It’s time to revisit the top burgers of 2019.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a best-burgers-in-the-Twin Cities roundup (find that here). Instead, it’s a peek back at the most memorable entries in the 2019 Burger Friday playbook. Burger Friday is a (mostly) weekly blog that shines a spotlight on a gotta-have Twin Cities burger, and these five represent the cream of that particular crop of 15 entries. Here they are, in alphabetical order.
1. Book Club
Chef/co-owner Asher Miller is diving into the James Beard Foundation’s Blended Burger Project, which asks chefs to incorporate “finely chopped, umami-rich mushrooms with ground meat in burgers,” a strategy that’s part of the foundation’s efforts to promote sustainability, health and flavor in the nation’s food systems; nearly 300 restaurants across the country are participating. The mushroom/meat blend has to be at least 25 percent mushrooms.
Miller’s entry? It’s scrupulously composed, and fantastic (and pictured, above). The finishing touches are spot-on. A basil pesto adds a bright, summery touch, and a balsamic-boosted aioli inserts a welcome acidity. Baby arugula contributes color (ditto the slices of sweet roasted red bell peppers) and a peppery bite, and a slab of creamy Fontina is a happy alternative to the ubiquitous American and Cheddar.
Miller and his crew also have the good taste to buy a first-rate bun from Denny’s 5th Avenue Bakery in Bloomington. A warm, slightly crispy toast includes a whole lot of butter.
As for the patty, it’s thick, with rough edges and a nicely charred crust. The beef hails from Organic Prairie, a Wisconsin-based cooperative of family farms. It’s a rich and flavorful, 80/20 meat/fat blend that’s redolent with fat but not greasy.
The mushrooms are finely chopped portobellos, seasoned with garlic powder, salt and pepper before being blended into the ground beef. “We chose portobellos because of their meatiness,” said Miller. “They hold up really well when they’re cooked.”
The beef/mushroom ratio hovers near the 70/30 neighborhood. The results are noticeably lighter than a 100-percent beef burger, but each flavorful bite has a satisfying earthiness that’s anything but annoyingly, vacuously Lite. Which begs the question: why isn’t everyone incorporating mushrooms into their burgers?
Price: $13. Fries not included.
Address book: 5411 Penn Av. S., Mpls., 612-822-5411. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
It isn’t every day that a burger joint waves a patent at its customers, but that’s what happens at the new food hall at Rosedale. Patent No. 7998517 was awarded for a process for dry aging meat, one that involves a temperature-controlled room that’s equipped with a wall composed of bricks of pink Himalayan salt. Over the course of 40 days – and thanks to an air circulation system -- the room’s salt-heavy climate seasons the beef.
And how. This is a burger where the beef flavor takes center stage and never retreats, an attribute that’s normally associated with a thick, meatloaf-like patty. Not here. This one is thin and wide, and yet with those dimensions it still manages to radiate a pronounced beefiness. It’s seared, quickly, on a hot flat top grill, a tried-and-true technique that gives the patty that all-important crust.
The intentional architecture of this burger yields one textural contrast after another. The bun, golden from an egg wash, is so soft that your thumbs leave temporary imprints after you pick it up; the indents slowly retreat to the bun’s normal dimensions, and yet the bread isn’t vacuously doughy. The bottom half of the bun is swiped with a punchy, roasted garlic-infused aioli, and then the stacking begins.
The cheese is aged Gouda. “It’s something a bit different,” said Kevin Krejsa, the hall's director of operations. “So often we see American, or a Cheddar, but we thought Gouda complemented the dry aged beef very well, and stood up to its strong flavor profile.”
The Gouda’s gooeyness also reacts nicely against the bacon’s crisp (and smoky) bite. Then there’s the veritable salad bar that’s arranged on top: a so-so tomato slice; a layer of fantastic bread-and-butter pickles that contribute a slightly acidic juiciness and a marvelous snap; a few rings of palate-cleansing onion; and that comfort-food flurry of shredded iceberg. It’s all about crunch, crunch, and more crunch, in a really appealing way, a strategy that in no way detracts from the beef’s rich flavor.
