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.

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The Cease and Desist & The Blucy at Blue Door Pub: a Hooker with a Heart of Gold

Blue Door Cease & DesistHands down, the coolest fucking thing in Minneapolis* is the Midtown Greenway, a bike trail on an old train route spanning the entire city that I can take all the way from my place in the Whittier neighborhood to the Mississippi River in less than half an hour. Then, it’s just a quick ride across the bridge to St. Paul, a suburb of Minneapolis.

Calm down, everyone, I’m kidding. Jeez.

I used to live in St. Paul, I love St. Paul, and I don’t get back there nearly enough. I don’t have a car, I live and work in Minneapolis, and I’m usually tired when I’m not working. If nothing else, Burger Fetish is going to bring me across the river to eat some fucking St. Paul burgers, starting with that one, up there.

Madeleine was in St. Paul and I took the magical Greenway to meet her at the Blue Door Pub in the Merriam Park neighborhood. They opened in 2008 in the old location of shuttered Puerto Rican restaurant Puerta Azul and named it in translated homage to its former occupant, slinging sexied-up pub grub. Apps are all fried everything: ten flavors of wings, battered green beans, cheese curds, zucchini fries, a variety of loaded tater tots, and muhfuggin Spam bites — spam, pickles, and cream cheese breaded in a panko & potato chip crust. And — oh! — burgers. And — oh my! — lots of burgers.

I’ll reserve the disputed history and proper spelling of the Juicy Lucy for a future post, but the crucial information is this: the cheese is on the inside of the patty. Construction involves making two very thin patties, sandwiching a piece of cheese between them, and pinching the edges shut. You griddle this epiphany, cooking the meat and melting the cheese, serving the masterpiece on a bun with your choice of hopefully corresponding toppings and sauces, and put the cardiologist on speed dial.

The Blue Door’s contribution to the Juicy Lucy conversation is the Blucy, of which they have 11 varieties on the menu, and a rotating special, ranging from basic (the Classic: a patty stuffed with white American cheese) to the not-fucking-around (the Bangkok Blucy: a patty stuffed with coconut-soaked mozzarella topped with pickled ginger served with a side of curry sauce). After my recent case of the blah-blahs, I needed an ooey-gooey cheeseburger with a capital CHEESE, and Blue Door knew exactly how to hit that spot: the Cease and Desist.

They take a patty stuffed with White American and diced pickles, then they top it with standard yellow American and grilled onions, shredded iceberg lettuce, and “‘Merican sauce”. Let’s not split hairs: they’re going for the flavor profile of a Big Mac here, and they kill it. Our burgers came flying out of the kitchen bafflingly fast, but upon further inspection the speed was consistent with quality of the patty. They must be using a hell-hot griddle to cook the patties for a couple minutes a side, achieving a crusty sear without making the molten cheese tongue-murdering lava-like. The American on top was a great mix-up to the mouthfeel, giving cheesiness on cheesiness enveloping the patty in the traditional sense while the stuffed cheese is good and melty in a way that stays creamy and oozy and, hell, cheesy. The pickles added acidity, and worked remarkably well with the molten cheese inside the patty, not skimping on heating them up in the usual fashion by putting them on top of the meat for residual heat. ‘Merican sauce was what you’d expect: some combo of mayo and ketchup for tangy sauciness. Add lettuce for crunch, onions for sweetness, and I loved it so much that I got another.

What? I was hungry, and we didn’t get any of the aforementioned apps. I got some hand-cut fries with my first burger, which were okay. Kinda chewy, not so much crispy, a tad overseasoned — I typically complain the reverse, but it happens — but nothing to write home about. And when Madeleine didn’t get her own fries, I should have guessed she’d eat half of them. Plus, I don’t know when I’m going back here, so fuck it: two burgers, punks!

My stupid phone died, so Madeleine came to the rescue and took this picture with her phone.

