My brother Teddy loves hamburgers. Well, actually, he loves cheeseburgers.
At every restaurant, regardless of city, that's his order: In part because, born with Down syndrome, he doesn't like change. But more so because he knows what he likes, so why order anything else?
Born in 1989, exactly three years and three months after me, Teddy and I didn't always have a lot in common. We went to different schools (him public, me private). We had different hobbies (he loved movies, I loved books). We had very different skill sets (he was a social butterfly, while I leaned into schoolwork and studying).
The one thing we could always connect on was sports and, subsequently, stadium food. It started when our dad got Vikings season tickets. As kids, we'd spend every other Sunday each fall sitting in the Metrodome, cheering for the home team and, arguably more important, contemplating our lunch options. More often than not, we'd land on either a hot dog or cheeseburger, comfortable with our consistency and confident in their deliciousness.
Over the years, and across sporting complexes, we'd started to compare these two staples, noting where it was best to eat what. Teddy also began regularly ordering burgers when dining out, slowly but surely building his own culinary expertise. So as Wayzata's restaurant scene began to explode, I thought "Why not extend this practice, and his knowledge, to our hometown?"
By now, at age 32, Teddy is well versed in all things patty-related, while I've discovered my foodie side, having lived in two vibrant cities before moving home. I'd also started to do more writing and thought it might be fun to document our adventure.
It would be the perfect opportunity to frequent nine select Wayzata establishments, but also a chance to spend quality time with each other. I had no doubt we'd talk sports while sampling, but now we'd have another topic, too: which burger was the best and why. It was an ideal combination — his burger expertise and my love of telling stories, his taste buds and my inquisitive nature.
It wasn't until about halfway through our four-month quest that I thought to ask Teddy something that went beyond what he liked and disliked about the burgers. I posed a broader question about the journey itself, hoping he'd say his favorite part was dining alongside his sister. Not only was that not his answer (no offense to me), but what I did receive could not have been a better, more honest response. After pausing for a beat, he said, "Eating all these burgers is bad for us, but it tastes so good!"
His statement reminded me yet again of the way Teddy seamlessly cuts right to the heart of things. He has an uncanny ability to distill exactly how we feel and express it without embarrassment, fear or any negative emotion.
After all the inquiries and calories, I remember not only this but also of how "in the moment" Teddy lives his life. His favorite burger was often the one he was currently eating. Because why think of or wish for anything else — you're right here, right now. It's nothing short of amazing, and a quality I've always envied in my brother.
It did, however, make creating an official ranking more of a challenge. Following every meal, we'd discuss his order. And while the specific sequence might change slightly — with that day's meal almost always finding a top three spot — there were trends I couldn't help but notice.
As a classic burger guy, it's no surprise he always put the Muni and Maggie's toward the top, with the latter consistently holding the No. 1 position. Less is always more for Teddy. A bit more of a foodie myself, having lived in San Francisco and New York City, mine looks almost the exact opposite. Cov and Benedict's take my top spots.
But all things told, for me it was much more about the process than the decision. And for Teddy, I have a sneaking suspicion he came along for one thing and one thing only: the cheeseburgers.
The Wayzata burger quest
As Teddy and I set out to eat our way through Wayzata's burger scene, we created a few guidelines. When an establishment had multiple burgers, we opted for the signature — the burger named after the restaurant or the one most highly recommended. While it proved difficult to rank them, we did have our favorites. Here are the results (in no particular order):
The Cov Burger from Cov, $21: Rather than putting garnishes on the side, they're all piled directly onto the burger. Shaved lettuce, pickles and American cheese are automatics, much to the dismay of Teddy, who isn't a pickle person. The dijonnaise sauce, mixed with well-melted cheese, makes for quite a messy meal but packs such flavor that there's no need for ketchup. Teddy, who easily goes through two to three dishes of said condiment per burger, used it sparingly, which is a huge compliment. (700 E. Lake St., covwayzata.com)
The cheeseburger from Wayzata Bar and Grill, $13.50: With nine burgers on the "Muni" menu, we asked our server which was the most popular. She said, without hesitating, the cheeseburger. You can't go wrong with something ultra-classic, and that's exactly what we got — no frills, just cheese and meat. It's a burger that tastes like it's just come off the grill, something sauces and additional accoutrements can mask. Lettuce, tomato and onion come alongside, but neither of us felt compelled to add anything. This burger is meant for those who want to actually taste the meat. Teddy, as a basic burger lover, thoroughly enjoyed its simplicity. (747 Mill St., wayzatabarandgrill.com)