Saltbrick Burger is one of 11 concepts inside this next-generation food court, which is the first-of-its-kind work of New York City-based Craveable Hospitality Group. Saltbrick Burger has quickly nurtured a following. “Every day, it competes for most-popular concept,” Krejsa said. “Most of the time it wins.”
Price: $6.95, highly reasonable. Adding a patty — highly recommended — adds another $3. Fries not included.
Address book: Revolution Hall is located on the east side (near Von Maur) of Rosedale Center, 1595 Hwy. 36, Roseville, 651-400-7918. Open 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7:30 am. To 7 p.m. Sunday.
At this role model of a neighborhood restaurant, chef/owner Max Thompson and chef Jason Hansen have always had a few burgers – good ones, too – on the menu.
They recently narrowed it to a single offering, a decision driven by expediency. “I got tired of making two different grinds, and two different patties,” said Thompson. “And I decided that I wanted to make a double cheeseburger. I grew up with grilled burgers that were sort of overcooked. I just wanted to do something that was a little over the top.”
That last part, dear Burger Friday readers, is a prime contender for the understatement of the year. This burger is so over the top (in a great way) that the menu should include a warning label.
There's enough gooey cheese to make this a knife-and-fork burger (at least when dining in polite company), but the rest of the garnishes are uncomplicated and spot-on. Onions are cooked on the griddle, nudged into soft sweetness with heat, oil and a splash of maple syrup. A swipe of a pungent, mustard-infused aioli adds a welcome touch of moisture to those crisped-up patties. The snappy pickles are of the basic refrigerator variety: simple, with a vinegary, palate-cleansing bite. They’re fantastic, and essential to the burger’s overall success.
The milk-fortified bun is from PJ Murphy’s, and before they’re toasted, they get a prodigious coating of butter on their interior surfaces. But really, this burger is all about the patties. Weighing in at 3 ounces, they’re remarkably thin – and wide -- yet somehow don’t fall apart. Hansen follows an unusual cooking process, smashing the patty on the hot, unseasoned grill and searing that one side until the patty is about 95 percent cooked through, and the cooked surface has taken on a crisp texture that’s tantalizingly pocked with crunchy bits of char.
At precisely the right moment, Hansen somehow jimmies a spatula under that seared beef, flips it, quickly adds the cheese – lots and lots of already slightly warmed and soft American cheese – and then keeps the patty on the grill just long enough for the cheese to melt on that super-hot beef. Then the patty (or patties) is whisked into a warmed bun, a few garnishes are added and it’s hustled out to the dining room.
Part of the allure is the beef, which is sourced from top-quality Peterson Craftsman Meatsin Osceola, Wis. Some chefs use butter to insert fat content into patties. Not here. “That makes it hard to do the next one,” said Thompson. “You end up with so much butter on the griddle, and you don’t want that. You want the patty to stick.”
Instead, they rely upon beef fat. The grind – a mix of brisket and chuck – is roughly 70 percent muscle, 30 percent fat. “I said that it was over the top,” said Thompson with a laugh.
Price: $13 at dinner (served a la carte), $15 at lunch (with fries), $13 at brunch (a single patty, with bacon and egg, and served with fries).
Address book: 128 Cleveland Av. N., St. Paul, 651-645-4128. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
The phrase “Miracle on Main Street” is being applied to the sleek, energetic rebirth of the Leader, the generations-old department store in downtown Cambridge, Minn. But it could also apply to the burger being served at Willards, the store’s highly appealing restaurant.
That’s because said burger is the resurrection of the Perfect Burger, the aptly named bacon cheeseburger that, for several years, drew legions of devoted fans to chef Erick Harcey’s now-defunct Victory 44 in north Minneapolis.
And perfect, it was. And is, an impeccable blend of simplicity and complexity. The bun is precisely tailored to the patty, a thick-ish five-ouncer that’s grilled – in plenty of butter – on a hot flat top stove.
