and the sauce. It’s about harmony.” Of course it helps that this is an exceptionally wide patty, meaning that a maximum amount of beef comes into contact with the grill’s heat, unlocking all kinds of tantalizing flavor molecules. The bun is spectacular, a milk-enriched formula from Saint Agnes Baking Co. Cheese is appropriately plentiful, as is the chopped iceberg that’s slipped under the patty. The sauce is straight out of the bar burger’s manifesto, a mix of mayo, ketchup, pickle juice and paprika. Bull’s Horn has only been open since Halloween, and this burger has already emerged as the menu’s top-seller. “By far,” said Flicker.
Price: $8, a deal that that lands squarely in Black Friday territory. Cheese is an extra 50 cents, bacon is an additional $1.
Fries: Extra ($2), and not to be missed, in part because, once again, they skirt close to an idealized McDonald’s French fry: slim, golden, crispy and piping hot, with just the right amount of salt. A basket version is $6.50.
Address book: 4563 34th Av. S., Mpls., 612-208-1378. Open 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.


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

It's a rarity: New bar opens in Minneapolis skyway

The skyway has a new bar.

Sphere Kitchen + Bar, a small cocktail lounge on the second floor of the Fifth Street Towers, debuted last month, completing the building’s two-year, multimillion-dollar renovation.

The bar area, which is operated by Hemisphere Restaurant Partners, features a small fireplace, velvety blue booths arranged in a circular pattern and a round skylight overhead that creates the appearance of a sphere.

On the cocktail list? The likes of mojitos, margaritas and flavored martinis. There is also a small food menu, available from 3-7 p.m., that includes snack items like salmon tacos, bang bang shrimp and truffle fries.

Sphere is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Hemisphere Restaurant Partners also operates nearby Atlas Grill, Mission American and skyway spot Good to Go, along with four Tavern Grill locations. 

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