Steak burger from Gianni's Steakhouse, $20: Boasting the largest meat patty of any we tried, the sandwich comes open-faced, giving you the option to remove the shredded lettuce and tomato already on the bun. Once assembled, the burger stands quite tall, making it difficult to eat. Any ketchup added is likely to spill out in an attempt to squeeze it down into a more manageable size. While the meat is clearly higher quality, this one tastes more like steak than a burger. Teddy loved this more simplistic flavor; I found myself adding condiments and additional toppings to create a stronger taste. Consider adding bacon, avocado or even a fried egg to give it a little something extra. (635 E. Lake St., giannis-steakhouse.com)
A Fat Burger from 6 Smith, $19.95: With many options, we ultimately chose this one, as it is one of two that appear on both the lunch and dinner menus. The portion is mammoth. Between the liquid cheese, additional sauce and too-thin bottom bun, you can expect a mess, albeit a delicious one. Teddy finished his with a fork, as almost everything tumbled out. Considering we've had opposite responses to most burgers, the fact we agreed that this was a top contender speaks to its widespread appeal. Foodies will appreciate its cheddar fondue and bacon jam. Traditionalists can enjoy the quality of the patties, which almost melt in your mouth. However, it doesn't taste as expensive as it is priced. (294 Grove Lane E., 6smith.com)
McCormick's burger from McCormick's Pub, $16: Braised in Guinness, the McCormick's burger tastes — and looks — more like short ribs than a traditional meat patty. The quality is exceptional, and its unique flavor is clearly the focus of the sandwich. While Teddy enjoyed the white cheddar cheese and I the pancetta, the accompaniments add little additional flavor. Ketchup was a must for both of us. This is also the only burger also offered during lunch. If you're looking for a sandwich that is meat-centric, both in flavor and in proportions, this is the one for you. (331 S. Broadway, mccormicks.pub)
The cheeseburger and deluxe burger from Stalk & Spade, $10.95 and $11.95: Offering two relatively simple cheeseburgers, we opted to try both — the classic (cheese, pickles, ketchup and mustard) and the deluxe, which also adds lettuce, tomato and mayo. A real curveball in the burger field, with its plant-based patties, I was particularly excited to see Teddy's reaction. He understood that they were "healthier," but I left out the meatless component, interested to see if he tasted a difference. Unable to mask his emotions, Teddy's face is always a dead giveaway. So, I knew that his expression upon taking the first bite would tell me everything I needed to know. And I saw nothing but enjoyment.
He didn't seem to notice anything unusual about the deluxe. Perhaps it was the three separate sauces, or on a more psychological level, the idea that you can't taste what you don't know. Teddy found it slightly messy, but, in my opinion, the toppings not only added great flavor, but were necessary to the experience. The plant base proved more obvious with the classic burger, which impacted its overall ranking. What's more, neither of us felt fully satisfied after the meal. (740 E. Lake St., stalkandspade.com)
The Old School Cheeseburger from Benedict's, $16: If we chose a winner based on appearance, this would be it. When our server set the plate down, the smile on Teddy's face showed nothing but sheer joy. He couldn't wait to dig in, and neither of us was disappointed. With Gouda cheese and lots of sauce, this was my ideal burger—and perfect for those who want something slightly fancier than the standard cheeseburger. Teddy enjoyed it, but the accoutrements that attracted me made the meal "too messy" for him. It did prove hard to hold and required a sturdy napkin, but I thoroughly appreciated each bite. I think it is fair to say that the cheese choice, or lack thereof, was also a no-go for Teddy — someone who, when given the option, consistently requests American. (845 E. Lake St., benedictswayzata.com)
The cheeseburger and Maggie's Deluxe Burger from Maggie's Family Restaurant, $11 and $13: I'd almost forgotten to add Maggie's to our list until Teddy mentioned that he and Dad used to go every Saturday for lunch. To keep things consistent, we chose the standard cheeseburger and the one named after the restaurant. After sampling both, Teddy was unwavering in his preference for the cheeseburger and I, surprisingly, agreed. It's not often I'd choose the basic option but, in this case, it had the best flavor of the two. The American cheese, the meat, the bun. It tasted like summer and, to Teddy, was the clear winner. On the Deluxe, the shredded lettuce barely stayed in place while the bacon's seasoning left us wishing it had come without. (844 E. Lake St., wayzatamaggies.com)
The 925 Burger at Nine Twenty Five, $16 (cheese $2): Our final burger was the first to charge for cheese. In true Teddy fashion, we opted for American and threw on some bacon for good measure (another $4). The meat had great taste and the patty was quite substantial. But the many toppings — lettuce, tomato, onion, bacon, and cheese —added little additional flavor. I didn't mind the mayonnaise, appreciating the extra sauce, but Teddy would have preferred it on the side. When asked for his overall thoughts, Teddy replied that the burger was, "good enough," a statement that proved an accurate summation of the experience and landed the burger squarely in the middle of our list. (925 E. Lake St., ninetwentyfive.com)