April had a gift card to Red Cow, so she invited her favorite burger blogger to join her. When he couldn’t go, she invited me.
[Pause for laughter.]
I’ve been meaning to check out Red Cow, but hadn’t for no fucking reason than I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. They first opened in 2013 near 50th & France in Minneapolis, and have since opened locations in Cathedral Hill in St. Paul, and the North Loop in Downtown Minneapolis. They’ve made their mark as an upscale burger joint, slinging eight different Certified Angus Beef burgers, two with local grass-fed beef, and one burger with the legendary Pat Lafrieda burger blend. If beef isn’t your thing, they’ve got a bison, a turkey, an ahi tuna, a lamb and a curried chickpea burger. In short, they’ve got 15 reasons for me to go back, which they’re gonna need.
We hit up their original location, ’cause we were feeling classic, and arrived right smack dab in the middle of their happy hour. April got Red Cow’s “cowlaboration” beer with Lift Bridge Brewery, a Red Rye IPA, and I got a Surly Hell at a goddamn steal for $3 on happy hour, and we split an order of poutine, which was fries topped with your choice or beef brisket and Summit beer cheese, or apples, blue cheese, and bacon ($6 for happy hour, $10.50 regular price).
And here’s where the problems start: HOW IN THE FUCK DO YOU CALL THAT POUTINE???
Poutine, children, is Canada’s greatest export, and it necessarily contains three fucking ingredients: fries, cheese curds, and gravy. In either of Red Cow’s options, they’re 1 for 3. I’d classify them more as “loaded fries”, of which poutine is a subset, but it should not be implied that any old fries with some shit on them can be deemed poutine. Only poutine is poutine, the beer-cheese-brisket-fries we got isn’t fucking poutine. Ô Canada. Terre de nos aïeux.
It was hit-and-miss. Hit: the fries were hand-cut and maintained crispiness, despite being well-coated in wonderfully cheesy and flavorful beer cheese sauce. Miss: the brisket was appallingly dry, even drenched in that great cheesy goodness.
I’d heard rumblings from a variety of sources about the 60/40 burger. Its patty is 60% Angus beef and 40% ground bacon. If that isn’t enough bacon, they add candied bacon on top, along with a slice of Wisconsin cheddar, served on a wonderfully soft bun.
A soft, basic bun is important to a great burger. The bun should mostly serve as a vehicle for the rest of the experience. It should hold together, then yield when bitten. The only thing you want to be chewing on is the patty. And the flavor shouldn’t do much — just a small amount of breadiness to carry the rest of the burger.
A fatty salty patty, sweet bacon, sharp cheese, an awesome bun, then they go and ruin it all with a smear of beer mustard on the bottom bun.
Do you love mustard, but hate any other flavor? Then this burger’s for you, because it absolutely murders all of the other flavors, which was exceedingly disappointing. The one bite I had of the patty hanging off the bun was fantastic — well-seasoned, great sear, and noticeable bacon flavor — but the rest of it was entirely mustard. And I like mustard, but on pungent salty charcuterie that’ll hold up to the spice. Burgers have a calm, delicate, but bold flavor that needs to be coaxed out with a combination of seasoning and cooking technique. You need to complement flavors, you need balance. But none of that matters if you kill it all with mustard.
My first trip to Red Cow didn’t go as well as I expected, but there’s a bunch of other burgers on the menu that sound great. They’re big on cheddar, which you’d think would be averse to my American cheese obsession, but I admire their commitment to the varietal, cheddar is in fact my favorite standalone cheese, and I’m curious how they’ll utilize its sharpness. Sure, their use of the word “poutine” is bullshit and potentially offensive, but I like their creativity in upscaling bar snacks, and I tend to hope something like dry brisket is an error, and not a poor choice. I’d even get the 60/40 burger again — hold the mustard.