The Cubana “Frita” Burger at Victor’s 1959 Cafe: “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx”

Victor's Fritas BurgerVictor’s is my favorite brunch spot in town. Hands down. It’s my go-to place to bring out-of-towners, my go-to for a simple satisfying weekday solo brunch, and my occasional weekend worth-the-wait hangover brunch. I can’t get around how much I love going to Victor’s for brunch, and I love going out for brunch.

But I just love it so damn much it’s the only thing I’ve gotten there. I haven’t even had their Cuban sandwich! I don’t even know if I’d properly looked at the rest of the menu, until this exchange on twitter:

So, basically, I have to now, right? Struggle is real, folks.

A quick bit of research tells me a “Frita Cubana” is a burger with origins in Cuba popular in southern Florida, consisting of a beef and pork patty topped with shoestring potatoes. Victor’s variation omits the taters and adds chorizo to the meat blend, served on a potato roll.

Victor's cross section

Due to the pork and chorizo, the patty’s safely cooked throughout, but to the peak of doneness where it’s wonderfully tender and juicy with an awesome sear. The chorizo really shines, wonderfully spiced, full of flavor, but not at all spicy. I’m always wary of greens that aren’t iceberg lettuce, but the mesclun Victor’s uses wilts just slightly in contact with the warm patty, and paired with the grilled onion and tomato, gives it a touch of familiarity amid the wild-child patty. The potato bun–the first, I should note, that I’ve encountered in Minnesota since discovering the sheer ubiquity of the Martin’s Potato Roll in NYC–has that essential squish, hardly any flavor, and gracefully performs its #1 job of carrying the burger. I wasn’t sure if the ramekin of the house creole sauce was meant for the burger or the accompanying black beans and rice. It certainly didn’t need sauce–the patty did a fantastic job being the primary flavor component–but adding a dollop on the burger gave it an extra zip, a slight acid, a hint more moisture, and really brought this burger home for me.

One of my goals with Burger Fetish is to get out there and try new places, but sometimes new “places” are entire sections of the menu I haven’t explored yet at some of my absolute favorites. I’ve been loving Victor’s for all 10 years I’ve been living in Minneapolis, and I’m totally kicking myself right now for not enjoying all of Victor’s. After the burger, sitting at the bar sipping coffee, feeling not full but totally satisfied, I watched the servers who seemed to genuinely love their job flutter about bopping to lively Latin tunes, and thought to myself, “I’m really happy. I need to come here more often.”

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The Surly Burger: “You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry.”

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In the Spring of 2006, and I’d recently moved to Minneapolis. I went to visit a friend working at the old Acadia on Nicollet and Franklin (now Reverie; the Acadia lives on at Cedar & Riverside). She asked if I wanted to try a new beer. It was intense, and delicious, and I’d never had anything like it before. I asked her what it was called.

Surly Furious.”

I was hooked, and I wasn’t the only one. They weren’t the first microbrew in Minnesota, but they soon became the biggest, or at very least the biggest game-changer on the scene. They focus on trusting their gut, doing things their own way, making beer they like, because it turns out a lot of other people really like their beer, too. Then they literally changed the game in 2011 when they wanted to build a taproom in Minneapolis, but Minnesota law prohibited on-site pint sales at breweries, so they had the law repealed via what came to be known as the “Surly bill,” and set out to build the brewery of their dreams. In the meantime, the greater Twin Cities swelled with a still-growing number of breweries that we continue to welcome with open arms. Finally, Surly opened their destination brewery in December 2014, looked at the breweries opened in the wake of the bill bearing their name, and said, “Oh, you opened a taproom? That’s cute.”

You roll up and your jaw drops. It’s massive. There’s a 300-seat beer hall, a 100-seat full-service restaurant, an event space, a beer garden, and the guts of their gorgeous custom-made brewing facility on display. All the food falls under the watchful, creative eye of Executive Chef Jorge Guzman, and is designed to go with Surly beer. The upstairs restaurant, the Brewer’s Table, serves chef-driven cuisine, and I’m gonna make it there eventually, but I’m a street food dude, and the beer hall’s grub makes my damn mouth water just thinking about it. It blurs the line between bar food (pretzels! poutine!) and the party side of fine dining (charcuterie! bone marrow!), for what ends up a lot closer to gastropub fare. Lots of careful detail, technique, flavor profiles, but still that sexy, nasty foodporn that makes me really really really happy.

I was there for the burger, obviously, but their smoked brisket is the stuff of legend. It was so tender, it only held together by some misunderstood natural phenomenon. But, delicate, smoky, but unavoidably beefy. We got it with sides of their Thai-influenced brussels sprouts and salsa verde-drenched confit potatoes–both excellent.

But, let’s see that burger, huh?

