The Natty at Devil’s Advocate: “You ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?”

The Natty at Devil's AdvocateOn Friday morning, I unleashed this little beast into the social medias and went immediately into work for the next 13 hours, like, “I hope people don’t think I’m a butthead.” I don’t recommend working on something for a few months and then launching it and then not being able to check social media or page stats for many hours, because you’ll have a remarkably distracted day at work. But when I finally did get a chance to check, the response was pretty great, and I appreciate the kind words and blah blah blah you aren’t here to read me get sappy. But good or bad, there’s only one way to toast the launch of your burger blog: if you don’t know what goes after that colon, you should leave. Now.

I’ve never been to Devil’s Advocate before, but my anonymous drunkypants friend was on a boat getting drunk all day, and when I got off work she said she was there, so I went to meet her, and she was nowhere to be found. Luckily, her drunk ass led me to a spot with burgers before wandering off into the night.

From what I’d heard, Devil’s Advocate’s focus was initially on meatballs of all shapes and sizes — just kidding! They’re all the same shape: ball. And I’d reckon they’re all the same size, too. They make them of different meats, or not-meat falafel. But the meatball thing didn’t fly so well as they’d hoped so they expanded the menu to include some nonspherical foods. But I wasn’t there to put balls in my mouth.

I ordered the “Schlager Lager”, a house brew. All of their house brews are 6.66% ABV, because they’re hilarious. It was honestly more flavorful than I expected/wanted, which is a weird complaint, but cheap shitty beer tastes like summer to me, and anything else feels like a waste of money and taste buds.

There were a number of burgers on the menu, and I wanted some kind of souped-up classic, so I got the Natty, a simple burger with American cheese, bacon, fried onions, and “Devil’s Sauce”. It came with unremarkable fries and a knife sticking out the top of it. It wasn’t life-changing, but I enjoyed it. The patty was a bit too thin to have asked how I wanted it cooked, but they did, and I asked for a medium rare and it came out a solid medium, which actually worked well, but I wish they just hadn’t asked. The flavor profile here was great, but I think a cheddar would have held up better with the onions and bacon. I love American cheese — it is known, Khaleesi — and it was pretty good on here, but I wanted some sharpness. The fried onions stayed remarkably crispy throughout, the bacon was delightful. The Devil’s sauce could have used more kick, or more sauce, but it might as well have not been there. It was overpriced at $13, which I couldn’t really figure out. It seemed like only a 1/4 pound patty, and seemed to just be pre-ground beef. Was it the bacon? I dunno. It tasted closer to $10, and I eat $14 burgers on the regular. It’s $8 on Happy Hour, though, which sounds about right.

In general, it seems like this burger’s trying too hard but not trying hard enough. They went with American cheese, which is probably because assholes like me talk too much about how good it is on a burger, but balancing flavors is important, too. And the Devil’s sauce could use some work. It was enjoyable, but I probably wouldn’t get it again, but I’d still go back to Devil’s Advocate. The vibe there is a dingy good, even if the low lighting lends itself to shitty photography.

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The Appa at Rabbit Hole: “Chapter I. Down the rabbit hole”

 

The Appa“It’s National Burger Day!” Kyle texts me.

“Where are we going?!” I ask.

“You got da list,” he says.

It’s true. I have a spreadsheet, in fact. It is thorough. It is well-researched. It is a guide AND a goal. It took this little idea I had and turned it into a blog. And here we are.

“Rabbit Hole,” I declare.

Rabbit Hole is easily a favorite restaurant of mine. I love Korean flavors, and I love the way chef/owner Thomas Kim fucks with ’em. But I haven’t had one of his burgers yet. This must be a grievous misstep on my part, because he’s got the chops to make a baller-ass burger; before he moved to Minneapolis, he opened a gourmet burger joint in LA.

Kyle and I pull up two seats at the bar, order beers and look over the menu. I can’t decide between the Ahjumma (with gruyere, chipotle coleslaw, chili pepper relish, and onion rings) and the Appa (gruyere, blue cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, tomato jam, kimchi aioli, and a goddamn fried egg), but fried eggs and kimchi are like my bread and butter (in fact, fried egg, kimchi, on buttered toast is one of my favorite snacks), and have a tendency to win in such situations. Kyle gets the Ahjumma, so I at least get to see it.

Here’s the problem. I love kimchi. There’s a bunch of flavors here that pair excellently with kimchi, all in one place, all on a burger, but in the end…not enough kimchi. The aioli’s tasty, for sure (they give you a ramekin of it with the hand-cut fries), but I really wanted just some straight-up chopped kimchi on here. The burger was well-cooked, well-seasoned, the briochey bun they serve it on didn’t let a drop of yolk hit my plate, but it was too falling-apart flaky, and just too much bread. Maybe I went in with too much expectations for a full-on kimchi punch in the face, but it felt unbalanced. Blue cheese is dangerous because it has a tendency to kill all the other flavors, and there were a ton of great flavors here — the sweetness of the onions, the smoky bacon — but they didn’t coalesce. Oh, did I forget to mention the tomato jam? That’s because I couldn’t taste it.

