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.

Lamb Sandoozles at Saffron: I’ve been Sandoozled!

Saffron SandoozlesLast Wednesday I was flipping through the Instagram (I’m on Instagram. Did you know I was on Instagram? Follow me on Instagram.) when I came across these sexy-looking devils, and magically had plans the following afternoon.

Saffron is one of those shouldn’t-be-but-is stories. It’s a testament to how believing in your own boldness is the key to making it. Upon graduation from culinary school Chef Sameh Wadi decided he was ready to open a restaurant (don’t do that!), serving fine dining Mediterranean food (no one knows what that even means!) at the height of the recession (welcome to Mistaketown!). But I’d credit the improbability, the curiosity, and the confidence with its success — plus the food is fucking delicious. I’m lucky enough to live a few blocks from Chef Wadi’s World Street Kitchen, where they cross street food from all over the world (obviously) into accessible unexpected cross-cultural mindfucks. I’ve got their stuffed falafel burger on my list.

Saffron, however, wasn’t on the list, and I didn’t know they had a burger ’til I saw it on Instagram, and fuck the list — I’m gonna eat that. I had to work Thursday morning, and text-made plans with Teresa to meet up for happy hour. We got seats at the bar and ordered cocktails. Saffron, it should be noted, has an excellent bar program. I got their Southside, a sweet refreshing gin drink that’s $6 on the happy hour menu, and Teresa got the Saffron Rose, a gin cocktail with rosé, rose water, and saffron in a champagne flute (not happy hour, but crafty cocktaillian excellent).

Teresa got a lamb bacon “BLT” with tomato jam and arugula on sexy vanilla egg bread that I immediately wanted to try in French toast form, and I got the roasted lamb “Sandoozles”, which came as a pair of sliders. This now requires discussion, as they aren’t strictly burgers in the strict burger sense. It’s roasted lamb, shredded and formed into patties, so I can’t analyze them in the usual fashion, but I can say “LAMB” because they’re so fucking lamby. I love lamb. It’s a distinct intense flavor that nearly guarantees it’ll stand out, and here it definitely does. The patties were mostly tender but chewy enough that you’ve got to spend some time nourishing that goddamn lamb flavor on your tongue. They’ve got chewy-crisp-crusted sesame seed buns that’re burger-perfect soft on the inside and a smooth spicy feta spread that gives them a sharp creaminess, and simple slightly sweet cucumber pickles for acidic bite — nah, bite’s too strong; it’s more of a nibble. They’re fantastically balanced sandwiches that highlight the lamb, and are immensely satisfying for two mini sliders.

We split fries, which were akin to McDonalds fries in texture, size, and appearance — they’re even served in a brown paper bag — but wearing a monocle. They were seasoned well, tossed in salt and parsley and served with a delicious feta fondue. Get at ’em.

So what’s in a name? Here’s Tom Haverford to explain:

The Sandoozles and BLT were $7.50 each, which is a fantastic steal, and fries are $3.50. They’re only available on the happy hour menu, weekdays from 4-6, but honestly if you’re in the mood for an intricate well-spiced splurge, check out Saffron’s full menu.

The Sandoozles might not be called burgers, but they’re fucking burgers ’cause I say they’re fucking burgers, and they’re pretty fucking good.

The Chorizo Bocadillo at Icehouse: “No one expects the Spanish inquisition!”

Chorizo Bocadillo

I mentioned to April that I was craving a negroni at Icehouse, and since she works next door, she said she wanted to come meet me for happy hour. Sold! A lonely negroni < a spontaneous friendate.

Icehouse, in the Whittier neighborhood of Minneapolis (my neighborhood for the past five years or so), has a bold adventurous menu that’s grounded in traditional American fare. Their beer selection leans local and fantastic, the cocktails are diverse and modern, and their happy hour is arguably one of the best in town, in terms of a higher-end spot offering ballerrific nummies on a budget. There are few places in town where I’d take my parents to brunch that I’ve also been blackout wasted at seeing my favorite hardcore electronic noise band (I can actually think of two more spots off the top of my head that meet these specific criteria).

One of the best/worst parts of Icehouse is their $5 sipping shots. I have a self- and friend-imposed 3 shot limit, only if I’ve eaten a full meal prior and am drinking water. They’re so good, though, you guys, and they get you drunk and they’re cheap. That’s some kind of Matty unholy trinity. And one of them is a carbonated negroni that’s sweet and refreshing on a summer afternoon.

But I wasn’t planning on Burger Fetishizing today. There’s a $30 burger on their menu that I’m planning on doing eventually, I was here this day for a negroni and some lovely company on a Sunday, I have a list of burgers that I need to eat and talk about already without throwing other ones into the mix.

And then they tricked me! They have a happy hour sandwich called a “chorizo bocadillo.” Now, this place has stupid-good sandwiches. Seriously local pedigreed Chef Matthew Bickford has worked at a bunch of top restaurants in town before opening a gourmet deli in the North Loop neighborhood, which led to him opening Icehouse. Their pastrami is crazy tasty, and unfortunately retired from their happy hour menu (you can still get it for a reasonable price on the lunch menu, though). To my knowledge, a bocadillo is a sandwich on french bread (Wikipedia, back me up here. Thanks!), and chorizo is a sausage. So when I order a chorizo bocadillo, I expect a sausage on french bread.

But oops! Here comes a burger. And it’s good. It’s a homemade chorizo patty, which I’d normally expect to be tough, but I assume they’re work with more tender cuts of pork and brine and fuck with it other ways, and it worked; there’s a lot better of a texture than I’ve come to expect from a pork patty (which beyond America’s obvious love affair with beef is why we don’t see pork burgers often, even though beef burgers are called “hamburgers”, but we can talk etymology some other time). And there’s a fucking egg on it. Under the egg, though, is the pièce de résistance: a sheep’s milk cheese-stuffed piquillo pepper, which is a cute li’l Spanish sweet pepper. No sauce, though! They don’t need it! The cheese and yolk do more than enough of the heavy lifting to keep that moistness in the bread. Oh, and their homemade onion bun, which was designed to carry burgers and be flavorful on its own without overwhelming the main event.

It comes with fries cut in house, skin-on and not too crispy that lean on the overseasoned side, which actually isn’t a problem for me. They’re definitely too even to be cut by hand, but let’s face it: beyond going that extra mile, there isn’t much point; cut your cooks some slack. This is a totally bonkers steal at $8 during happy hour, and it’s $12 for brunch.

Those bastards tricked me into eating a burger, but I totally wasn’t mad about it.