Double Cheeseburger at Nighthawks: “You Look Smashing, Darling.”

Nighthawks CheeseburgerAfter a long-ass day cooking for other people, the last thing I want to do is cook for myself. A solid half of my shifts I don’t end up eating because I’m tired, I don’t want to cook anymore, and slapping together a crappy meal for myself feels like a waste of time when I mostly want to get the fuck out of there. But late night dining options in Minneapolis are often lacking. Yeah, there’s diners, taquerias, pizza shops, and typical bar food for post-10pm noshing, and I’m definitely not knocking the stupid-tasty late-night options, but sometimes more than a midnight sandwich, I want a damn good meal.

And sometimes you get the best of both worlds, and sometimes that’s a burger.

I got off work around 10 on Friday and headed straight to Madeleine’s for a beer before biking to Minneapolis’ poppingest restaurant corridor, South Nicollet. Home to Blackbird, Kyatchi, Hola Arepa, Ramen Kazama–its newest entry, and of course, Revival, Nicollet Avenue is leading the wave of chef-driven comfort food.

Chef-owner Landon Schoenefeld loves fucking with the traditional, cheffing things up at Haute Dish by twisting cuisine into chimeric concoctions that are simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, like his take Tater Tot Hot Dish and General Tso Sweetbreads. He’s actually behind a bunch of burgers around town from stints at many, many restaurants over the years. I’ve already covered the Haute Dish burger, his outstanding take on a California style. At Nighthawks, opened spring of this year, Schoenefeld takes an approach perpendicular to that of Haute Dish, using advanced technique and months of research to craft excellent consistent versions of standard diner fare.

Madeleine got a single patty and I got a double ($10 and $15, respectively). It comes with potato salad or coleslaw, or you can upgrade to french fries for $2…which I did!

At my request, we got seats at the kitchen bar, overlooking their diner-style open kitchen because even after a long day of it, I still love cooking so much I have to watch other people do it, and I really wanted to see the magic technique behind this burger. Conventional wisdom dictates that smashing a patty is strictly verboten because it squeezes the fat out, losing that all-important juiciness. But smashing a patty maximizes contact with a griddle to attain an excellent fucking sear. BUT at Nighthawks, we watched the cook masterfully smash the patty within seconds of contact with the griddle, guaranteeing an imperial sear without moisture loss because the fat hasn’t had a chance to melt yet. After a couple of minutes, she flipped the patty, but absolutely did not smash again because at that point the now-liquid fat would squeeze out. I’ve heard about this method, but it was a pleasure to observe.

I don’t know if I enjoy actual burger geekery itself as much as I enjoy geeking out over burgers. And I don’t actually know if there’s a difference.

The patty didn’t have as ungodly of a sear as its older brother at Haute Dish, but it was as supremely seared as you get by conventional methods. It was well-seasoned, damn near verging on being oversalted, with a very strong black pepper flavor. Smashed burgers naturally end up on the more done side of medium-well, but what was missing in pink juiciness was more than made up for in retained fat and a fucked up amount of cheese. American cheese enveloped each patty in goopiness that rolled off onto the griddle for a touch of literal grilled cheesiness around the edges. Topped with freshly grilled red onions, giving it a sweet just-fried-enough outside with a still-firm crispy center. Pickles–acid, tasty, wonderful, and thankfully not too sweet paired with the onions. I’m never going to stop talking about how fantastic pickles are, and they make–and their absence breaks–a damn good burger. And a very tasty burger sauce, featuring all of the standard burger toppings blendered along with–according to my sources–a bit of bun and patty. It’s saucy, tangy, and what else would you want on a burger but more burger? The bun was a perfect squishy and it went by mostly unnoticed, just how I like.

You know when there’s, like, two overcooked fries in your McDonald’s fry sleeve, and they’re crispier and browner and have a deeper flavor? Nighthawks managed to capture that fry and figured out how to make a full order of them. They’re glorious and well-seasoned, and oh so crispy.

Double-patty American Cheese burgers are a hot trend, with David Chang claiming it’s the only way to do it, there’s enough of them in the Twin Cities to do a burger crawl (and they missed a few), and it’s reached the point where places are actually trying not to make them. It makes a great burger without too much fuss, though getting fussy with ’em pays off, like at Nighthawks. I’ll admit that overanalyzing burgers as I do leaves me wanting more variety and I seek out burgers that don’t just pile on the American, but it’s a treat to go back and eat damn good straight-up cheeseburger that’s trying really hard to be a damn good straight-up cheeseburger.

