The Appa at Rabbit Hole: “Chapter I. Down the rabbit hole”

 

The Appa“It’s National Burger Day!” Kyle texts me.

“Where are we going?!” I ask.

“You got da list,” he says.

It’s true. I have a spreadsheet, in fact. It is thorough. It is well-researched. It is a guide AND a goal. It took this little idea I had and turned it into a blog. And here we are.

“Rabbit Hole,” I declare.

Rabbit Hole is easily a favorite restaurant of mine. I love Korean flavors, and I love the way chef/owner Thomas Kim fucks with ’em. But I haven’t had one of his burgers yet. This must be a grievous misstep on my part, because he’s got the chops to make a baller-ass burger; before he moved to Minneapolis, he opened a gourmet burger joint in LA.

Kyle and I pull up two seats at the bar, order beers and look over the menu. I can’t decide between the Ahjumma (with gruyere, chipotle coleslaw, chili pepper relish, and onion rings) and the Appa (gruyere, blue cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, tomato jam, kimchi aioli, and a goddamn fried egg), but fried eggs and kimchi are like my bread and butter (in fact, fried egg, kimchi, on buttered toast is one of my favorite snacks), and have a tendency to win in such situations. Kyle gets the Ahjumma, so I at least get to see it.

Here’s the problem. I love kimchi. There’s a bunch of flavors here that pair excellently with kimchi, all in one place, all on a burger, but in the end…not enough kimchi. The aioli’s tasty, for sure (they give you a ramekin of it with the hand-cut fries), but I really wanted just some straight-up chopped kimchi on here. The burger was well-cooked, well-seasoned, the briochey bun they serve it on didn’t let a drop of yolk hit my plate, but it was too falling-apart flaky, and just too much bread. Maybe I went in with too much expectations for a full-on kimchi punch in the face, but it felt unbalanced. Blue cheese is dangerous because it has a tendency to kill all the other flavors, and there were a ton of great flavors here — the sweetness of the onions, the smoky bacon — but they didn’t coalesce. Oh, did I forget to mention the tomato jam? That’s because I couldn’t taste it.

I’m disappointed because I constantly recommend this place — and I’ll definitely continue to go there — but this burger fell flat for me. I feel the need to be honest that I didn’t dig it, even though I didn’t want my first post to be negative, even though I love this restaurant. So there.

Kyle, meanwhile, was in burger heaven. “You know it’s good when you’re, like, two bites in and you don’t want it to end.” Now I have to go eat that one. Which is, of course, the point.

Update (8.26.2015): I just realized that this burger didn’t have the smoked gouda on it, and was perhaps judged prematurely. This raises two questions: 1. How did they forget the cheese? 2. How the fuck did I not notice ’til now?!

The Revival Burger at Revival: “Black velvet in that slow southern style…”

Revival BurgerI’m by no means an expert on Southern food, nor would I ever claim to be, mostly because that’s often followed by a resounding “OH REALLY?!” and someone else’s what’s-what. Then you get into arguments about how to make cornbread, like there’s some fucking specific best way of making it without regional differences, and it’s all fucking tasty anyway. This might be a metaphor for Burger Fetish, but it’s mostly a disclaimer before I talk about how much I love Southern food.

But I do love Southern food. Growing up, my family spent two weeks every summer at a beach house in North Carolina to eat tons of fucking seafood that my younger self couldn’t have cared less about. But I lived for the occasional trip inland to hit up a now-shuttered barbecue joint called Joe’s for hush puppies, pulled pork, coleslaw, Brunswick Stew, and sweettea [sic, sorta ’cause it’s one word, phonetically, if you know what I’m saying rather than typing].

Minnesota-born, North Carolina-reared Chef Thomas Boemer serves up stupid-good Southern-tinged fine dining at Corner Table. So when I heard the Corner Table team was going all-in on Revival, a Southern comfort food joint with fried chicken as its centerpiece, my taste buds went all aflutter with the promise of a nostalgia-laden trip down Nicollet Avenue to the Carolina coast. Sure, Chef Boemer leans Lexington-style, but I can be flexible. Like I said: regional differences, but close enough.

On my first visit, I find out they’ve got a burger, and I put it on my list, but I couldn’t bring myself to get it that time. I wanted to try as many things as possible, and we did pretty good on that front, taking a cross-section of the menu, sampling a variety of outstanding food that carries the definition of comfort. But If you wanna eat a burger, you have to go and eat a burger. Maybe get an appetizer, but it’s hard to eat fried chicken and a burger (is it, though? Did I just say that?). So when I went on my second visit, we got nearly as much food, but with the understanding that I absolutely 100% needed to get a burger this time. And oh boy.

I continue to believe that there is no such thing as a perfect burger, but damn is this a good one. Damn. You’ve got two patties that are all ground shortrib, which has a high fat content — essential — and I honestly expected a little more chew, but they were awesomely tender, and cooked perfectly. I’ve been really into double patties lately — these are things you say when you have a burger blog — ’cause in the trade-off between surface area sear and one big fat juicy patty, I’ve been leaning toward increasing surface area and putting a slice of cheese on each, which they do. The patties were well-seasoned and delicious, and american cheese is just so necessary. It melts in a way that only american cheese can. For sauce, they go with mayo. Just mayo! And the bread-and-butter pickles that they must go through about a million of a day (they also come with the superpopular Tennessee Hot fried chicken). It’s simplicity at its finest, taking the essence of everything that makes a simple burger great and just doing it very very well.

