The burger: Watching the crew do their thing at the grill at Andy's Garage is half the fun of ordering a burger at Andy's Garage. Each third-pounder starts as a baseball-scaled meatball, and the moment it hits the flat-top grill, the short-order cook on duty reflexively reaches for a cast-iron press and shmushes -- Smashburger-style -- that hefty blob of ground beef into a flatness that stands apart from the thick-pattied burgers that are currently in vogue.

That relative thinness -- a half inch, tops -- translates into a brief cooking time. We're not talking Wendy's-Burger King speed, but the wait is short enough that the Andy's experience tiptoes into fast-food territory. Except that the beef is fresh, not frozen, and the resulting patty -- lightly seasoned, cooked well into medium -- tastes that way.

The old-school garnishes don't surprise, but they don't disappoint, either, with a generous amount of crisp, fresh leaf lettuce, a not-horrible (for the dead of winter, anyway) tomato slice, a handful of commercially produced (but relatively decent) pickle chips and a choice of fresh or fried onions. Add-ons include a half-dozen cheeses (75 cents each) and goodies along the lines of bacon ($1) and mushrooms (50 cents). It's true: Sometimes simple pleasures really are the best.

The crowning glory is the bun, baked roughly 100 feet away at another Midtown Global Market tenant, the Salty Tart. It's one of the Twin Cities' great burger buns, with a glossy, high-rising dome so deeply golden that it's nearly copper-topped. It's sturdy enough to hold up to a big-old third-pound burger and a mountain of garnishes but gently softened via an enriching dose of milk. This is the happy outcome of when a James Beard-nominated chef (in this case, the Salty Tart's Michelle Gayer) turns her attention to the lowly hamburger bun. Can you imagine what she'd do with a doughnut? (Daydream no further: Gayer defaults to pastry cream-filled brioche, and it's nothing short of faux-doughnut nirvana).

Price: $6.25, $6.45 for an initial slice of cheese.

Fries: A $2-$3 upcharge. All burgers are served with house-fried potato chips, and they're a suitable substitute for the (terrific) fries. They're thicker than the average Old Dutcher-er, wonderfully crisp and salty, and certainly fresh. Spend enough time around Andy's Garage -- no more than the few minutes it takes to receive your order -- and you'll undoubtedly hear (and probably feel) the staccato thwack of the table-mounted potato cutter as it slices its way through a gigantic russet. Yeah, that's fresh.

Bonus round: The hand-mixed malts, another example of Andy's embrace of old-fashioned Americana, are also several cuts above the soft-serve versions that are the standard at fast-food chains. Moderately priced, too: $3.25-$4.25.

Address book: 920 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-886-2602. Open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.

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