The Thai Superstar at Blackbird: Thai one on

Blackbird Thai Superstar

Being sick is the fucking worst.

My nose is stuffed up, my throat is sore, and I have a headache. I have a routine that involves zinc and pho and constant hydration and peeing all the time, followed by giving up and eating whatever I want because I can only care about my health for so long before the siren song of the burger is too alluring to resist.


In 2007, husband-wife team Chris Stevens and Gail Mollner opened the upscale casual Blackbird Cafe in the Southwest Minneapolis’ Lynnhurst neighborhood, only to lose it to a fire in February 2010. It only seemed a minor setback, though, as they were able to quickly reopen in November of the same year at 38th & Nicollet, and have been going strong since. They have a widely diverse menu with small plates, sandwiches, entrees, and snacks with modern American, Italian, and Asian influences throughout their scratch house-made comfort food. The dining room has just as varied of decor as the menu, with a hodgepodge of thrift store finds, a collection of antlers, and a spinning disco ball. It was one of the first chef-driven restaurants to open on South Nicollet, paving the way for places like last week’s Nighthawks and longtime favorite, Revival.

Blackbird postcardBut they seemed to have mysteriously omitted a burger from their menu, so they were off my radar until I caught word that they correct this egregious error on Tuesdays, serving fancy chef’d up burgers once a week. I hollered at Teresa and she picked my sick ass up.

If I hadn’t been sick, I’d take full advantage of their ridiculously-priced $12 pitchers of one of my favorite local everyday go-to brews, Surly Hell, as part of their Tuesday night Burgers & Beer special, but I had to refrain in the interest of I hate being sick.

They had three options: the Brian Wilson–avocado, grilled pickled red onion, romaine & special sauce, the Thai Superstar–braised oyster mushrooms, grilled tomato nam prik & Kewpie mayo, and the Pineapple Express–grilled tomatillo salsa, pineapple, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeño & smoked paprika aioli. Teresa failed to disclose that she’d already eaten dinner and only wanted dessert, but I convinced her to split an order of their chicken lemongrass potstickers in a ginger garlic broth. The broth alone was incredibly salty but balanced the succulent dumplings supremely, giving a full-bodied flavor that coated my mouth in a stocky richness. But it meant I only got to try one of the burgers. But I now pretty much have to go back for more. Which is a total win-win because it was delicious.

The Thai Superstar had me at “Kewpie mayo”. Or “Oyster Mushrooms”. Or “Roasted Tomato”. Ah, hell, it was the entire stack of Umami-laden toppings. Braising the mushrooms removes the chewiness you get from the usual cooking methods, creating tenderness that didn’t dominate the texture, and brings out a fantastic subdued earthy flavor. Nam prik is Thai for “hot sauce” in the same sense that any “hot sauce” isn’t easily defined, but in Blackbird’s iteration it’s a Thai-inflected pico de gallo with–I’m mostly guessing, here–roasted tomato, cilantro, lime, chilis and fish sauce. It fills a lot of roles in this burger: acid, mostly, but the cilantro pops freshness, and I wouldn’t call it spicy, but it spikes a mild heat every so often that doesn’t linger. It’s fucking delicious and I’d try it on anything. There isn’t a better mayo than Kewpie. It does the heavy lifting of American mayo–that whipped fatty creaminess–but it’s smoother and less eggy, and it’s got MSG! Blackbird really slathers it on, and it balances and completes this burger. The toasted house-made bun is squishy and buttery and crisp around the edges. Damn near everything I’m looking for in a bun.

Blackbird Thai Superstar - InteriorLest we forget the patty, which was a perfectly pink medium rare, but rather lacking in sear. Most places that aren’t necessarily burger-centric but put a lot of craft into their burgers have a flat-top griddle cranked the fuck up to sear the shit out of their beef on contact, and Blackbird isn’t one of those places. I’m not mad about it! Sure, I love a sear, but the patty was certainly well-cooked, well-seasoned, and a tasty burger that stands on its own. It’s complete and well-thought-out. There’s unique masterly-executed flavors here. And no cheese! I think it’s the first Burger Fetish entry with no cheese. And I’m still not mad about it!

And this is what Burger Fetish is all about. If I were eating similar permutations of the same damn burger over and over, we’d all be getting bored. Great burgers don’t need to adhere to some mythological standard. They just have to be great.

All three burgers are $10 each and come as-is. They seem to rotate the variations periodically without warning, but I doubt they’d sell a burger that didn’t meet their quality standards or match their unique compositions.

It didn’t cure my cold, though.

Juicy Liu at Unideli: “Liu Kang wins.”

Juicy LiuOn a random trip to United Noodles with Teresa, I’m trying to mentally piece a meal together and my brain is totally fried. I’m tired, I’m hungry, but look over there! It’s a Unideli! I can kill a bowl of ramen and be back on my game in no time!

Unideli’s pretty rad. I dig their stuff, even if I can recognize a lack of “authenticity,” which inevitably arises in any discussion of ramen. At its heart, though, Unideli exists to highlight the ingredients available in the greater grocery store, and therein has a different authenticity. I once worked at a Korean restaurant where the owner wanted to put the ramen he grew up eating on the menu, which was really exciting to me because I’d never at the time had any sort of authentic ramen experience. So when he shows up with a bunch of ramen packets, and I’m like “what’s this shit?” But that’s the ramen he, a Korean-born-and-bred person, ate growing up. Just like mom used to make — from a packet. Unideli makes food entirely out of stuff available to buy at United Noodle, so you won’t have complex bone broths, but you get a tasty bowl that they’ve added soft-boiled eggs and chashu made in house, topped with chili oil and scallions. And therein, you’re getting an authentic experience of ramen you can do at home, which is pretty damn respectable, and pretty damn clever.

wpid-wp-1435500611267.jpegBut when I go up to order, I’m made aware of a weekly special they have available. And it’s a burger. A Juicy Lucy to be precise. They call it a “Juicy Liu”. Teresa goes, “I think you have to.” I don’t want to talk about a burger special at a place that doesn’t actually do burgers on the regular, but they do specials every week, and different burgers seem to pop up often enough, and I really liked it, so I’m talking about it. It’s a ground beef patty stuffed with what they call “garlic chive cheese.” I’m always suspicious of something called “cheese” without specifying variety (mind you, I love American cheese), but I’d place this somewhere near a gouda. The patty’s then put on a bed of kimchi, slathered with a gochujang mayo, and topped with slivered carrot, cucumber slices and a few sprigs of cilantro. The whole ordeal is served in a pork fat-seared steam bun, which honestly didn’t do much flavor-wise, but added a good crisp to the steam bun. It turned out quite well-layered and the flavors somehow balanced nicely, as flavors switched quickly between the carrot-cuke-cilantro gave a banh mi effect, and the gochujang-kimchi combo obviously gave it that Korean kick. I really think that “cheese” tied the whole thing together.

And, yes, this tasty treat isn’t available anymore, but following United Noodle on the social media will keep you up on their weekly specials, and remind you of the other awesome food they have.