Surly Burger cross section

They cut it in half for us, so I’ve got a nice, clean cross-section here for you, which shows off some of those chef’d up details Chef Guzman would totally bring to a burger. You’ve got the iceberg lettuce and onion on the bottom, which is where they belong! Iceberg is one of the only greens that’ll hold up to burger grease without wilting to garbage, and as I learned at Roberta’s in Brooklyn, putting onion right under the grill-fresh patty heats it up just enough to take some of the edge off and draw out some sweetness but still deliver that oniony bite.  Speaking of the patty, there’s two of them, and they’re thin, making them mostly surface area that’s expertly seared and very well-seasoned. They’re cooked through but not overcooked. The cheese is quintessentially American, and the bun is squishy as all hell. It’s slathered in what they call “fancy sauce”, which tasted like a fairly standard special sauce: ketchup, mayo, and some other stuff. It was zippy, creamy, but extremely present and not overwhelming, which I appreciate. No pickles in sight, but the tangy sauce provides necessary balance. On the whole, this is a really good burger, but I can’t recommend it.

I know! It feels inappropriate, but if you get the burger, you’re doing it wrong. I obviously love burgers, right? But this is a beer hall at a destination brewery, not your local bar. When you go–and you should–bring a bunch of friends, get the brisket, the charcuterie, some mussels, the hog frites–fries covered in cheese, giardinera and pulled pork (I’ve gotten them before and they’re fucking heavenly)–and a bunch of beer and hang out. Revel in the food, the drink, and the company. Burgers are one, maybe two-person food. You split it in four and it’s unsatisfying, eat it alone you remove yourself from the group. If you’re going on a date, go to Brewer’s Table, but the beer hall is best served with a bunch of people, and burgers just feel wrong to me in this setting. No matter how good they are.*


*Far be it from me to tell anyone exactly what eating style to employ to maximize fun units, even though I totally just told you what eating style to employ at Surly. I don’t know what you’re doing there. Obviously, do what feels right. If you want a burger, eat a damn burger. I’m a blogger. What the hell do I know?

 

The Whiskey BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger at VFW Post 246: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”

VFW Whiskey BBQ Burger

This is a tough one for me.

The James Ballentine VFW Post 246 is my hang. I’m not a veteran, but from what I can tell, the Uptown VFW is a bit more inclusive than other veteran halls, mixing local culture with the veteran scene rather seamlessly. I’ve danced my ass off there on many an occasion, I’ve drank countless pints of Grain Belt Premium, I’ve sung my fair share of karaoke, and I’ve met a lot of my best friends there. My crew heads there by default to meet up and drink a little too much, then stumble a few blocks homeward. But the only thing they had for my drunk ass to eat was Heggies and popcorn.

Last year, they started renovating, and more than tripled in size, adding a huge-screen TV, a bunch of dartboards, and a Big Buck Hunter machine. The old bar is still intact, they still do karaoke, my favorite bartenders still know I’m about to order a Premium, but the rest of the place isn’t mine anymore, and all of a sudden, they’ve got a full kitchen. And I wouldn’t be real, true burger blogger if my favorite hang didn’t end up in the crucible. And, hey, even if their food sucks the Premo’s still $2.75 a pint.

They’ve got seven burgers on the menu, but only one is starred as a “Post 246 Specialty”, so I went with the Whiskey BBQ Bacon Cheeseburger, which is fairly self-explanatory: barbecue sauce, bacon, a whiskey-battered onion ring, and cheddar.

VFW Whiskey BBQ cross section

It isn’t going to end up on anyone’s best burger list, but–oh, sweet relief–it’s pretty damn good. It’s a hefty half-pound patty cooked accurately to a solid medium-rare, the sear was lacking, and it could have used more salt. While underseasoning a burger is historically my number one criticism, in a casual mass-appeal bar food setting, I can forgive erring on the side of you-can-add-more-salt-at-the-table, which I did, but it isn’t the same. By the same measure, barbecue sauce can mask underseasoned beef, but–to their credit–they didn’t drench the thing, allowing all of the flavors some presence. The sauce itself was sweet and nicely peppery. The onion ring was initially omitted, and a few bites in, I asked my bartender and he came back from the kitchen with two onion rings to make up for the mistake. Not mad about that! But even doubling up, the whiskey flavor in the batter was lost, but it’s still a nicely crispy onion ring whose batter holds up but gives way enough that it doesn’t do that thing where the onion slides out on your first bite and you’re left with an onionless crispy shell. Bacon was nicely cooked, crispy, smokey, and bacony. Cheddar’s necessary on this type of burger. Against a bunch of other bold flavors the sharpness balances everything else out. Holding it together is a buttery toasted bun with that essential squish I love so much.

I’ll be back regardless ’cause I love this place, but I’m pleased to dig the new grub offerings, because it’s usually a good idea to eat something when you’re drinking, and I drink here a lot.