The burger: It’s pretty brave of Kaskaid Hospitality to launch its cheery Burger Burger at the Mall of America. After all, one of the nation’s biggest names in quick-service burgers, Shake Shack, is opening its first Minnesota outpost at the mall later this year.
Kaskaid leader Kam Talebi remains undaunted. “How many places are there to buy jeans at the mall?” he said. “That doesn’t keep Old Navy away. We knew about Shake Shack. They’re in the new development at the mall, it’s completely different from where we’re located, it’s practically a different ZIP Code, that’s how far away they are from us. We’re happy where we are.”
A counter-service burger joint is a departure from the company’s offerings, which includes 10 Crave locations in six states. Why enter the highly competitive burger market?
“As true hospitality entrepreneurs, we want to expand on the horizon of culinary experiences that we provide,” said Talebi. “We’re infatuated by the fast-casual world, it’s not a market that we were in. And given the nature of the burger market and where it’s going, well, honestly, we wanted a piece of it.”
Kaskaid also operates Union in Minneapolis, the just-opened Avenida Cocina & Bar in Minnetonka. Oh, and Zio Cucina & Bar, an Italian concept that’s located next door to Burger Burger on the mall’s third level. The two restaurants share the same kitchen.
Burger Burger sets itself apart from the Smashburgers and Five Guys of the world with a few key components. First: Booze. “We wanted to add an adult component to the burger experience,” said Talebi, and he does. There’s a full bar, a dozen-plus beers on tap and a host of alcohol-fueled ice cream shakes.
Second: Emphasizing what Talebi says is “a serious commitment to the actual quality of the burger itself.”
That means utilizing top-quality beef, sourced from an environmentally conscious Olivia, Minn., farm, a hormone- and antibiotic-free blend of short rib, brisket and chuck that’s ground fresh daily on the premises (“We spent about six months testing different coarse grinds, and combinations,” said Burger Burger executive chef Dave Schultz). Don’t take my word for it, confirm for yourself: the restaurant puts the production process right out there, strategically placing it at the front entrance inside a theatrical, amusingly gimmicky facility that’s grabbing all kinds of shoppers’ attention. How many shopping malls sport a Burberry, an Apple store, a roller coaster and a window into a watch-them-work meat counter? That's it, below, a closet-sized room lined in gleaming stainless steel.
A proprietary seasoning blend is added during the grinding process, and it’s also sprinkled on the patties as they cook on the kitchen’s flattop grill. "Proprietary" meaning, they wouldn’t reveal what’s in it, but my taste buds picked up all kinds of salt and onion accents.
The menu boasts all kinds of add-ons (house-made sauces, butter-sauteed mushrooms, a long list of cheeses, tomato-avocado salsa, and more), but in the spirit of Burger Friday purity, I went with the “Classic,” just white American cheese, leaf lettuce, tomato and mayo.
Along with that well-seasoned (bordering on aggressively seasoned), cooked-to-medium patty – one that tastes far more expensive than its $5.95 price tag might otherwise dictate -- the other component that all burgers have in common is the bun. It's a total winner – golden, sturdy-yet-soft -- that’s baked fresh daily at Saint Agnes Baking Co.
(Other burgers feature patties fashioned from salmon, bison, chicken, turkey, black beans and chorizo. There are a few salads, too.)
My order arrived in six minutes, well within "quick service" expectations. The patty was hot, lightly charred and lightly juicy, and big enough to hug the bun’s edges. It was draped in a well-melted and mildly (ok, timidly) flavored American cheese, the lettuce was noticeably crispy and fresh and the ruby red tomato slice wasn’t there for show, it actually tasted like a tomato, a fast-food rarity.
I was impressed. Success lies in the details, right? If I were a megamall regular, I’d go back. And, yes, I feel a chain coming on.
Price: $5.95 for the “Classic.” Fancier versions run $6.95 to $8.50.
Fries: Extra, $2.95 for a large serving, $3.95 for a gigantic one. They’re long, super-starchy (in a good way), obviously hand cut, and fried to a mouth-watering gold (they're fried in a non-GMO oil). My order was liberally – and that’s an understatement – coated with what turns out to be another proprietary seasoning blend – it’s different from the burger’s formula – and it packs a powerfully salty punch. As it happens, I was craving salt, and so I gobbled them up (“The testament to the seasoning on our fries is that we don’t have salt out on the tables, and no one asks for it,” said Schultz), but the salt-averse might find them to be a bit much. For those who don’t want to wait in line at Burger Burger, the fries are available next door at cute, grab-and-go-ish Fry Fry. There’s an array of 15 dipping sauces, which range from roasted garlic-laced mayonnaise to bacon-infused ketchup. Nice.
Address book: 321 South Avenue, Mall of America, Bloomington, 952-855-7800. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
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