The burger: In relative terms, Simply Steve’s owner Steve Ramlow has been food-trucking since the genre’s Paleolithic era.
“I started at the end of the first summer,” he said, his memory reaching back to 2010, when just a handful of mobile food operators were plying the streets of the Twin Cities. (Eight years later, there are more than 100). From the start, he’s viewed his peers as a community of friendly competitors.
“One thing that surprised me from the get-go is how I get along with other owners, and with the food truck association,” said Ramlow. “Surprised, in a good way.”
An early innovator, he got into the business when the office building where he was operating a cafeteria lost its major tenant, and his clientele evaported. “The building was empty, and my lease was up, so I moved out,” he said. “And I bought a truck.”
Ramlow has always placed a burger — make that, burgers — at the forefront of his menu.
“Personally, I just like them,” he said. For his popular California burger, the formula is, yes, simple: a nicely fatty beef that’s fresh, never frozen, well-seasoned and cooked on the flat top grill in its own considerable juices. A gooey slice of American cheese injects another jolt of saltiness.
Onions are fried in butter, their sweetness accentuated by the grill’s heat, with the butter laying on another uncomplicated layer of decadence. Butter also plays a role with the bun, which gets a generous swipe of the stuff before it’s toasted on the grill. By the way, that bun? It’s a doozy, a brioche-like beauty that comes from the ovens at Franklin Street Bakery.
“It’s just so soft and luxurious,” said Ramlow. “It melts in your mouth.”
Indeed. It’s also larger than the basic-issue burger bun, a two-handed whopper that knocks the essential bread-to-beef ratio slightly off kilter. Still, with a bun this good, who cares?
Ramlow isn’t shy when it comes to laying on all the appropriate California-style embellishments. A juicy tomato slice. Crunchy chopped lettuce. Vinegar-laced dill pickle chips. Plenty of mayo. The combination has endured as a burger classic for a reason; it works. No fancy bells-and-whistles, just honest-to-goodness burger deliciousness. Which certainly resides well within the Simply half of the Simply Steve’s brand.
Another observation: Six minutes transpired from the moment I placed my order to when I was handed a paper boat filled with lunch. Not bad, right?
Although he makes Saturday forays to various breweries, Ramlow said that he’s focusing the bulk of his 2018 efforts on the Tuesday-through-Friday downtown Minneapolis market. He likes the vibe on 4th Street, primarily because of the proximity to the Commons, with its big stretch of lawn and handy proliferation of tables and chairs.
“Where else can you park and have nice seating right outside your window?” he said. Exactly. And what better venue for enjoying a Simply Steve’s California cheeseburger?
Fries: None. The burger is served with a generous handful of potato chips.
Good morning: Ramlow is a rarity in the local food-truck universe in that he serves breakfast, an $8-and-under roster that ranges from scrambles and hash-and-eggs bowls to granola-and-berries options and a breakfast burrito. It’s a smart strategy for an ever-the-entrepreneur guy, because in order to nab a parking meter on 4th Street (the competition can be fierce), Ramlow has to arrive by 6 a.m.
“So I might as well serve breakfast,” he said. “All the other trucks don’t open until 11.”
Where he burgers: “I don’t have any favorites, I guess,” said Ramlow. “I order a burger almost every dang place I go. I could tell you about places that I don’t like. I can’t stand an overcooked patty in a bun that isn’t toasted, that doesn’t go together very well. If I had to pick a place, there’s Snuffy’s — it’s now called the Original Malt Shop — it’s near my house, in Roseville. I’ve always gone there.”
This weekend: Burger fans, listen up: the fifth-annual Twin Cities Burger Battle is taking place on Saturday (5 to 8 p.m.) at Harriet Island in St. Paul. Tickets ($60) allow buyers to enjoy unlimited food and drink (beer from Summit Brewing Co. and Fulton Brewing Co.), and can be purchased here (note: all attendees must be 21 and older). There are more than two dozen participating restaurants, and ticket holders can sound off via a People’s Choice award. The burgers-and-beer event also has a good-cause side to it, since proceeds benefit the Sanneh Foundation, which is dedicated to youth development.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.