When an affluent turn-of-the-century — a term that’s bothered me since we turned yet another one — neighborhood loses the industry that built it, it has a tendency to go downhill rather quickly. The Twin Cities have an absolute grip of areas that tanked in the 1970’s, due in part to interstate construction, factory closings, and disgustingly erroneous placement of Kmarts. Both cities are working to turn empty storefronts into businesses, and get
white people hard-working higher-income earners moved back in. You might call it gentrification, but in my opinion, it’s an overall positive to attempt to build communities where higher- and lower-income earners live alongside each other, serving one another’s needs. It’s a utopian pipe dream, but anything’s better than letting neighborhoods go to shit, tearing them down and building condos.
The Payne Phalen neighborhood in St. Paul’s east side is undergoing such a revitalization, starting in recent years with the opening of a handful of upscale chef-driven casual restaurants like Ward 6, Cook St. Paul, and today’s burger provider in question, Tongue In Cheek. They’re comfy neighborhood joints that are attracting attention from all over the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro thanks to the quality of cuisine everyone’s come to expect from any contributor to our local food scene.
Tongue in Cheek opened in 2014 with not just a focus, but a commitment to only using animals raised in humane, sustainable ways. Chef Leonard Anderson worked for several years at fine dining restaurant Aquavit in Minneapolis under James Beard award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson before it closed. He moved on to W.A. Frost for a few years where he met General Manager Ryan Huseby, and together they opened Tongue In Cheek, along with Chef Anderson’s wife, Ashleigh Newman.
They close at 10, and I met up with Madeleine and her crew around 9 o’clock, but everyone didn’t make it until 9:30, making us “that guy”. Working as a cook, you naturally hate “that guy”; he’s the reason you aren’t leaving early. But after many years of hating “that guy,” you give up. Your shop’s got posted hours and you can’t be mad that people want your damn food so damn much that they rush over to get in before you close. I stopped worrying about being “that guy” a while ago when I stopped hating “that guy”.
We split some appetizers and got a burger. I was a bit thrown off by the cherry tomatoes and burrata. I expected a big lump of mozzarella wrapped around creamier mozzarella, but they left out the outer shell in favor of a creamy ass mozz spread. Regardless it was a damn tasty twist on a caprese. The pork rillettes was also creamy, but made of pork, which is one of the greatest concepts in the history of food. You basically confit pork until it’s the most tender pork can possibly be, then you chop it all up — fat included — into a paste and then serve it on toast and allow the foodgasm to unfold naturally. This version included a solid amount of latin flavors for a tex-mex take on the traditional spread. Unfortunately, both of these apps have since departed from their seasonal menu, but they indicate fantastic things for the menu at large.
In any case, Burger Fetish is about burgers, and Tongue In Cheek has a good one, which I knew before I had my first bite. There were only a handful of guests at that late hour, but all of them appeared to be there for the same thing, as we watched trays of burgers arrive at each table while we waited for our dining companions, increasing anticipation, and we weren’t disappointed. The patty was cooked medium to order, and tasted a bit dry. If you’re a longtime reader, you may recall my entry from last week describing the values and drawbacks of grilled burgers, and moisture loss is an unfortunate side-effect that was apparent here, though the grill provided a great flavor, and the patty was well-seasoned. A simple lettuce was placed in the proper location between the bottom bun and the patty, but a heartier green wouldn’t have wilted. A young cheddar didn’t kill the beef flavor with too much sharpness. Aioli worked spectacularly as a simple fatty sauce with just enough garlic, keeping things just smooth enough, and the bun well-moistened. Speaking of the bun, it was grilled, giving a distinct toastiness you can only get on a grill, though it was just a bit too bready. The real clincher was some quick-pickled cucumbers for a spectacular acid crisp. Sure, parts of it weren’t perfect but it came together nicely, with elements balancing each other well, uniting like Voltron to make a very tasty burger.
It’s $12 and comes with fries, and you can get it with a fried egg for $14 (total. The egg does not cost $14). Fries were tasty, a battery crunchiness, soft inside, tossed in herbs and salt. They accompanied the burger well.
It was a good night out. The space is very chill, and our crew had a nice time. Payne Phalen is well on the way to being one of the Cities’ top eating destinations, and Tongue In Cheek is a huge part of that. Driving through the neighborhood, it looks like there’s a lot of work to be done, but it feels more like opportunity than despair. I can’t wait to eat all the burgers that are sure to come from that part of town. And, I guess, other food they might make there. I don’t know.