I’m disappointed because I constantly recommend this place — and I’ll definitely continue to go there — but this burger fell flat for me. I feel the need to be honest that I didn’t dig it, even though I didn’t want my first post to be negative, even though I love this restaurant. So there.

Kyle, meanwhile, was in burger heaven. “You know it’s good when you’re, like, two bites in and you don’t want it to end.” Now I have to go eat that one. Which is, of course, the point.

Update (8.26.2015): I just realized that this burger didn’t have the smoked gouda on it, and was perhaps judged prematurely. This raises two questions: 1. How did they forget the cheese? 2. How the fuck did I not notice ’til now?!

Juicy Liu at Unideli: “Liu Kang wins.”

Juicy LiuOn a random trip to United Noodles with Teresa, I’m trying to mentally piece a meal together and my brain is totally fried. I’m tired, I’m hungry, but look over there! It’s a Unideli! I can kill a bowl of ramen and be back on my game in no time!

Unideli’s pretty rad. I dig their stuff, even if I can recognize a lack of “authenticity,” which inevitably arises in any discussion of ramen. At its heart, though, Unideli exists to highlight the ingredients available in the greater grocery store, and therein has a different authenticity. I once worked at a Korean restaurant where the owner wanted to put the ramen he grew up eating on the menu, which was really exciting to me because I’d never at the time had any sort of authentic ramen experience. So when he shows up with a bunch of ramen packets, and I’m like “what’s this shit?” But that’s the ramen he, a Korean-born-and-bred person, ate growing up. Just like mom used to make — from a packet. Unideli makes food entirely out of stuff available to buy at United Noodle, so you won’t have complex bone broths, but you get a tasty bowl that they’ve added soft-boiled eggs and chashu made in house, topped with chili oil and scallions. And therein, you’re getting an authentic experience of ramen you can do at home, which is pretty damn respectable, and pretty damn clever.

wpid-wp-1435500611267.jpegBut when I go up to order, I’m made aware of a weekly special they have available. And it’s a burger. A Juicy Lucy to be precise. They call it a “Juicy Liu”. Teresa goes, “I think you have to.” I don’t want to talk about a burger special at a place that doesn’t actually do burgers on the regular, but they do specials every week, and different burgers seem to pop up often enough, and I really liked it, so I’m talking about it. It’s a ground beef patty stuffed with what they call “garlic chive cheese.” I’m always suspicious of something called “cheese” without specifying variety (mind you, I love American cheese), but I’d place this somewhere near a gouda. The patty’s then put on a bed of kimchi, slathered with a gochujang mayo, and topped with slivered carrot, cucumber slices and a few sprigs of cilantro. The whole ordeal is served in a pork fat-seared steam bun, which honestly didn’t do much flavor-wise, but added a good crisp to the steam bun. It turned out quite well-layered and the flavors somehow balanced nicely, as flavors switched quickly between the carrot-cuke-cilantro gave a banh mi effect, and the gochujang-kimchi combo obviously gave it that Korean kick. I really think that “cheese” tied the whole thing together.

And, yes, this tasty treat isn’t available anymore, but following United Noodle on the social media will keep you up on their weekly specials, and remind you of the other awesome food they have.

The Revival Burger at Revival: “Black velvet in that slow southern style…”

Revival BurgerI’m by no means an expert on Southern food, nor would I ever claim to be, mostly because that’s often followed by a resounding “OH REALLY?!” and someone else’s what’s-what. Then you get into arguments about how to make cornbread, like there’s some fucking specific best way of making it without regional differences, and it’s all fucking tasty anyway. This might be a metaphor for Burger Fetish, but it’s mostly a disclaimer before I talk about how much I love Southern food.

But I do love Southern food. Growing up, my family spent two weeks every summer at a beach house in North Carolina to eat tons of fucking seafood that my younger self couldn’t have cared less about. But I lived for the occasional trip inland to hit up a now-shuttered barbecue joint called Joe’s for hush puppies, pulled pork, coleslaw, Brunswick Stew, and sweettea [sic, sorta ’cause it’s one word, phonetically, if you know what I’m saying rather than typing].

Minnesota-born, North Carolina-reared Chef Thomas Boemer serves up stupid-good Southern-tinged fine dining at Corner Table. So when I heard the Corner Table team was going all-in on Revival, a Southern comfort food joint with fried chicken as its centerpiece, my taste buds went all aflutter with the promise of a nostalgia-laden trip down Nicollet Avenue to the Carolina coast. Sure, Chef Boemer leans Lexington-style, but I can be flexible. Like I said: regional differences, but close enough.