Harcey uses a fat-enriched blend of chuck, short rib and rib eye. All of that butter, combined with the stove’s intense heat, invests a slightly crisped-up crust on the patty's exterior, but doesn’t diminish the beef’s inherent juiciness. The patty’s outer edges don’t form a clean perimeter; instead, there are lots of nooks and crannies that create opportunities to develop all kinds of flavor-packed charred bits.
Garnishes are kept to a minimum, but piled on with an almost maniacal glee. Two strips of smoky bacon intensify the beef’s richness, and a pair of American cheese slices contribute a notable level of gooiness. The pickles definitely make a statement. They're teased with mustard seed and celery seed, and stacked at least as high as the patty itself. “In most of my food, I like to include what appears to be a fresh component,” said Harcey. “Here, it’s the crunch of the cucumbers, with the balance of acid and sweet.” Again, perfect.
Mixed in with the pickles is an occasional slice of raw jalapeno, adding a bright but not overpowering flash of heat. That’s it for the vegetables. “You get lettuce and tomato in there, and the burger just slips and slides,” said Harcey. “I like to think about the best burgers that I’ve ever had, and it usually comes down to the difference between a gourmet burger – you know, aged Cheddar, and truffle, and an heirloom tomato – which is a different beast from the burger that you crave. This is a burger that you crave.”
It sure is. The journey is roughly a 50-mile straight shot north of downtown Minneapolis, and a half-hour out of Blaine. Go. It's more than worth the drive.
Price: $14 (single), $17 (double). Fries included.
Address book: 133-135 Main St. S., Cambridge, Minn., 763-689-5600. Open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations accepted.
Chef Jordan Roots placed an uncomplicated burger on his taproom menu for a simple reason. “It falls back to a burger and a beer,” he said. “Which is why we wanted to offer exactly what that sounds like, a straight-up burger.”
He dubbed his restrained creation the “House Burger,” and — outwardly, at least — there’s not much to it: bun, patty (or patties), cheese, mayo and pickles. Still, it’s evident, from the get-go, that Roots invests all kinds of time into each one of those components.
The bun is an eye-grabber, with a gleaming golden dome and a rich, faintly sweet bite. “It’s from a local ma-and-pa outfit,” said Roots. “They call it ‘brioche’ because it’s so rich, but there’s no butter, no milk, no eggs. The only allergen is wheat. I have no idea how they do it — I know they’re using different scientific powders — but I’m glad that they are.”
Same here. The patty measures out at a quarter of a pound. It's a deeply flavorful half-and-half blend of chuck and rib eye that never sees the inside of the freezer and is remarkably juicy. “One of my line cooks can overcook it and it’ll still be juicy,” Roots said with a laugh.
Speed is the reasoning behind the wide patty’s thin-ish proportions. A thin patty doesn’t have to spend a lot of time on the grill. “We’re keeping it fast and casual, food-truck style,” said Roots.
Roots opts for a sharp Cheddar, a welcome switch from the ubiquitous American. “American is the go-to, I see it everywhere,” he said. “But I’m a big sharp Cheddar guy. It’s richer, more flavorful.”
Exactly. What Cheddar lacks is American’s highly appealing melting properties, although Roots gets around that with a trick: after he drapes the cheese across the patty, he covers the patty with a dome, for about 10 seconds, which builds a brief head of steam. “That seems to get the melting process going,” he said.
There are just two garnishes, and Roots makes the most of both: snappy housemade pickles, and a creamy, garlicky aioli.
Unsurprisingly, sales are strong. “We used to be close to food truck numbers, but now we’re close to restaurant numbers,” said Roots. Translation: that’s 70 to 80 burgers on a Friday or Saturday night.
Price: $11. Make it a double-patty burger (highly recommended) for an additional $2. Fries included.
Address book: 7421 Bush Lake Road, Edina. Open 3 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.
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