The burger: When Omar Ansari looked to hire a chef to run the food side of his Surly Brewing Co. -- you know, the mega-million, mega-fabulous Palace For the Glorification of All Things Beer (yes, the one that took an act of the state legislature to create) -- he chose wisely, tapping the gifted Jorge Guzman of Solera.
The news gets better, at least for burger lovers. That’s because Guzman’s second-in-command is Brian Hauke, a Spill the Wine vet. Guzman credits Hauke for the gotta-try burger that has quickly become a centerpiece of their enthusiastically beer-centric menu. No wonder throngs of Twin Citians are descending on the place.
As burgers go, this is not a covered-in-bells-and-whistles effort. Simplicity is the key. “Some people get fussy, but we just wanted a good, solid burger," said Guzman. "We look at our burger as a gateway to our menu.”
Surly diners are responding in kind. The beer hall debuted shortly before Christmas, and for the first few weeks the kitchen was cranking out upwards of 250 burgers a day (“We had a guy pattying burgers all day long,” said Guzman with a laugh. “No joke.”). Since then, that number has calmed down a bit. A slow day now means about 100 burgers, and a busy one lands in the 225 neighborhood. Still, that’s plenty of affection for a burger, and it’s well-deserved.
I’ll admit that when I walked into the cavernous (and fabulous-looking, thanks to HGA, the Minneapolis architecture firm) beer hall and was confronted by a mini-mob scene camped out at the room’s sea of picnic-style tables, my first thought was, ‘This lunch is going to take forever.’
Not so. We were seated in a flash, and within a few minutes we were sipping $3 glasses of Witch’s Tower, a superb cardamom-scented brown ale. We ordered a few minutes later, and my burger materialized an impressive five-and-a-half minutes after our well-informed server left the table (thank you, iPhone stopwatch).
Here’s the secret behind that impressive speed: Rather than take the time to fully grill a thick 6-ounce patty, the Surly kitchen splits it in two. A pair of thin-ish patties cooks faster than a single fat one, and there’s an added bonus: two firmly packed patties also means twice as much exposure to the grill, which in turns yields significantly more tasty, caramelized beef surface than a single one.
From there, Guzman and Hauke stay relatively old-school. There’s plenty of shredded lettuce (“because it holds up better,” said Guzman) tucked under the beef, two layers of American cheese (“Brian and I are big believers in American cheese on a burger,” said Guzman), hints of parchment-thin red onion and a heaping helping of what they call (with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks) “Fancy Sauce.” Seriously, it's slathered like gravy on poutine, and I lapped up every messy molecule of it.
The name was lifted from “Step Brothers,” the Will Ferrell sillyfest. “We take ourselves seriously, but we also want to have fun,” said Guzman. “Besides, it’s just a really great sauce, just mayo, ketchup, cornichons, a little tarragon. It’s something your grandmother could make.”
Mine never did, but I wish she had, because it adds all kinds of savory-sloppy fabulousness to an already first-rate burger.
Three cheers for the sweet potato-enriched toasted bun. It’s a welcome departure from the brioche bun that seems to be the darling of the moment in Burgerworld, with a greater density and slightly sweeter bite. They hail from Turtle Bread Co., a pumped-up descendant of a slider that Guzman served at Solera.
And that’s all she wrote, folks. “No fried eggs, no substitutions, that’s it,” said Guzman. “It’s an all-American burger.” I can guarantee that I'll be back, and I’ll take a 16-oz. Abrasive, please.
Fries: Included, and definitely a card-carrying member of the Can’t-Eat-Just-One Club: Thin, crispy, deeply golden. They’re a frozen, pre-packaged product — Guzman said the beer hall’s sheer volume makes a house-produced alternative impractical — but they don’t taste that way, partly because Guzman seasons them with a generous dash of house-blended barbecue-style spice mix.
Don’t miss: The enormous, chewy, beer-friendly and altogether excellent pretzels, complete with the only decent pimento cheese I’ve ever encountered in Minnesota, and a wonderfully robust spicy mustard.
Beer guide: Guzman said that three-quarters of diners new to Surly order a burger and a Hell, the brewery’s golden lager. He also suggests Furious, a year-round amber ale (“because it has lots of hoppy characteristics,” he said) and Misanthrope, a barrel-aged Belgian-style Saison.
Address book: 520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., 763-999-4040. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. My suggestion: Let Metro Transit do the driving. The brewery is about four blocks from the Green Line’s Prospect Park station.
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