The 60/40 at Red Cow: “Colonel Mustard, in the Kitchen, with the Knife”

Red Cow 60/40April 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.

Red Cow 'poutine'

“poutine” with quotation marks

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.

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Lamb Sandoozles at Saffron: I’ve been Sandoozled!

Saffron SandoozlesLast Wednesday I was flipping through the Instagram (I’m on Instagram. Did you know I was on Instagram? Follow me on Instagram.) when I came across these sexy-looking devils, and magically had plans the following afternoon.

Saffron is one of those shouldn’t-be-but-is stories. It’s a testament to how believing in your own boldness is the key to making it. Upon graduation from culinary school Chef Sameh Wadi decided he was ready to open a restaurant (don’t do that!), serving fine dining Mediterranean food (no one knows what that even means!) at the height of the recession (welcome to Mistaketown!). But I’d credit the improbability, the curiosity, and the confidence with its success — plus the food is fucking delicious. I’m lucky enough to live a few blocks from Chef Wadi’s World Street Kitchen, where they cross street food from all over the world (obviously) into accessible unexpected cross-cultural mindfucks. I’ve got their stuffed falafel burger on my list.

Saffron, however, wasn’t on the list, and I didn’t know they had a burger ’til I saw it on Instagram, and fuck the list — I’m gonna eat that. I had to work Thursday morning, and text-made plans with Teresa to meet up for happy hour. We got seats at the bar and ordered cocktails. Saffron, it should be noted, has an excellent bar program. I got their Southside, a sweet refreshing gin drink that’s $6 on the happy hour menu, and Teresa got the Saffron Rose, a gin cocktail with rosé, rose water, and saffron in a champagne flute (not happy hour, but crafty cocktaillian excellent).

Teresa got a lamb bacon “BLT” with tomato jam and arugula on sexy vanilla egg bread that I immediately wanted to try in French toast form, and I got the roasted lamb “Sandoozles”, which came as a pair of sliders. This now requires discussion, as they aren’t strictly burgers in the strict burger sense. It’s roasted lamb, shredded and formed into patties, so I can’t analyze them in the usual fashion, but I can say “LAMB” because they’re so fucking lamby. I love lamb. It’s a distinct intense flavor that nearly guarantees it’ll stand out, and here it definitely does. The patties were mostly tender but chewy enough that you’ve got to spend some time nourishing that goddamn lamb flavor on your tongue. They’ve got chewy-crisp-crusted sesame seed buns that’re burger-perfect soft on the inside and a smooth spicy feta spread that gives them a sharp creaminess, and simple slightly sweet cucumber pickles for acidic bite — nah, bite’s too strong; it’s more of a nibble. They’re fantastically balanced sandwiches that highlight the lamb, and are immensely satisfying for two mini sliders.

We split fries, which were akin to McDonalds fries in texture, size, and appearance — they’re even served in a brown paper bag — but wearing a monocle. They were seasoned well, tossed in salt and parsley and served with a delicious feta fondue. Get at ’em.

So what’s in a name? Here’s Tom Haverford to explain:

The Sandoozles and BLT were $7.50 each, which is a fantastic steal, and fries are $3.50. They’re only available on the happy hour menu, weekdays from 4-6, but honestly if you’re in the mood for an intricate well-spiced splurge, check out Saffron’s full menu.

The Sandoozles might not be called burgers, but they’re fucking burgers ’cause I say they’re fucking burgers, and they’re pretty fucking good.

Two Cheeseburgers from Five Guys: “Love, Peace, and Grease”

Five guys, wideI don’t know what you believe in, but I know you believe that sometimes things just work out. Call it fate, coincidence, kismet, the stars aligning, the hand of God making His presence known to the Universe, call it dumb luck. Whatever it is, sometimes things happen with absolutely no reason, and you get exactly what you want. What I wanted was a greasy fucking cheeseburger.

And, naturally, not just any greasy fucking cheeseburger, but a Five Guys burger.

Five Guys Burgers & Fries opened in 1986 in my home town of Arlington, VA, but I didn’t have one until years later after they moved their first store to the neighboring Alexandria, VA. It’s a company focused on quality and not cutting corners, and making greasy fucking burgers that embody the pinnacle of desirable nastiness. In 2002, they began franchising, which I wouldn’t discover until 2009 when a franchise opened in Edina, MN. I was driving down France Avenue when I saw the name on the side of a strip mall and I pulled over immediately, went in and was asked “have you been here before?” GOOD ONE, YOU DUMB IDIOT, I’LL HAVE A CHEESEBURGER WITH PICKLES, TOMATO, GRILLED ONION, MAYO, KETCHUP, MUSTARD, AND JALAPEÑOS. AND FRIES.

It tasted like home.

And it’s exactly what I wanted this past Friday night. But they closed at 10, and I work at a restaurant. I’m “first cut” on Fridays which means I get to leave first. I don’t get to leave at a predetermined time, just as soon as it’s slow enough that they don’t need me anymore. This means I could go at 8 or I could go when we close — midnight on Fridays –but usually means I leave around 10. And I wanted a greasy fucking cheeseburger.

At around 6, my dream seemed out of reach. We were busy as fuck and would be for the next three hours, but around 9, the clouds parted and sunshine peeked through, and it looked like I would be getting out of there after I got a few things ready for the next day. I got everything in the bag around 9:30, realizing I now had 30 minutes to bike to a place that took 20 minutes to bike to, and checked the Five Guys website to discover a most blessed boon: online ordering. At 9:35 I was out the door with an order placed to be ready before I got there. Straining muscles that hadn’t sat for 12 hours that day, I pedaled like the Devil was at my back and made it to Five Guys in 15 minutes.

But I didn’t get a greasy fucking cheeseburger that day; I got two. One with almost nothing, and one with nearly everything.

Five guys, bagFirst of all, this is what a bag carrying two greasy fucking cheeseburgers should look like. I biked home with it in my bag — because yes, I’ll make you cook my sandwiches 15 minutes before you close, but I’m not gonna be that lollygagger in the dining room that you have to passive-aggress out the door — which may have contributed to the bag’s sexiness. Regardless, the burgers contained sufficient grease to squeeze out into the bag, and I didn’t even get any fries this time. I want a juicy burger, and good fat content is the be-all-end-all, but a there’s a certain amount of straight nastiness that tastes like sweet sin. All together now: greasy fucking cheeseburger.

Five Guys, almost nothingFor the first one I went simple: pickles, mustard, ketchup. Five Guys makes their own sesame seed buns, which are nice and squishy — perfect for holding a greasy fucking cheeseburger. The sear’s surprisingly great here for a fast food burger. It’s well-seasoned, and wonderfully greasy for a medium-well. And American cheese, obviously.

Five guys, almost everythingThe second one I went all-out: mayo, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, jalapeños, hot sauce. Honestly, I went too far. There was too much going on, and I should have been going for some kind of specific flavor profile. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. To be completely honest, the first burger would have been better with some onions. It’s all about balance.

Five Guys’ focus on quality shows. They’re picky about ingredients, but it doesn’t mean everything goes super well together. You gotta have a plan, you gotta think about crafting something, and you might fuck it up, but for $6.99 a pop you can afford a little trial and error. The Five Guys empire is built on quality and consistency, so I’m confident that anyone in the country can walk into any of their literally hundreds of locations and get a nasty fucking greasy fucking cheeseburger, and love every sinful second of it.