On my first visit, I find out they’ve got a burger, and I put it on my list, but I couldn’t bring myself to get it that time. I wanted to try as many things as possible, and we did pretty good on that front, taking a cross-section of the menu, sampling a variety of outstanding food that carries the definition of comfort. But If you wanna eat a burger, you have to go and eat a burger. Maybe get an appetizer, but it’s hard to eat fried chicken and a burger (is it, though? Did I just say that?). So when I went on my second visit, we got nearly as much food, but with the understanding that I absolutely 100% needed to get a burger this time. And oh boy.

I continue to believe that there is no such thing as a perfect burger, but damn is this a good one. Damn. You’ve got two patties that are all ground shortrib, which has a high fat content — essential — and I honestly expected a little more chew, but they were awesomely tender, and cooked perfectly. I’ve been really into double patties lately — these are things you say when you have a burger blog — ’cause in the trade-off between surface area sear and one big fat juicy patty, I’ve been leaning toward increasing surface area and putting a slice of cheese on each, which they do. The patties were well-seasoned and delicious, and american cheese is just so necessary. It melts in a way that only american cheese can. For sauce, they go with mayo. Just mayo! And the bread-and-butter pickles that they must go through about a million of a day (they also come with the superpopular Tennessee Hot fried chicken). It’s simplicity at its finest, taking the essence of everything that makes a simple burger great and just doing it very very well.

But also this:

“Do you want to add bacon?” my server asks me when I order the burger. “I usually like to get a burger as-is…” “We recommend the bacon. It’s made in-house, double-smoked.” “Okay, then.” And, like, whoa. You want smokiness? Get the bacon. It enhances the burger. I would also recommend the bacon. But, then why not put it on there by default? I’m going for a show-me-what-you-got approach on this blog, and add-ons don’t factor into that. From a restaurant’s standpoint, though, I can see an add-on being a simpler conversation than an omission: “I don’t eat pork. can I get the burger without bacon?” “Sure.” “And it costs the same?” “Yes.” “Why?”

But at the same time: get the bacon. Do yourself a favor.

I don’t know if there’s anything specifically Southern about this burger, or if anything I said about Southern food at the top of this post is of any consequence to how much I loved it, but I did. I loved this burger and I love this restaurant, and I’m glad Minneapolis has both.

The Chorizo Bocadillo at Icehouse: “No one expects the Spanish inquisition!”

Chorizo Bocadillo

I mentioned to April that I was craving a negroni at Icehouse, and since she works next door, she said she wanted to come meet me for happy hour. Sold! A lonely negroni < a spontaneous friendate.

Icehouse, in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis (my neighborhood for the past five years or so), has a bold adventurous menu that’s grounded in traditional American fare. Their beer selection leans local and fantastic, the cocktails are diverse and modern, and their happy hour is arguably one of the best in town, in terms of a higher-end spot offering ballerrific nummies on a budget. There are few places in town where I’d take my parents to brunch that I’ve also been blackout wasted at seeing my favorite hardcore electronic noise band (I can actually think of two more spots off the top of my head that meet these specific criteria).

One of the best/worst parts of Icehouse is their $5 sipping shots. I have a self- and friend-imposed 3 shot limit, only if I’ve eaten a full meal prior and am drinking water. They’re so good, though, you guys, and they get you drunk and they’re cheap. That’s some kind of Matty unholy trinity. And one of them is a carbonated negroni that’s sweet and refreshing on a summer afternoon.

But I wasn’t planning on Burger Fetishizing today. There’s a $30 burger on their menu that I’m planning on doing eventually, I was here this day for a negroni and some lovely company on a Sunday, I have a list of burgers that I need to eat and talk about already without throwing other ones into the mix.

And then they tricked me! They have a happy hour sandwich called a “chorizo bocadillo.” Now, this place has stupid-good sandwiches. Seriously local pedigreed Chef Matthew Bickford has worked at a bunch of top restaurants in town before opening a gourmet deli in the North Loop neighborhood, which led to him opening Icehouse. Their pastrami is crazy tasty, and unfortunately retired from their happy hour menu (you can still get it for a reasonable price on the lunch menu, though). To my knowledge, a bocadillo is a sandwich on french bread (Wikipedia, back me up here. Thanks!), and chorizo is a sausage. So when I order a chorizo bocadillo, I expect a sausage on french bread.

