The burger: A few Saturdays ago at Harriet Island in St. Paul, a sellout crowd of 2,500 burger lovers turned out for the third-annual Twin Cities Burger Battle. Twenty-five Twin Cities restaurants competed.
Attendees handed the People's Choice award to Peppers & Fries for its Bangkok Burger, a beef patty topped with cream cheese, Asian garlic sauce, Sriracha-infused coleslaw, cilantro and fresh jalapenos, all served on a toasted bun from P.J. Murphy’s Bakery. It’s not on the menu — yet — but it will be, as soon as a reprint goes through. In the meantime, the Bangkok is available for those who know to ask for it. Price: $10.95, which includes fries or chips and salsa.
The competition's five judges went in another direction, and It’s easy to understand why they gave their love to the double-patty burger that Red Cow owner Luke Shimp has christened the Double Barrel.
There’s clearly a lot to love. The beef is a finely-calibrated in-house blend of chuck, rib eye, brisket and short rib, all aged 21 days to accentuate the meat's flavor. Each thinnish patty is formed from a 4-oz. meatball. Yeah, that adds up to a half-pound of beef.
"That’s a lot of burger," said Shimp. "But you get a lot of flavor."
Right on both counts. Flattened on the flattop, the patties are grilled to a sizzled char on the outside; on the inside, the color -- more ruby than pink -- suggests a notch or two south of medium-rare. This is a notably tender and juicy burger.
On its journey to the winner's circle, Team Red Cow adapted all kinds of make-or-break strategies. Here's one example: fashioning a white Cheddar into a proprietary American-style cheese. Well, an American cheese minus the usual glaring, caution-sign color.
‘“It seems like the most popular burgers are the ones with two patties and American cheese,” said Shimp. “We’re culinarians, so we said to ourselves, ‘Let’s make our own cheese.’ We worked on it for three months — I think we probably went through 10 to 15 five-pound batches to get the right ratios — and I can’t tell you how sick I am of eating American cheese.”
The hard work and perseverance obviously paid off, because the results have all the proper melting qualities and salty profile that a cheeseburger lover hopes to encounter.
The remaining toppings are just-right complements: finely diced red onions, softened on the griddle; a creamy, relatively mellow horseradish sauce; a pillowy, lavishly buttered and toasted bun. The house-made pickles are also blue-ribbon contenders. They’re served on the side, but they belong under the top bun, where their pronounced crunch and snappy vinegar afterglow are a fine foil to the beef’s — and cheese’s — diet-busting richness.
No wonder the Double Barrel was named Best in Show, and no wonder that it has landed a permanent berth on the Red Cow menu.
Price: $15.50. Shimp donates a dollar from each sale to the Sanneh Foundation.
Fries: Included, and not terribly impressive; they were luke-warm, semi-limp, greasy and crying out for salt.
Scorecard: Here’s the breakdown on 2016’s gold, silver and bronze Burger Battle winners. In the Judges’ Choice category, Red Cow’s No. 1 position was followed by Paddy Shack at Half Time Rec at No. 2 and Citizen Supper Club at No. 3. In the People's Choice division, Peppers & Fries prevailed over No. 2 Red Cow and No. 3 Rock Elm Tavern.
For armchair burger statisticians, the top 2015 winners were Paddy Shack at Half Time Rec (Judges’ Choice) and the St. Paul Grill (People’s Choice); in 2014, the top winners were B-52 Burgers and Brew (Judges’ Choice) and Gold Nugget Tavern & Grille (People’s Choice).
Will there be a 2017 rematch? Absolutely, said event organizer Jim Buron. “We will be back in 2017, and we will be bigger and better than ever,” he said. “Stay tuned to our website for date and location announcements.” Will do.
Contest post-mortem: “We had so much fun, it was great, the best one yet,” said Shimp. Of course, he won, which might have something to do with his enthusiasm. But there were other reasons. “Harriet Island was the best venue,” he said. “The bands were great. There was a lot of energy. And it’s a lot of fun to compete, against so many great burger places, like the 5-8 Club, and the Nook, and Tilia. It felt great to beat Jack [Riebel, he of the Paddy Shack at Half Time Rec], because he won last year.”
(The judges were chefs Jamie Malone and Erik Anderson of the upcoming Brut, chef Paul Berglund of the Bachelor Farmer, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild and US Foods chef John Byrne).
Shimp and his crew of 12 really worked it. In keeping with the competiion's slider-size portions, the Double Barrel was slimmed down to a pair of 2-oz. patties. Shimp and his crew served roughly 1,000 of them over an intensely busy three-hour period.
“We pretty much had a line all day,” he said.
As the contest's big winner, Shimp was handed a $1,000 credit to supplier US Foods. People's Choice honoree Peppers & Fries received a $500 credit. (The real winner? The Sanneh Foundation, which was the recipient of a $10,000 donation.)
“You also get a jersey, a trophy and bragging rights,” said Shimp. “We’re a burger place, so it’s good to know that we’re No. 1 in our craft.”
Play ball: Twins ticketholders should know that Red Cow has a Target Field outpost, and it's well worth the visit. Shimp isn't serving the Double Barrel at the ballpark, but maybe he should. Find it in Section 234 (that's center field, upper concourse), part of the ballpark's spiffy new Minnie & Paul's concession area.
Address book: 3624 W. 50th St., Mpls., 612-767-4411; 393 Selby Av., St. Paul, 651-789-0545; and 612-238-0050. Open 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday and Sunday (note: St. Paul location closes at midnight daily).
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