But also this:

“Do you want to add bacon?” my server asks me when I order the burger. “I usually like to get a burger as-is…” “We recommend the bacon. It’s made in-house, double-smoked.” “Okay, then.” And, like, whoa. You want smokiness? Get the bacon. It enhances the burger. I would also recommend the bacon. But, then why not put it on there by default? I’m going for a show-me-what-you-got approach on this blog, and add-ons don’t factor into that. From a restaurant’s standpoint, though, I can see an add-on being a simpler conversation than an omission: “I don’t eat pork. can I get the burger without bacon?” “Sure.” “And it costs the same?” “Yes.” “Why?”

But at the same time: get the bacon. Do yourself a favor.

I don’t know if there’s anything specifically Southern about this burger, or if anything I said about Southern food at the top of this post is of any consequence to how much I loved it, but I did. I loved this burger and I love this restaurant, and I’m glad Minneapolis has both.

Flavor Country Burger at Haute Dish: “Haute in Herre”

Haute Dish BurgerMy bike chain snapped on the way from work to happy hour at Haute Dish, so I took a Nice Ride, and I’m late meeting Madeleine with the looming cost of bike repairs at the forefront of my thoughts.

But at first bite, all my concerns melt away, like the American cheese melted perfectly on this fucking burger. This is a poor use of simile, obviously, because my concerns kind of disappeared, but both slices of cheese are still prominently featured in both my accompanying photograph and the burger itself. But “melt” is a bad metaphor for disappearing since it means “turned to liquid,” so I’m still more right than whoever came up with the phrase “melt away.”

The legendary Haute Dish burger was on my list before I even had a list. In fact it, among a few others, might be the reason this blog exists at all: because I just wanted to eat the best burgers in town, and this one is on everyone else’s list. Then, not documenting my burger consumption became a worse idea than talking way too much about it. And now you’re reading this.

We came here with the sole intention of getting the burger & a pint deal, which is a goddamn steal at $10 for happy hour. The burger’s normally $13 and comes with fries. We decided to split an order of fries for $6, which was a terrific idea. They’re twice-fried…and now I’m trying to make a “once bitten, twice fried” joke, but I hope no one’s biting my potatoes before they fry them, but if that’s part of the recipe, please carry on biting my fries, you weirdo, because they’re delicious. They’re tossed in some kind of magical ketchup powder and served with aioli. Get the fries. The most difficult part of this was deciding which beer to get.

The menu offers no description, so everything I know about this burger’s minutiae I found in Star Tribune food critic Rick Nelson’s Burger Friday column. I was about to paraphrase that article, but fuck it. This burger comes “no temps, no substitutions”, and so does Nelson’s article; I can’t honestly improve it, so I’m not gonna try. If you want the nitty-gritty, follow the link. Here’s my experience.

According to David Chang’s burger manifesto, Haute Dish doing nearly everything wrong. So then why does it taste so good?This burger has been meticulously engineered to taste like the best classic burger you’ve never had, and therein lies the trick: it tastes like the memory of a burger that you can spend your whole life chasing — every burger you can order at any casual chain restaurant in any strip mall that just doesn’t taste right enough. They manage to nail that memory, while enhancing it with flavor notes and nuances you didn’t know you wanted.

The patty doesn’t have a sear as much as a crust, which blew me away texturally. As I’ve already stated, I’m into a good sear, but this is next level shit. It’s got that overcooked charred texture like your dad used to make, except it tastes good. The inside is juicy and perfect. I already covered the American cheese, like the American cheese covered this patty (and that’s how you simile). There’s bacon, because bacon. On the bun, under the patty, you’ve got the classics: pickle slices, tomato, raw onion, iceberg lettuce, giving you that exact fucking burgery-burgerness you still dream about. While everyone else in town took these overdone staples off their hamburger, Haute Dish said “fuck the haters.” Then they top the whole thing off with a tangy mushroom salad. And a bun, obviously. But the devil’s in the details, and this devil is your friend. There was the slightest hint of blue cheese, whose presence I couldn’t put my finger on until I read about the nitrogen-freezed smoked gorgonzola powder mixed into the meat in the Nelson article. It’s one of those implausible wonders of gastronomic left-field monkey-wrenchery that no one’s going to figure out on their own, and the result is subtle but beautiful. They sauce it with aioli and a horseradishy mustard — just enough to not dominate but to give it that hint of classic burgerness that I can’t stop talking about.

I’m a guy who tends to like food simple and straightforward, but I appreciate the amount of work put into making ludicrously overthought burger taste so damn simple and straightforward. It punched me directly in the nostalgia balls and replaced any preconceptions about what a “classic” burger should taste like. Next time I’m in the mood for it, I know where to go.