The burger: The classic, slider-scaled La Belle Vie lamb burgers have been resurrected, in all of their flavorful glory, at P.S. Steak, the restaurant now occupying that hallowed dining ground at 510 Groveland. The decision was a no-brainer for Mike DeCamp — he’s culinary director for Jester Concepts, the ownership behind P.S. Steak, as well as Monello, Parlour and others. That’s because DeCamp spent more than a decade in the La Belle Vie kitchen with chef/owner Tim McKee.
“The lamb burger was my favorite thing, ever, on the La Belle Vie lounge menu,” said DeCamp. “I wanted to pay homage to the past, and the lounge was the perfect spot for us to do that. The lamb burger was one of the first dishes that I helped Tim come up with, and we ate so many of them. It’s nice to bring it back.”
If a Moroccan gastropub served a slider, it would probably resemble this classic Twin Cities burger, although no gastropub could ever resemble the lounge at P.S. Steak, still one of the region's most beautiful dining-and-drinking refuges. They’re an ideal bar snack: easily shareable, because there’s two of them, and just four or five diminutive bites. And because the patty is fashioned with lamb — and fluent in the language of Mediterranean flavors that were spoken in the La Belle Vie kitchen — they’re a welcome departure from the double patty/American cheese format that dominates our current burger climate.
The patty — thin, and burnished by the kitchen’s char-producing grill — is ground lamb, seasoned with a bit of ras el hanout and salt. “A regular beef burger wouldn’t fit at La Belle Vie,” said DeCamp. “We were never going to do a cheeseburger at La Belle Vie, we were always going to do something different. Lamb is a little more fancy than beef, and La Belle Vie was a little more fancy than your average restaurant. All the things that are on the lamb burgers came from Tim and I talking about what goes with lamb.”
Including one of the great burger garnishes of all time, a roasted poblano pepper, which contributes sweet-hot notes and a bit of vegetable crunch. Instead of draping the patty with cheese, the dairy realm is represented with mint-flecked yogurt.
The buns diverge from the standard burger bun expectations. They resemble one of my favorite childhood food memories, the soft, yeasty and slightly sweet dinner rolls that my grandmother Hedvig would bake, nine at a time, in a square baking pan.
In the P.S. kitchen, they’re produced on a larger scale — 35 at a time, in half-sheet pan — and they’re fantastic. “We let them over-proof a little bit, and add more sugar than you normally would,” said DeCamp. “Then we grill them on the cut side, to give them a little different texture.”
Why the slider format? “Because it’s more elegant,” said DeCamp. “Two smaller items are more elegant than one big thing. And I know I’m talking out of the side of my mouth, because if you go to the other side of town [he’s referring to the burger at Parlour], it’s a big burger, and it’s super-popular. I don’t really prefer one style over the other. But the slider, it just fit the place at the time, and it still does.”
DeCamp reports that the lamb burgers are, once again, hot sellers. “And to tell you the truth, I think that it’s the people that used to work here who appreciate them the most,” he said with a laugh. “It was a snack that we had in the kitchen. And it’s great to see old regulars coming back and sitting in the bar for burgers, fries and a cocktail.”
Fries: An additional $7, and so worth it. Slim, golden and crispy, they resemble a dressed-up-for-a-night-on-the-town version of McDonald’s fries, and they’re another La Belle Vie reprisal. “We don’t make them, we buy them,” said DeCamp. “We fry them in rice bran oil, and salt them. It’s the bearnaise, and the ketchup blended with garam masala, that makes them stand out. One of my favorite moments of this whole project was the first time we made the garam masala ketchup. We used to buy the garam masala from Penzey’s, and we did that again. There’s no recipe, and the first time that I tasted it, it was, ‘Yep, that’s exactly the way it should be.’”
People, there’s free valet parking: “We started that with Monello,” said DeCamp. “The line is, ‘We don’t want to give a people an excuse not to come.’ We don’t have a parking lot; it’s difficult to find street parking; and the only nearby ramp is at the Walker, and most people don’t know that it’s there. There’s really no reason not to have it. It costs us a bit, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it to us. It’s a nice amenity. If you’re going to have to pay $12 just to park your car, and then add a tip, you’re out almost twenty bucks before you even walk in the door. Going out is expensive enough, and we try to be cognizant of that.” P.S.: Be sure to tip the valet.
Another happy surprise? The lounge menu features a list of suggested restaurants in the neighborhood, from Esker Grove at the Walker Art Center and 4 Bells to a competing steakhouse, Burch. “It’s something that we do at all of our spots,” said DeCamp. “More good restaurants mean more good restaurants. Community is community, and that’s important to us. There’s no reason to not promote other restaurants.”
Where he burgers: I didn’t ask DeCamp this question, because the last time I did, he gave such a great answer that I’ll repeat it here. “To be fair, there aren’t too many burgers that I don’t like,” he said with a laugh. “There are just so many options right now. I love the Nook, but that’s a terrible one to say, because it’s everybody’s go-to. I know it’s a cliché to pick your own spot, but I could eat the Constantine burger almost every day. They’re just the right size. Oh, and Dusty’s Bar in northeast Minneapolis. It’s not really a burger, it’s an Italian sausage patty. When I was at La Belle Vie, I used to go to Dusty’s every Friday for lunch.”
Address book: 510 Groveland Av., Mpls., 612-886-1620, psmpls.com. Lounge open 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday, 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday and 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday.
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