The burger: Not many chefs have a space devoted exclusively to the butchering arts. But Matt Leverty does. He’s the newish chef at the Hewing Hotel’s Tullibee, and the benefits of having that ultimate kitchen tool in his cooking arsenal is reflected in the (tiptop) quality of the restaurant’s burger.
Peterson Craftsman Meats in Osceola, Wis., delivers whole sides of beef to that basement butchering room, and top-shelf trim from various cuts fortifies a standard chuck-brisket formula.
“It could be dry-aged rib eye,” said Leverty. “It all depends on what we butcher up that day. We try to keep to an 80/20 meat/fat ratio, but otherwise the mix changes from day to day.”
The result — at least on the afternoon when I taste-tested — was a profoundly rich and beefy bite. Creating this memorable burger is a time-consuming process. The beef is ground twice, the meat rested and chilled between the two grinds.
“I do like a coarsely ground burger, but with all the different cuts — and the whole fat that we use — we have to grind it more, it’s like macerating the meat by grinding it twice,” said Leverty (pictured below in a provided photo). “Getting the fat content right is really important.”
Patties weigh in at 3 1/2 ounces, and with two to a burger, that’s a heaping helping of upper-echelon beef. They’re pressed into a thin, diner-style shape on the flat top stove.
“For me, I’ve always loved what you’d call a smashburger,” said Leverty. “Getting as much caramelization on the patty as you can, that’s super-important. You sear it as hard as you can, and otherwise you don’t mess around with it.”
It’s a noticeably seasoned burger, using a blend of salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, celery seed, onion powder, garlic powder, juniper and mace.
“Those woodsy, forest-ey flavors of those dry spices work well with the rich beef,” said Leverty. “They’re pretty nuanced. You can’t taste them unless you try, but they help elevate the burger.”
Agreed. The Rustica-baked brioche bun needs no introduction (“It’s the best brioche bun that I’ve had in the city,” said Leverty), and garnishes are kept to a minimum.
“The beef speaks for itself,” said Leverty. “The mission was to make this burger the best burger that we can, using the best meat that we can. I’ve had a ton of burgers that throw in the kitchen sink, to mask the subpar quality of the beef. We keep it simple.”
That's smart. There’s a Thousand Island-like sauce fashioned from ketchup, mayonnaise, slow-cooked shallots and a splash of pickle brine, and it’s applied with an admirable restraint. Instead of pickles, or tomatoes, color and texture come in via tender leaf lettuce and crunchy red onion. Why raw onions?
“There are two schools of thought on that,” said Leverty. “Some hate raw red onion, and some love it. I love it. You need that sharpness to cut through the meat, because the meat is so rich. And raw onion provides a little texture to a good burger. You’re not piling mush on mush on mush.”
This is a cheese-ey (in a very good way) burger, with thickish slices draped over the top of each patty. Leverty and his crew taste-tested a long list of options before landing on a Colby from Deer Creek Cheese in Sheboygan, Wis.
“We decided that we are only going to use local cheeses,” said Leverty. “I’d love to use a Minnesota cheese, but I have to admit that Wisconsin makes superior Cheddars, Goudas and Colbys. This one melted the best, and it has a sharpness that’s in contrast to the richness of the burger.”
Big surprise: this cheeseburger has become the menu’s bestselling item.
“We go through maybe 250 to 300 burgers a week, just in the lounge,” said Leverty. “Sometimes I wish I could sell that much of the dry-aged rib eye.”
Price: $14. A good value.
Fries: Included, and tasty. The skin-on cuts are thicker than shoestrings and thinner than steak cuts. “This is a happy medium,” said Leverty. “They hold their crispiness like a shoestring, but they’re meatier, like a thicker fry.” The seasoning — it’s a blend of Old Bay, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and red wine vinegar powder — is a holdover from Leverty’s predecessor. “And it was too good to move, I’ll be honest,” he said.
Homecoming: Leverty, a Stillwater native, started his culinary career at the former 20.21. He transferred out of that Walker Art Center/Wolfgang Puck operation in 2007 and relocated to Las Vegas, where he worked his way up the Puck career ladder. “I’ve always said that Vegas is a place for a four-day weekend, and I ended up there for 11 years,” he said with a laugh. After spending some time journeying through Puck’s far-flung global empire, he decided to return home. “Once a Minnesotan, always a Minnesotan, right?” he said. “I was ready for a change of pace. Traveling around, opening restaurants, I kind of lost the focus of what it is to be a chef. I’m glad to be back in my own kitchen.”
Where he burgers: “I love burgers,” said Leverty. “Matt’s Bar has the best in town, bar none. The 112 makes an amazing cheeseburger. And I’m a big In-N-Out fan. When I was living in Vegas, I drank the In-N-Out Kool-Aid, and fell in love. If I’m going for a fast-food burger, it’s the only way to go. It’s definitely something I miss about the Vegas area.”
Address book: 300 Washington Av. N., Mpls., 651-468-0600. Burger is available “all day, every day,” said Leverty. “That’s why we sell so many.”
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