The Camel Burger at Safari Express: “My Hump My Hump My Hump”

 

Safari Express Camel Burger Assembled

The Midtown Global Market is one of Minneapolis’ Seven Wonders (I just made that up, so don’t ask me what the other six are). It’s an open air market placed inside of the Midtown Exchange building, a mixed commercial space in a former Sears warehouse and retail shop. The Market is houses a ton of craft and clothing stands, a grocer, pallindromic Tex-Mex cyclepunks Tacocat, the Eastlake Brewery, James Beard-nominated bakery Salty Tart, Korean gastropub the Rabbit Hole, and too-many-to-roll-call eclectic ethnic food stalls doing quality, focused street food.

Holding down East African cuisine is Safari Express. Owned and run by Jamal Hashi as a spinoff of his brother Sade Hashi’s Safari Restaurant down Lake Street. Safari Express slings buffet style rice-and-protein meals featuring East African spiced chicken and beef, sambusas, sandwiches, and wraps. The dish they’ve come to be known for is the Camel Burger.

Safari Express Camel BurgerIt’s a patty of actual camel meat, a slice of griddled pineapple, onions and peppers, white American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and seasoned mayo on a bun from the nearby Salty Tart. Camel is a lean meat, akin taste-wise to bison. They season it well with the distinct East African berbere spice blend. It was griddled unevenly, with a really solid, but not quite crispy sear on one side and not so much on the other. It was noticeably tough, leading me to believe they left it on one side for too long, flipped it for a moment and took it off the heat after it had been too far gone. The grilled peppers on top were unevenly cut, leaving textural and structural inconsistencies. But despite its flaws, it come together really nicely. American cheese — as we all know by now — is the best textural pairing for a beef patty. Their mayo sauce provided a Safari Express Camel Burger cross sectiongood lubricant and heightened the berbere-ness. Despite the rough chop, the grilled onions and peppers added a softened sweet to the experience, and the griddled pineapple was a real treat with a bold sweetness that didn’t overwhelm. Tomatoes and lettuce gave a balance of freshness. And Salty Tart really nailed the squishy white bun, toasted on both the inside and on the top for an extra layer of crispiness. I wasn’t even mad about the tough patty because there was just so much else going on, and it wasn’t so tough that it got in the way.  In the end, camel isn’t a really crazy out there flavor, though it is an exotic oddity, but the burger stands on its own as a real delight.

Safari Express SambusaSo I liked it! But I really want to go back and try some of their other stuff. I also got a sambusa on the side — a fried flaky-crusted pie stuffed with seasoned beef. The stuffing was less saucy than I’m accustomed to, in a way I really appreciated insofar as mess mitigation, and it came with a surprisingly quite spicy sauce. I’m always down to try new East African spots, and they don’t need a bizarre burger to attract my attention, but it helps, because this is a burger blog.

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The Whopperito at Burger King: “Que Onda Guero?”

BK Whopperito/Whopper

I’m trying to take this seriously, but this entry pretty much writes itself.

When I was in college, my friends and I would look at the website This is Why You’re Fat, which post pictures of all things bacon-wrapped and cheese-stuffed; excessively decadent food monstrosities that people would make and submit pictures. While being interviewed on the podcast Lea and the Internet, I recalled the website and we noted that most of its current posts are no longer homemade concoctions, but readily available for purchase, which demonstrates a general shift in our culture toward over-the-top Instagrammable food excesses.

Burger King has been embracing this food trend, producing the Mac ‘n Cheetos, the Cheetos Chicken Fries they introduced just this week, and the Whopperito: a hybrid between their Whopper cheeseburger and a burrito. As an established fan of the Whopper, I optimistically anticipated the Whopperito to simply be a Whopper in a tortilla.

Which would have been good. If that’s what they’d done.

BK Whopperito

Who taught them how to wrap burritos?

I want to tell you it was simply disgusting, but it mostly just doesn’t work. To their credit, there’s plenty of beef in it, but it’s beef that’s been ruined. They start with their chargrilled burger patties, which is a very good place to start, because they’re central to the BK taste. They hack ’em into chunks and then immediately take a nosedive by adding some kind of Tex-Mex sauce. It makes it taste like Wendy’s chili — which I should note I also really like — but WHY DID THEY DO THAT? They cover up most of that Flame Grilled™ flavor. Is the Whopper not good enough? They have a good thing going here, and they’re using the Whopper name in vain because they clearly don’t have faith in their own top-selling product. BK Whopperito cross sectionThey wrap it up — poorly — in a tortilla with sliced tomatoes, diced onions, pickles, and iceberg lettuce. It’s all clearly pulled directly from the same bins they use to make burgers so they wouldn’t need, like, twenty ingredients on the line for one stupid hype beast, but they all just taste fucking bizarre, texturally. Diced tomatoes in a burrito, people. Standard burger pickles are out of place in this Tex-Mex wasteland. Jalapeños are an obvious choice in the bastardization they’ve created, but I’d probably be bitching about them, too, in this heathenistic abomination. And then there’s some kind of queso sauce that tastes more of the plasticine movie theater nacho cheese than the American cheese that’s a burger’s best friend, just in case you thought all processed cheeses were created equal. And it was painfully missing the mayo and ketchup that round out the Whopper flavor. But I guess that’s what the Tex-Mex sauce and plastic cheese are there for: to make you wish there was mayo and ketchup on it. And American cheese. And a bun. And it was an actual Whopper.