The Cheeseburger at Tongue In Cheek: “Movin’ On Up to the East Side”

Tongue in Cheek CheeseburgerWhen an affluent turn-of-the-century — a term that’s bothered me since we turned yet another one — neighborhood loses the industry that built it, it has a tendency to go downhill rather quickly. The Twin Cities have an absolute grip of areas that tanked in the 1970’s, due in part to interstate construction, factory closings, and disgustingly erroneous placement of Kmarts. Both cities are working to turn empty storefronts into businesses, and get white people hard-working higher-income earners moved back in. You might call it gentrification, but in my opinion, it’s an overall positive to attempt to build communities where higher- and lower-income earners live alongside each other, serving one another’s needs. It’s a utopian pipe dream, but anything’s better than letting neighborhoods go to shit, tearing them down and building condos.

The Payne Phalen neighborhood in St. Paul’s east side is undergoing such a revitalization, starting in recent years with the opening of a handful of upscale chef-driven casual restaurants like Ward 6, Cook St. Paul, and today’s burger provider in question, Tongue In Cheek. They’re comfy neighborhood joints that are attracting attention from all over the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro thanks to the quality of cuisine everyone’s come to expect from any contributor to our local food scene.

Tongue in Cheek opened in 2014 with not just a focus, but a commitment to only using animals raised in humane, sustainable ways. Chef Leonard Anderson worked for several years at fine dining restaurant Aquavit in Minneapolis under James Beard award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson before it closed. He moved on to W.A. Frost for a few years where he met General Manager Ryan Huseby, and together they opened Tongue In Cheek, along with Chef Anderson’s wife, Ashleigh Newman.

They close at 10, and I met up with Madeleine and her crew around 9 o’clock, but everyone didn’t make it until 9:30, making us “that guy”. Working as a cook, you naturally hate “that guy”; he’s the reason you aren’t leaving early. But after many years of hating “that guy,” you give up. Your shop’s got posted hours and you can’t be mad that people want your damn food so damn much that they rush over to get in before you close. I stopped worrying about being “that guy” a while ago when I stopped hating “that guy”.

We split some appetizers and got a burger. I was a bit thrown off by the cherry tomatoes and burrata. I expected a big lump of mozzarella wrapped around creamier mozzarella, but they left out the outer shell in favor of a creamy ass mozz spread. Regardless it was a damn tasty twist on a caprese. The pork rillettes was also creamy, but made of pork, which is one of the greatest concepts in the history of food. You basically confit pork until it’s the most tender pork can possibly be, then you chop it all up — fat included — into a paste and then serve it on toast and allow the foodgasm to unfold naturally. This version included a solid amount of latin flavors for a tex-mex take on the traditional spread. Unfortunately, both of these apps have since departed from their seasonal menu, but they indicate fantastic things for the menu at large.

In any case, Burger Fetish is about burgers, and Tongue In Cheek has a good one, which I knew before I had my first bite. There were only a handful of guests at that late hour, but all of them appeared to be there for the same thing, as we watched trays of burgers arrive at each table while we waited for our dining companions, increasing anticipation, and we weren’t disappointed. The patty was cooked medium to order, and tasted a bit dry. If you’re a longtime reader, you may recall my entry from last week describing the values and drawbacks of grilled burgers, and moisture loss is an unfortunate side-effect that was apparent here, though the grill provided a great flavor, and the patty was well-seasoned. A simple lettuce was placed in the proper location between the bottom bun and the patty, but a heartier green wouldn’t have wilted. A young cheddar didn’t kill the beef flavor with too much sharpness. Aioli worked spectacularly as a simple fatty sauce with just enough garlic, keeping things just smooth enough, and the bun well-moistened. Speaking of the bun, it was grilled, giving a distinct toastiness you can only get on a grill, though it was just a bit too bready. The real clincher was some quick-pickled cucumbers for a spectacular acid crisp. Sure, parts of it weren’t perfect but it came together nicely, with elements balancing each other well, uniting like Voltron to make a very tasty burger.

It’s $12 and comes with fries, and you can get it with a fried egg for $14 (total. The egg does not cost $14). Fries were tasty, a battery crunchiness, soft inside, tossed in herbs and salt. They accompanied the burger well.

It was a good night out. The space is very chill, and our crew had a nice time. Payne Phalen is well on the way to being one of the Cities’ top eating destinations, and Tongue In Cheek is a huge part of that. Driving through the neighborhood, it looks like there’s a lot of work to be done, but it feels more like opportunity than despair. I can’t wait to eat all the burgers that are sure to come from that part of town. And, I guess, other food they might make there. I don’t know.