For round two, I got the eponymous Blucy, a straight-up patty stuffed with blue cheese and garlic on a bun, no toppings. Blue cheese pairs stupid-great with beef, and of course garlic goes great with everything. I put a little ketchup on the side for dipping. This time, the methodology revealed itself. The cheese was oozing out of the cracked patty, confirming my suspicion the grill must be hot as fuck, which can work great, but once seared, expansion and contraction continue, and the crust can strain. I wasn’t mad, though; It was well-seasoned and Lucys start falling apart at first bite anyhow. I really only brought it up to show how smart I am.

So, two stuffed burgers that I dug the shit out of, and a bunch more on the menu means I’ll definitely be back. They opened a second location in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood (whew!) in 2013, offering a few burgers exclusive to each location, which means even more burgers to eat without having to cross the river into Shelbyville.

I’m just kidding again, St. Paulians. Get over yourselves.

_____

*I reserve my right to hyperbole. Also, please note that I consider the “coolest fucking thing” in Minneapolis an easy way to bike to St. Paul.

The 60/40 at Red Cow: “Colonel Mustard, in the Kitchen, with the Knife”

Red Cow 60/40April had a gift card to Red Cow, so she invited her favorite burger blogger to join her. When he couldn’t go, she invited me.

[Pause for laughter.]

I’ve been meaning to check out Red Cow, but hadn’t for no fucking reason than I just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. They first opened in 2013 near 50th & France in Minneapolis, and have since opened locations in Cathedral Hill in St. Paul, and the North Loop in Downtown Minneapolis. They’ve made their mark as an upscale burger joint, slinging eight different Certified Angus Beef burgers, two with local grass-fed beef, and one burger with the legendary Pat Lafrieda burger blend. If beef isn’t your thing, they’ve got a bison, a turkey, an ahi tuna, a lamb and a curried chickpea burger. In short, they’ve got 15 reasons for me to go back, which they’re gonna need.

We hit up their original location, ’cause we were feeling classic, and arrived right smack dab in the middle of their happy hour. April got Red Cow’s “cowlaboration” beer with Lift Bridge Brewery, a Red Rye IPA, and I got a Surly Hell at a goddamn steal for $3 on happy hour, and we split an order of poutine, which was fries topped with your choice or beef brisket and Summit beer cheese, or apples, blue cheese, and bacon ($6 for happy hour, $10.50 regular price).

And here’s where the problems start: HOW IN THE FUCK DO YOU CALL THAT POUTINE???

Poutine, children, is Canada’s greatest export, and it necessarily contains three fucking ingredients: fries, cheese curds, and gravy. In either of Red Cow’s options, they’re 1 for 3. I’d classify them more as “loaded fries”, of which poutine is a subset, but it should not be implied that any old fries with some shit on them can be deemed poutine. Only poutine is poutine, the beer-cheese-brisket-fries we got isn’t fucking poutine. Ô Canada. Terre de nos aïeux.

Red Cow 'poutine'

“poutine” with quotation marks

It was hit-and-miss. Hit: the fries were hand-cut and maintained crispiness, despite being well-coated in wonderfully cheesy and flavorful beer cheese sauce. Miss: the brisket was appallingly dry, even drenched in that great cheesy goodness.

I’d heard rumblings from a variety of sources about the 60/40 burger. Its patty is 60% Angus beef and 40% ground bacon. If that isn’t enough bacon, they add candied bacon on top, along with a slice of Wisconsin cheddar, served on a wonderfully soft bun.

A soft, basic bun is important to a great burger. The bun should mostly serve as a vehicle for the rest of the experience. It should hold together, then yield when bitten. The only thing you want to be chewing on is the patty. And the flavor shouldn’t do much — just a small amount of breadiness to carry the rest of the burger.

A fatty salty patty, sweet bacon, sharp cheese, an awesome bun, then they go and ruin it all with a smear of beer mustard on the bottom bun.