In the end, it’s much more a product of our culture than a strong attempt at making a tasty burrito. They either should have directly translated the Whopper to a burrito, literally swapping out the bun for a tortilla, or gone all the way making a Tex-Mex burger-burrito, with sour cream, jalapeños, and all the Tex-Mex sauce and queso their little hearts desire. They appear to have been going for the easiest way to execute a zany food item without interrupting their usual operation. At $2.99, I’d rather pay $4.99 for the Whopper with cheese that I also ate for unneeded comparison, and to wash the taste out of my mouth as the King intended.

The Double Hi-Lo Burger: “To the Windows, to the Walls”

Hi-Lo Plated

We didn’t have to wait too long for a table for the eight of us, but it could have been a lot worse. They were clearly coming down from an insane Labor Day rush, and when our party-last-night revelers rolled in at 1:30pm there was no one loitering outside the Hi-Lo Diner, as is a typical sight for a Sunday brunch service. Smaller parties came and went within minutes while we waited for a patio table large enough to fit all of us–their inside booths would fit a snug six, max. After thirty minutes hungrily half-seriously making alternate brunch plans we were sitting around a picnic table, poring over their very sexy drink menu.

Hi-Lo is a collaboration between the proprietors of local home design goods gurus, Forage Modern Workshop across the street and the blucy maestros at Blue Door Pub whose Longfellow location is a few blocks away. So it looks incredible and runs like a tight ship. The dining room is an actual prefabricated diner from 1957 they found and shipped to Minneapolis to install on the front of an old Taco Bell. They moved the cooking space behind the scenes while the tradition open kitchen (from before that was a thing) was transformed into a full bar with cocktails designed by top-notch barman & Tattersall mastermind Dan Oskey. Helming the kitchen is Heidi Marsh, formerly of the Chillkoot Cafe in Stillwater, MN and the Aster Cafe.

The drinks are playful, both in name and flavor. The Fjord Fiesta is an unexpected harmony of clashing flavors, featuring Tattersall Aquavit, Cocchi Americano, Blue Curacao, served Tiki-style over crushed ice. The Oaxacan in Memphis is a deep, smoky Tennessee Whiskey-Mezcal cocktail with a nose of herbs from a thyme tincture and a rosemary sprig garnish. The drink menu features an entire section of ice cream drinks, made with Sebastian Joe’s vanilla. I tried the Periscope Down, which blends Fernet Branca, root beer, and cold press with ice cream, and it was a smooth, tasty, spiced-not-spicy mishmash of some of my favorite flavors. The cocktail list is reason enough to make a return visit, but so is the food.

Hi-Lo Gary Cooper'd

The Gary Cooper’d Hi-Top, and the Periscope Down Ice Cream Cocktail

They’re making really great scratch diner fare, with an extensive breakfast selection, classic entrees, sandwiches and Hi-Lo’s original concept signature item, the Hi-Top. It’s kind of like a doughnut, but not really. There’s no hole, it’s not as sweet, and a bit more dense than–well–than the kind of doughnuts I like. They’re fried to order then topped with a variety of things like short ribs and apple bacon slaw, pulled pork and black bean sweet corn salsa, or a duck confit benedict-style arrangement. I got the Gary Cooper’d: fried chicken strips and country gravy with maple-bourbon syrup, and it balances the sweet, the savory, the crispy, the creamy, and tops them with arugula microgreens for a pop of freshness. It’s a fantastic dish, and the Hi-Tops alone are reason to come back. But also: the burger.

Hi-Lo Cross SectionI’ve been getting tired of the smashed patty with American cheese schtick. It’s great, but everybody’s doing it, and lately I’ve been more drawn to pub-style thick-ass patties cooked medium rare. When I heard Hi-Lo was taking the smash route, I rolled my eyes. To their credit, given their concept, they pretty much had to, but it was right when I was getting sick of ’em. So it took me kind of a while to make it to Hi-Lo to check on their offering, and damned if I didn’t instantly fall back off the anti-smash wagon. Their secret sauce is standard fare secret sauce, which is great–I love it. Their “Hi-Lo pickles” are not-sickly-sweet bread-and-butter -like pickled cucumbers. The beef had something else to it I couldn’t place. It was seasoned with something fragrant I really liked, but will most likely keep me guessing on future visits, but otherwise it’s a truly fantastically balanced beef flavor. But the saltiness was perfect, and the sear was a textbook-perfect smash, with just a hint of pink in the center. Gobs of American cheese were fantastically creamy. The bread–from Turtle Bread Co.–is pretty much what I look for in a burger bun: squishy but holds up. Overall, it’s a well-balanced beef-forward burger. You can get it in a single or a double, and I’d highly recommend the double, as it really highlights the beefiness–I had the single on a previous visit and while it was good, there’s something about doubling the surface area that amplifies the flavor.

The Hi-Lo Diner has infiltrated my list of places-I-like-a-lot-but-don’t-live-close-enough-to-be-a-regular-at-but-will-make-an-effort-to-visit-on-occasion-that-are-reasonably-priced. They get bonus points for being open late enough for me to eat after work, for consolidating diner food and cocktails, and for Hi-Tops, which are inspired and delicious. And, dammit, I really like that burger.