The burger: That the “House” burger at newcomer Burger Dive is fantastic should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with recent Twin Cities burger history. That’s because chef Nick O’Leary had a hand in creating one of the region’s most influential, talked-about and craved (with good reason) burgers, the Parlour burger.
“That was the work of my dear friend Joe Rolle, and I was involved with it,” he said. “It’s bittersweet, because I’m no longer with the company, and I’m not reaping the profits from it. But it started a movement. I’m trying to recreate it here, but make it different, and more affordable.”
It’s true: The “House” bears a familial resemblance to the Parlour burger (think distant cousin, not sibling). Price-wise, there's a gap of about five bucks. True to its dive-bar name, Burger Dive is cranking out a gotta-have burger that's under $10. How great is that?
Burger Dive is a partnership between O’Leary and skilled restaurateur Josh Thoma (Smack Shack, the Lexington). They've instituted a friendly takeover of the cramped kitchen at the River Garden, a well-worn and well-loved northeast Minneapolis corner bar known for its specialty libation, the Greenie. (This isn't Thoma's first time at the northeast dive-bar rodeo; witness his success at 1029 Bar).
The collaboration “happened organically,” said O’Leary. The bar’s longtime cook, Bitsy Jaros, decided to retire, and rather than resort to a future of frozen pizzas, owner Dan Jaros contacted Thoma.
“And Josh called me,” said O’Leary. “He said, ‘This is a layup; let’s do this.’ But I’ve been wanting to do a burger joint for a while. So we went in and spoke to Danny. There was a quick handshake, and it happened.”
Burger fans, rejoice, because O'Leary clearly knows what he's doing. Over the past 15 years, he's amassed an impressive resume, cooking at the former Saffron Restaurant & Lounge, Butcher & the Boar, Borough and Parlour, Smack Shack and the former Coup d’Etat, along with a two-year stint as culinary director for restaurateur Kim Bartmann’s properties, followed by work at Rock Elm Tavern and Holman’s Table.
“And now, here,” he said.
OK, back to the burger. O’Leary avoids thick, juice-laden, rare-in-the-center patties, the kind that require a meticulous, time-consuming temperature reading (“A nightmare,” he said). Which is why he prefers the thin, no-nonsense, smashed-patty style, with edges taken to a distinct crispiness.
He’s using a blend of rib-eye and chuck, supplementing the grind with butter for an extra boost of fattiness. “It’s got that nice steak-ey flavor, along with all the delicious beef fat that goes into the rib-eye,” he said. “If you use a specific grind with lots of beef fat, it’ll taste good, no matter what. You crisp the one side, you flip it, kiss the other side, add the cheese and it’s perfection, every time.”
The bun is a tender-yet-sturdy beauty, from Franklin Street Bakery. “It’s the same bun that I’ve been using for almost eight years,” said O’Leary. "It’s my go-to burger bun.” What makes it so memorable is the dark, toasty finish they receive while they brown on the stove. “We don’t butter the bun because there’s so much beef fat on the flat top,” said O’Leary. “That’s why they crisp up nicely.”
Cheese? Unlike the trend to really lay on fondue-like blobs of molten American cheese, O'Leary reaches for a white Swiss American and uses it somewhat sparingly.
“Josh Thoma only hates a few things,” O’Leary said with a laugh. “Mayonnaise is one of them, and yellow cheese is another. He can’t stand it. I wanted to do yellow American, because I love that processed cheese. It reminds me of my childhood. But we decided to go with Swiss American.”
Although it's a noticeably salty choice, it works, and there’s just enough of it to fuse beef and bread into a single, delicious entity.
“You can’t melt the cheese too much,” said O’Leary. “You basically just knock the chill off it so that it caps the burger, and then it all sticks together.”
Other garnishes include sweet slow-cooked onions, and crunchy pickles. As a nod to the River Garden’s traditions, O’Leary, who obviously has a sense of humor, is fashioning a sweet pickle using some basic Greenie components in lieu of sugar. He’s also making a spiced-up chicken-wings sauce using the same components. Why not, right?
“I’m thinking of doing a Greenie challenge,” he said. “You know, where if you eat six wings and drink two Greenies, you’ll get a free T-shirt.”
As for the Greenie, “At first, I didn’t like them,” said O’Leary. “But now they’re growing on me.”
Price: $9.69 for the “House” burger. Others (try the boffo "Onion" version) are $10 to $12. Plan ahead: Burger Dive is a rare cash-only operation; there’s a (fee-based) ATM on the premises.
Fries: Extra ($6, a large portion), and worth it. They’re a standard-issue frozen product — thin, crispy, nicely salty — that slide into extra-special territory because O’Leary fries them in beef fat. “That defintely ups the game,” he said. It sure does.
Don’t miss: The pierogies are spectacular. They're also not for the lactose-intolerant. The dreamy dough is primarily sour cream, butter and egg. They’re filled with oozy Cheddar, more sour cream and "some potato to hold it together,” said O’Leary. After being quickly blanched, they’re browned in a delectable mix of butter and onions, and they arrive at the table with a sour cream-chives garnish. “They’re crazy popular,” said O’Leary. “I had a woman tear up while she told me how she’s been looking for pierogies as good as her grandmother’s, and she’s never been able to find them until now. For a cook, that’s the ultimate compliment.”
Where he burgers: “Revival, and Whitey’s,” said O’Leary. “Revival because it’s a lot like the Parlour burger, and Whitey’s because it’s the classic dive-bar burger. It’s nothing pretentious. It is what it is.”
Address book: 2500 NE. Marshall St., Mpls., 612-789-9728. Open 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday.
Metro Transit: Routes 11A, 11C and 30A.
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