The Vincent Burger at Vincent: “Adieu, Adieu to you and you and you”

Vincent Burger

2015 marks the “death of fine dining” in the Twin Cities, following the closing of two of its classic gems, La Belle Vie and Vincent. Culinary excellence has surpassed the elegance of white tablecloths and jacket-required dress codes. Our high-end dining options are just more accessible. I’m obviously a burger dude, but I love a fancy-schmancy meal, and when La Belle Vie closed, I got sad even though I’d never been there, but rather because now I never would. So when Vincent announced its imminent closure at the end of the year, I vowed to put its legendary burger on Burger Fetish in memoriam.

But first I had to eat one, so I got the crew together, and freaked them out when I told them where we were going. We eyed the dining room through the windows wondering how much we’d stand out, then walked in and got a booth in the still-classy-but-not-so-stuffy bar area. It was their late night happy hour and we ordered a few extremely reasonably priced drinks, shared an order of poutine, and got a round of Vincent Burgers.

Chef Vincent Francoual moved to Minnesota from New York–where he spent time at four-star fine dining French restaurants Le Bernadin and Lespinasse–in 1997, but hails originally from France where he began his culinary career at age 15. In 2001 he opened Vincent A Restaurant on Nicollet Mall in Downtown Minneapolis, which was well-received off the bat. But in 2009 he introduced a burger that paid homage to both Daniel Boulud’s uber-decadent db Burger and Minneapolis’ own Juicy Lucy.

Vincent Burger cross sectionAt first glance, you’ve got a fairly standard California-style: lettuce, tomato, and raw onion with a special sauce that a finger-swipe confirms is actually a pretty standard special sauce: ketchup, mayo, pickles. The burger is grilled–with a very elegant quarter-turn crosshatched grill marks–which as we all know dries out the meat a bit but delivers a really excellent flame-licked taste, served on an eggy squishy also-grilled bun. But the star of the show is hidden from view. It’s stuffed with smoked gouda and braised short ribs, and it’s delicious. The short ribs are barely-holding-together tender and full of amazing flavor, and the gouda is just delightful and rich and goes toe-to-toe with the short rib. The California toppings and special sauce give it an air of familiarity, but the stuffing really drives the point home that you’re eating something special.

Following Vincent’s closure, chef Francoual will be moving on to a position as Cara Irish Pubs‘ Culinary Director. Luckily for us, they’re bringing the Vincent Burger to all of the locations, but before it becomes an Irish pub staple, I’m just gonna insist you get one at its original home while you still can. You’ve got two weeks from my publication date until Vincent closes, folks. Go on happy hour when the burger’s only $8. Go bid farewell to Twin Cities fine dining by eating the lowest-brow thing on the menu. But go and fucking love it for being damn tasty.

Ahem. Announcement time.

No post next week because I’m heading to New York City! I’m joining my family to celebrate Christmas, and I’m using it as an excuse to take a week off of work to eat as much as I can, but it somehow feels like it still won’t be enough. It would behoove you to follow me on the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr because I’ll be eating an unhealthy amount of burgers at as many damn places as I can, chronicling my travels on the various social medias. Of course, I’ll be giving a full round-up right here on the Burger Fetish main event, but that’ll be the next entry in about two weeks. ‘Til then, you can all drool over pictures from the road.

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The Ten In the Pit at Memory Lanes: “Obviously, you’re not a golfer.”

Memory Lanes 10 in the Pit

“That burger’s such a pain in the ass,” Andy tells me. “I started frying the pickles and onions when I saw you walk in.”

Full disclosure: my buddy Andy cooks at Memory Lanes, told me about this hulking behemoth, and promised to make it with a lot of love if I came and ate it. I paid for it like I usually do, and he in no way attempted to sway my analysis of it.

Memory Lanes is a bowling alley in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood. It’s been around for ages, formerly known as Stardust Lanes, but they drum up attention with their annual Memorial Day block party, and weekly Monday night punk shows. Also, you can go there to bowl, which is awesome. But their food mostly goes unnoticed.

I brought the crew, enticing them with bowling, but for me the game and the very nature of my surroundings were afterthoughts, as evinced by my score (81 in one game, and I wasn’t paying attention in the other…but low). I was there for the “10 in the Pit.”

“10 in the Pit” refers to the bowling situation where collision physics work in your favor in a manner that not only knocks all the pins down, but pushes them all off the lane into the abyss behind. It’s a strike that’s better than a strike. It also refers to a burger with fried pickles, fried onions, bacon, barbecue sauce, and in lieu of a bun, two grilled cheese sandwiches.

