Burgers coming to Hennepin Avenue

A new marquee will soon be lighting up downtown's Hennepin Avenue. It's American Burger Bar (825 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., www. americanburgerbar.com), going into the former Manhattan's, located just off the State Theatre's lobby in the LaSalle Plaza complex.

If that name sounds familiar, it's because this will be the third incarnation of a mini-chain owned by Eric Sandrock and Brad Ireland. The brand started in downtown St. Paul (354 N. Wabasha St.) last year and expanded this month into St. Joseph, Minn. (2010 E. County Rd. 75); the duo has also operated their American Burger Emporium (7455 Currell Blvd., Woodbury) since 2008. And since they don't already have enough on their plate, Sandrock and Ireland are getting ready to launch American Joe Coffee & Ice Cream (150 180th Lane NE., Blaine) in a former Starbucks outlet, selling organic, fair-trade coffee and Bridgeman's ice cream.

Their drive and energy probably comes from once owning a string of 24-hour truck stops that stretched from Menomonie, Wis., to Cannon Falls, Minn., along with a few Embers franchises. Now they're in the burger business -- specifically, fresh, hand-formed Angus beef half-pounders, with prices starting at $8.99. "It drives me crazy, eating the same old frozen burger," said Sandrock. "We made them at Embers, so we know them well."

Why downtown? "We love the energy, and we love being right in the heart of the theater district," said Sandrock. "Downtown is an event-driven business, but we've learned how to make that work in St. Paul, and we're confident we can do the same thing in Minneapolis."

A change at the Social

Chef Eddie Hayes Jr. has left the Northeast Social (359 13th Av. NE., Mpls., www.northeastsocial.com) for a new job on the North Shore, running the Ledge Rock Grille at the Larsmont Cottages resort (596 Larsmont Way, Two Harbors, Minn., www.larsmontcottages.com). "A goal of mine has always been to live up north," he said. "I'm fulfilling one of my lifelong curiosities." His hire is a big boost for the property; on my visits there, the food didn't live up to the handsome setting's promise. Hayes said he's looking forward to getting the restaurant to produce more house-made items, as well as putting the kitchen's wood-burning oven to work. "Man, I can do Italian stuff for days out of that oven," he said. Meanwhile, back at the Social, sous chef Geoff Little has been promoted into the top spot.

Around town

Look who's serving Sunday brunch: Be'wiched Deli (800 Washington Av. N., Mpls., www.bewicheddeli.com), featuring their one-of-a-kind pastrami-egg sandwich, house-cured salmon Benedicts, biscuits with sausage gravy and eggs, house-baked brioche French toast and more. Top price is $13.50, and hours run 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Say "hello" to Bars Bakery (612 Selby Av., St. Paul, www.barsbakery.com), where the mother-daughter team of Sandi Younkin and Kara Younkin Viswanathan are skipping the whole cupcake craze -- at least for now. Instead, they're concentrating on a daily variety of bars (espresso-cream cheese brownies and caramel-drizzled pistachio-toffee shortbread, among others), caramel rolls (from Younkin's fabulous recipe, back when she owned the Swede Hollow Cafe), scones and sweet and savory tarts.

RICK NELSON