Do you love mustard, but hate any other flavor? Then this burger’s for you, because it absolutely murders all of the other flavors, which was exceedingly disappointing. The one bite I had of the patty hanging off the bun was fantastic — well-seasoned, great sear, and noticeable bacon flavor — but the rest of it was entirely mustard. And I like mustard, but on pungent salty charcuterie that’ll hold up to the spice. Burgers have a calm, delicate, but bold flavor that needs to be coaxed out with a combination of seasoning and cooking technique. You need to complement flavors, you need balance. But none of that matters if you kill it all with mustard.

My first trip to Red Cow didn’t go as well as I expected, but there’s a bunch of other burgers on the menu that sound great. They’re big on cheddar, which you’d think would be averse to my American cheese obsession, but I admire their commitment to the varietal, cheddar is in fact my favorite standalone cheese, and I’m curious how they’ll utilize its sharpness. Sure, their use of the word “poutine” is bullshit and potentially offensive, but I like their creativity in upscaling bar snacks, and I tend to hope something like dry brisket is an error, and not a poor choice. I’d even get the 60/40 burger again — hold the mustard.

The Natty at Devil’s Advocate: “You ever dance with the Devil in the pale moonlight?”

The Natty at Devil's AdvocateOn Friday morning, I unleashed this little beast into the social medias and went immediately into work for the next 13 hours, like, “I hope people don’t think I’m a butthead.” I don’t recommend working on something for a few months and then launching it and then not being able to check social media or page stats for many hours, because you’ll have a remarkably distracted day at work. But when I finally did get a chance to check, the response was pretty great, and I appreciate the kind words and blah blah blah you aren’t here to read me get sappy. But good or bad, there’s only one way to toast the launch of your burger blog: if you don’t know what goes after that colon, you should leave. Now.

I’ve never been to Devil’s Advocate before, but my anonymous drunkypants friend was on a boat getting drunk all day, and when I got off work she said she was there, so I went to meet her, and she was nowhere to be found. Luckily, her drunk ass led me to a spot with burgers before wandering off into the night.

From what I’d heard, Devil’s Advocate’s focus was initially on meatballs of all shapes and sizes — just kidding! They’re all the same shape: ball. And I’d reckon they’re all the same size, too. They make them of different meats, or not-meat falafel. But the meatball thing didn’t fly so well as they’d hoped so they expanded the menu to include some nonspherical foods. But I wasn’t there to put balls in my mouth.

I ordered the “Schlager Lager”, a house brew. All of their house brews are 6.66% ABV, because they’re hilarious. It was honestly more flavorful than I expected/wanted, which is a weird complaint, but cheap shitty beer tastes like summer to me, and anything else feels like a waste of money and taste buds.

There were a number of burgers on the menu, and I wanted some kind of souped-up classic, so I got the Natty, a simple burger with American cheese, bacon, fried onions, and “Devil’s Sauce”. It came with unremarkable fries and a knife sticking out the top of it. It wasn’t life-changing, but I enjoyed it. The patty was a bit too thin to have asked how I wanted it cooked, but they did, and I asked for a medium rare and it came out a solid medium, which actually worked well, but I wish they just hadn’t asked. The flavor profile here was great, but I think a cheddar would have held up better with the onions and bacon. I love American cheese — it is known, Khaleesi — and it was pretty good on here, but I wanted some sharpness. The fried onions stayed remarkably crispy throughout, the bacon was delightful. The Devil’s sauce could have used more kick, or more sauce, but it might as well have not been there. It was overpriced at $13, which I couldn’t really figure out. It seemed like only a 1/4 pound patty, and seemed to just be pre-ground beef. Was it the bacon? I dunno. It tasted closer to $10, and I eat $14 burgers on the regular. It’s $8 on Happy Hour, though, which sounds about right.

In general, it seems like this burger’s trying too hard but not trying hard enough. They went with American cheese, which is probably because assholes like me talk too much about how good it is on a burger, but balancing flavors is important, too. And the Devil’s sauce could use some work. It was enjoyable, but I probably wouldn’t get it again, but I’d still go back to Devil’s Advocate. The vibe there is a dingy good, even if the low lighting lends itself to shitty photography.

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?!