“It’s like a 10-step process,” Andy says. “You have to fry the veggies while you grill the burger and make two grilled cheese sandwiches at the same time. It’s so fucking annoying.”

Memory Lanes 10 in the pit xcGotta say, grilling the patty dried it out. I ordered it medium rare and it ended up a dry medium. The four slices of bread didn’t help on the moisture either. Ciabatta is a weird choice for the bread; I would have preferred a simple soft Wonder-like bread. As it is, the grilled cheese buns had a density that I wouldn’t be mad about on their own, but didn’t end up squishy enough to function as a bun. In addition, the sandwiches didn’t end up getting very toasted and buttery at all. The cheese melted, but there wasn’t enough of it to contribute a smooth, creaminess to the overall experience, which I expected to be a lot gooier. The barbecue sauce did a lot of the heavy lifting flavor-wise and kept the whole thing moist, which was much appreciated. The fried pickles were–surprise!–pickled green tomatoes, which added an awesome unexpected crunch along with acidity, and while they and the onions couldn’t stay crisp in the face of the barbecue sauce, the mealy sauce-laden batter ended up texturally delightful. The bacon was well-cooked and crisp and smoky.

No one orders the 10 in the Pit expecting culinary genius. You do it for the decadence. I got it for the Instagrammability, but ended up really enjoying it. It’s well-conceived. The dryness of the grilled cheese carried the burger well, and the flavor mostly comes from barbecue sauce, which was great. It’s texturally interesting, the flavors are balanced. If anything, it doesn’t push the envelope far enough to be that ultimate hedonistic this-is-why-you’re-fat gluttonous foodporn.

“We all hate making it. I hope it comes off the menu,” Andy says. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

The Steak Burger at Libertine: “The Season of the Bitch”

 

Libertine steak burger

Here’s the thing. Seasoning makes or breaks a burger. Toppings can come and go, the bun is best squishy and relatively flavorless, but I’m not too picky on that. I’m not even all that particular about cheese…ok, fine, I fucking love American Cheese so much, that I would marry it in some anti-gay propagandist’s slippery slope. But it isn’t essential. The real key to a good burger–hell, most food–is salt.

I’m not entirely sure what I think about Libertine. It’s part of the Parasole group who seems to have honed in on the niche market of people who like spending too much money, but their food quality has never really been the talk of the town. They brought in local James Beard-winning chef Tim McKee to consult on culinary development at all of their restaurants, and let him create his own concept at Libertine, with executive chef Steve Hesse at the helm. It’s extremely meat-centric, wherein menu sections include “Beef,” “Lamb,” “Chicken,” “Pig,” and a paltry “Not Animal”.

I heard they had the best burger in Uptown, so when Madeleine asked me if I wanted to have one, I didn’t waste a second to think about it.

Libertine Cross SectionAccording to their menu, the thick patties are ground in house from the loin (sirloin, tenderloin, and short loin), which resulted in a decent amount of chew and a good quantity of fat. I ordered mine medium rare, and it was cooked perfectly, a glorious pink inside and a fantastic sear, but dreadfully underseasoned; I expect more of a mastery of beef from such a meat-forward kitchen. White cheddar worked well with the sweet caramelized onions and smoky bacon — cooked exactly how I love bacon: tender but crispy, lightly browned but still pink. The bun was fantastically squishy and carried the ingredients well, but the butter lettuce under the patty–that’s where lettuce goes, by the way–was wilted to shit by the time it arrived at my table, and I took it off halfway through. It could have used a sauce, which seemed to have arrived in the form of ketchup in a ramekin, and I found myself dipping to excellent result toward the end, which balanced the seasoning as well, but I always focus on a burger as it is, and initially forgot that such ad-hoc modifications exist.

Libertine potatoesBut oh, but those JoJos. It’s an entire potato, wedged into six pieces, a flaky crisp outside with an amazingly tender flesh. It’s a best-of-both-worlds cross between a baked potato and a french fry. They’re textural perfection, seasoned quite well, and were the definite highlight of the plate.

Unfortunately, this might still be the best burger in Uptown, but that isn’t saying much. I could easily be pushed in the loved-it direction with a three-finger pinch of salt. They have two other burgers under two different animal headings, and if they also come with those goddamn JoJo potatoes, I’ll happily return.