The burger: Prepare for the backlash. After years of flying high in the local burger stratosphere, has the double-patty cheeseburger started its descent?
Witness its conspicuous absence from the menu at Mercy, chef Mike Rakun’s just-opened remake of Marin Restaurant & Bar in the Le Meridien Chambers hotel in downtown Minneapolis.
“Double-patty burgers are great, and there’s a time and a place for them,” he said. “But when it comes to a burger, I like to get a nice, big, beefy bite. You can cook [a single patty] to temp, and it’s nice and juicy. And when we make them at home, this is how we do it, with a big, thick patty. Besides, everyone else is doing a double.”
He’s not kidding on the whole big-bite thing. This bruiser of a 6-oz. patty radiates an ample (that's being modest) beefy flavor. It’s all due to the in-house grind, a luxe mix of chuck and brisket, fortified by a few secret weapons: trims from the menu’s tenderloin, New York strip and sirloin steaks. Here's proof postive that it's usually a good idea to order a burger at a steakhouse, or a steak-centric restaurant. “It also doesn’t hurt that our beef is 100 percent prime Niman Ranch,” said Rakun. Um, no, it doesn’t.
The patties are prepared on a flattop grill — mine was taken to a precise medium, as requested — with a slightly sizzled, caramelized char on the top and bottom surfaces and a significant amount of juices lurking on the inside, waiting to be released.
Holding true to its Old School Cheeseburger name, the garnishes are simple, and effective: a suprisingly juicy tomato slice, a flurry of shredded iceberg lettuce and a disk of soft, white Gouda cheese.
There are also chopped (and nicely crunchy) raw onions. “I love raw onions,” said Rakun. “Whenever I’m cutting onions, I usually eat them, I’ve been doing that since I was little. Plus, they pop against a heavy burger. And you can cook onions, but don’t you already get enough of that caramelized flavor when you cook the patty on a flattop?” Point well taken.
Oh, and fanastic pickles, with garlic and dill lingering in each bite. “We were going for a Claussen-style flavor,” he said. And there's a nod to the Special Sauces of the world, although this one is curiously lacking a foundational ingredient: ketchup. It's not missed. Instead, there’s Dijon mustard, a house-made mayonnaise, a little smoked paprika and a barrel-aged Worcestershire sauce. The results add a touch of zing, but don’t overwhelm. Well done.
Finally, there’s the (toasted) bun. “It’s a damned good one, isn’t it?” said Rakun. Yeah, it is, although let’s get real: the generous levels of butter would elevate a Wonder Bread bun. “We put Harvey at Turtle Bread up to the task of making us a challah hamburger bun. This is what he dreamed up, and it’s awesome.” Agreed.
Has the single-patty burger found an audience? “We’re selling a ton, it’s kind of ridiculous,” said Rakun. “But people here love their burgers. I’m beginning to think that the burger might be the Minnesota state dish.”
Price: $14, and justified [see Niman Ranch, above].
Fries: None. Instead, a generous handful of potato chips, admirably rendered. They’re parchment-thin and delicately crisp, with nary a trace of greasiness and a nuanced but effective touch with the salt shaker (years of overseing health-conscious Mill Valley Kitchen has clearly rubbed off on Rakun). I may never be able to face a bag of Old Dutch, ever again. Wait, who am I kidding?
But what's the deal with skipping the fries? “I dunno,” said Rakun. “We do offer them, and if you want to get a side of fries [price: $8], more power to you. But I think chips are a nice little crunch contrast with a burger. They’re certainly a little lighter than a big handful of fries, especially at lunch. We want people to be able to walk out the door and feel good about themselves.”
Timely price reduction: Rakun offers the same burger (minus the chips) for 10 bucks during happy hour(s), a very good deal, indeed. “It hurt to put that price on the menu,” he said with a laugh. Take a seat anywhere in the bar and order between 3 and 6 p.m. daily, as well as anytime between 9 p.m. and whenever the kitchen calls it quits. "Wicked" ticketholders, are you paying attention?
Address book: 901 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-252-7000. Open 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Burger served during brunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekends), lunch (11 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays) and dinner (3 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday).
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.