But oops! Here comes a burger. And it’s good. It’s a homemade chorizo patty, which I’d normally expect to be tough, but I assume they’re work with more tender cuts of pork and brine and fuck with it other ways, and it worked; there’s a lot better of a texture than I’ve come to expect from a pork patty (which beyond America’s obvious love affair with beef is why we don’t see pork burgers often, even though beef burgers are called “hamburgers”, but we can talk etymology some other time). And there’s a fucking egg on it. Under the egg, though, is the pièce de résistance: a sheep’s milk cheese-stuffed piquillo pepper, which is a cute li’l Spanish sweet pepper. No sauce, though! They don’t need it! The cheese and yolk do more than enough of the heavy lifting to keep that moistness in the bread. Oh, and their homemade onion bun, which was designed to carry burgers and be flavorful on its own without overwhelming the main event.

It comes with fries cut in house, skin-on and not too crispy that lean on the overseasoned side, which actually isn’t a problem for me. They’re definitely too even to be cut by hand, but let’s face it: beyond going that extra mile, there isn’t much point; cut your cooks some slack. This is a totally bonkers steal at $8 during happy hour, and it’s $12 for brunch.

Those bastards tricked me into eating a burger, but I totally wasn’t mad about it.

Flavor Country Burger at Haute Dish: “Haute in Herre”

Haute Dish BurgerMy bike chain snapped on the way from work to happy hour at Haute Dish, so I took a Nice Ride, and I’m late meeting Madeleine with the looming cost of bike repairs at the forefront of my thoughts.

But at first bite, all my concerns melt away, like the American cheese melted perfectly on this fucking burger. This is a poor use of simile, obviously, because my concerns kind of disappeared, but both slices of cheese are still prominently featured in both my accompanying photograph and the burger itself. But “melt” is a bad metaphor for disappearing since it means “turned to liquid,” so I’m still more right than whoever came up with the phrase “melt away.”

The legendary Haute Dish burger was on my list before I even had a list. In fact it, among a few others, might be the reason this blog exists at all: because I just wanted to eat the best burgers in town, and this one is on everyone else’s list. Then, not documenting my burger consumption became a worse idea than talking way too much about it. And now you’re reading this.

We came here with the sole intention of getting the burger & a pint deal, which is a goddamn steal at $10 for happy hour. The burger’s normally $13 and comes with fries. We decided to split an order of fries for $6, which was a terrific idea. They’re twice-fried…and now I’m trying to make a “once bitten, twice fried” joke, but I hope no one’s biting my potatoes before they fry them, but if that’s part of the recipe, please carry on biting my fries, you weirdo, because they’re delicious. They’re tossed in some kind of magical ketchup powder and served with aioli. Get the fries. The most difficult part of this was deciding which beer to get.

The menu offers no description, so everything I know about this burger’s minutiae I found in Star Tribune food critic Rick Nelson’s Burger Friday column. I was about to paraphrase that article, but fuck it. This burger comes “no temps, no substitutions”, and so does Nelson’s article; I can’t honestly improve it, so I’m not gonna try. If you want the nitty-gritty, follow the link. Here’s my experience.

According to David Chang’s burger manifesto, Haute Dish doing nearly everything wrong. So then why does it taste so good?This burger has been meticulously engineered to taste like the best classic burger you’ve never had, and therein lies the trick: it tastes like the memory of a burger that you can spend your whole life chasing — every burger you can order at any casual chain restaurant in any strip mall that just doesn’t taste right enough. They manage to nail that memory, while enhancing it with flavor notes and nuances you didn’t know you wanted.

The patty doesn’t have a sear as much as a crust, which blew me away texturally. As I’ve already stated, I’m into a good sear, but this is next level shit. It’s got that overcooked charred texture like your dad used to make, except it tastes good. The inside is juicy and perfect. I already covered the American cheese, like the American cheese covered this patty (and that’s how you simile). There’s bacon, because bacon. On the bun, under the patty, you’ve got the classics: pickle slices, tomato, raw onion, iceberg lettuce, giving you that exact fucking burgery-burgerness you still dream about. While everyone else in town took these overdone staples off their hamburger, Haute Dish said “fuck the haters.” Then they top the whole thing off with a tangy mushroom salad. And a bun, obviously. But the devil’s in the details, and this devil is your friend. There was the slightest hint of blue cheese, whose presence I couldn’t put my finger on until I read about the nitrogen-freezed smoked gorgonzola powder mixed into the meat in the Nelson article. It’s one of those implausible wonders of gastronomic left-field monkey-wrenchery that no one’s going to figure out on their own, and the result is subtle but beautiful. They sauce it with aioli and a horseradishy mustard — just enough to not dominate but to give it that hint of classic burgerness that I can’t stop talking about.

I’m a guy who tends to like food simple and straightforward, but I appreciate the amount of work put into making ludicrously overthought burger taste so damn simple and straightforward. It punched me directly in the nostalgia balls and replaced any preconceptions about what a “classic” burger should taste like. Next time I’m in the mood for it, I know where to go.