The Cheeseburger at Lake & Irving: “And if you want beef then bring the ruckus”

Lake & Irving Cheeseburger.2I used my ten-cup Chemex to brew one, single goddamn 5-oz cup of coffee, which is ridiculous, but that’s all the beans I had, and no other way of brewing a small amount of coffee. And I needed fucking coffee.

I drink coffee every day, mostly because I drink coffee every fucking day and don’t take away my fucking coffee. Since I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t bat an eyelash at $14 burgers, I get excellent fucking coffee from Dogwood at Calhoun Square.

There’s two burger spots on the list at Calhoun Square, and I was literally walking toward one, then stopping and turning around and walking toward the other, then going back, then going forth, mumbling to myself the entire time, still wearing my bike helmet to complete the psychopath pastiche until I ditched Calhoun Square entirely and went to Lake & Irving.

Executive Chef Chris Ikeda trained at the CIA (the food one, not the spy one), before cooking in Hawaii for a few years. He brought Hawaiian influences back to Minnesota when he opened his modern American restaurant with his brother, Andrew — also a non-spy CIA alum. Lake & Irving has been open since Fall 2013 in Uptown Minneapolis at [joke about the name of the restaurant and the intersection].

I got a Rush River Bubblejack IPA, because I’m transitioning out of shitty cheap beer season, and I hadn’t noticed that Bells Two Hearted is $4 all the time. Bubblejack is a fantastic beer, but $4 for Two Hearted is the kind of dumb on their part that I’m surprised that they’re able to sell any other beer to people other than inattentive burger bloggers. And I ordered the cheeseburger. It’s two Pat LaFrieda patties on a Patisserie 46 brioche bun with Wisconsin Cheddar and a “secret sauce”, and for $2 I, obviously, got it with Duroc bacon, because bacon, obviously.

This burger, though, is all about the beef — to their credit — but not without issues. First and foremost, this is good fucking beef. To my knowledge, by which I mean since I gave a shit and since I knew a damn thing, this is my first LaFrieda burger, and the famous butcher knows how to blend a patty. It had an unexpected sweetness on top of excellent beef flavor with fat content that kept it juicy. Unfortunately, it was underseasoned, and I really had to seek that flavor out. You really gotta salt the fuck out of a burger, people. It was super-well cooked, though: excellent sear, hot pink center. Two patties means twice the sear, which was good, but if you’re gonna use awesome beef, showcase that shit! Big fat patty, keep up the good sear, but beef beef beef. Double patties also means double cheese, but I’m not sure about cheddar. I’m trying not to be too evangelical about my religious devotion to American cheese, but I just love the way it feels, and how it pairs with beef with an excellent not overwhelming cheesiness. Cheddar’s too sharp, and it melts, but congeals too quickly so it sits on the patty rather than enveloping it. And the brioche bun was just too much. I want a bun to carry the flavors, but not be a flavor. I like a bit of butter on the bun, and, fuck, I love a butter burger, but having a butter-based bread makes it stand out where it shouldn’t. The bacon was crispy, and tasty, and I liked how it contributed in both flavor and texture. Secret sauce was a nice hint of flavor, not too strong, that lent just a little sauciness. It had me wishing the rest of the flavors were as subtle and complementary. It’s such good beef, I wished this burger was even more beef-forward.

The most confusing part of the burger was that old-school inclusion of the lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle on the side. It’s a carry-over from a bygone era of burgers put on a menu as a formality rather than a chance to shine. I don’t know what to do with them at this point; put ’em on or leave ’em out, but don’t leave it up to me. I ended up putting a pickle on halfway through, but it was too sweet of a pickle and threw off the balance. I want a show-me-what-you-got burger. If they want me to eat tomato, they should put a fucking tomato on it.

In the past couple of years, chefs have applied all of their skills, their experience, techniques to making very straightforward, but precisely designed burgers, and Lake & Irving is part of that movement. I appreciate and respect how much thought they put into it, even if I don’t agree with all of their choices. It wasn’t bad, it just felt like it was trying too hard. It seemed overthought, combining elements I dig with ones I don’t with ones I usually dig but didn’t in this case. It was ahead of its time two years ago. Double patties were revolutionary; everyone’s doubling up now. But in today’s burger culture it mostly just tastes like a pretty good burger.

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 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.