Matt’s Bar vs. The 5-8 Club: “Two households, alike in dignity”

Matt's vs. 5-8 header

Matt’s Bar (l), the 5-8 Club (r)

After my whirlwind trip to New York, the best way to come home and kick off the 2016 season (season? sure) of Burger Fetish is with the biggest Minneapolis burger question of them all.

There’s no Minneapolis food item more iconic than the Juicy Lucy*, and no greater rivalry than that between Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club. Both bars claim invention of the cheese-stuffed burger, but every Minneapolite has an opinion on which Lucy is best. Luckily, I am a Minneapolite, full of both opinions and, at the moment, a lot of beef and cheese.

I’ve never actually been to the 5-8 Club, having accepted on hearsay that Matt’s Jucy Lucy was the better. I recruited my favorite native Southsider, Kyle, to join me, partly because he’s the only person I know who prefers the 5-8 Lucy, partly because he loves burgers enough to go eat two of them with me, and partly because he’s one of my best buds in the whole wide world. AWWWWWWW. Shut up.

According to legend, soon after Matt’s Bar opened in 1954, a customer asked proprietor Matt Bristol to make two patties with cheese in the middle, causing him to declare, “that’s one juicy lucy!” and a sensation was born. The 5-8 Club opened in 1928 as a speakeasy and went legit following the repeal of prohibition. Originally called the 58th St. Club, patrons began referring to it as the 5-8 and eventually the name stuck. It has no cute origin story for its Juicy Lucy, but say they invented it “in the 1950’s,” which sounds dubious, but I’m not here to quibble on undocumented history.

5-8 Club cross sectionAt the 5-8, you can get your Lucy stuffed with American, blue, Swiss, or pepperjack. I, obviously, went American. I misunderstood the server’s question and ordered mine without fried onions, which I’ll admit is a misstep, especially when it comes to a fair comparison. Otherwise, the only topping was pickles on a notably less-than-squishy bun. The patty arrived relatively medium-well, still pretty juicy with basically no sear, but well-seasoned. This leads me to believe they don’t keep their griddle cranked the fuck up like most burger joints. Lucys are traditionally cooked through to ensure the cheese melts thoroughly, and keeping the griddle at a more moderate temperature makes sure the meat doesn’t dry out, which I respect, but as I learned in New York at Whitman’s, this isn’t actually necessary. They stuff an incredible stack of three slices of cheese between two quarter-pound patties, and it came out looking like a beef patty that got pregnant. The solid quantity delivers an awesome mouthful of meat and a grip of cheese in every bite. They season their grill daily with bacon and onions, and despite my embarrassing omission, there was a definite subtle oniony taste to it reminiscent of a White Mana slider. I squirted some ketchup on the side for strategically acrobatic–so as not to spill that precious cheese–dipping, and I was pretty damn impressed with what I’d heard was the lesser Lucy.

Then on to Matt’s.

First of all, vibe-wise, Matt’s was on point. It’s a total dive, as opposed to the 5-8’s updated family restaurant, near-Applebees feel. Everything from the music to the attitude of the servers just screamed we-care-but-only-barely. You walk in and know where you are, and I frankly felt at home. I’m a dive bar dude.

Matt's cross section

The Jucy Lucy, on the other hand, could use some work. They pride themselves on having a griddle seasoned with over 60 years of Lucys and onions, but it mostly gave it an overcharred taste with added bitter notes of burgers past. The onions completely overwhelm the patty, which is not something I typically frown upon, but it was too much. And the pickles were weirdly overpowering. Not so much sour, they were over-seasoned, and they had way too much influence on the overall taste of the burger so I took them off, which is an enormous deal for a pickle fiend like me. Most egregiously, Matt’s puts a single slice of cheese between two 3oz. patties, which is not an awesome amount of cheese to have with six ounces of meat. The sear was wonderful, and the patty was seasoned respectably, the bun perfectly squished itself to the meat, but it plainly just wanted more cheese. I could respect the ratio if the meat was better and cooked less well, but for fairly standard well-done beef, you need to get fucked in the face with cheese.

In the end the 5-8 Juicy Lucy wins for me, on the basis of cheese. If you’re literally putting cheese at the heart of your burger, it needs to be amazing, and Matt’s American turns to a hot cheese grease that mostly just burns your mouth. The 5-8’s cheese-beef ratio has too much cheese, which is actually just enough, and it stays gooey and flavorful.

Again, I don’t do rankings and I don’t do ratings, but the next time someone asks which Juicy Lucy is better, I’ll tell them the 5-8. Then I’ll send them to the Blue Door for what I consider the best Juicy Lucy in town. Both bars stick to  methods that might have been novel in the 1950’s, and good on them for keeping people interested for 60 years, but burgers have gotten better since then. The rivalry will never go away, die-hard adherents will maintain their allegiances, but I’m honored to add fuel to this ongoing fire.


*A word on spelling, because it matters. The 5-8 Club calls it a “Juicy Lucy”. Due to a spelling error they decided to run with, Matt’s calls it a “Jucy Lucy.” Because writer [sic], I consider “Juicy Lucy” to be the “correct” spelling of the category of cheese-stuffed burgers, but a restaurant can name their burger anything they want; at the Nook, it’s a “Juicy Nookie”, and at the Blue Door it’s a “Blucy“. I will use appropriate spelling when discussing each bar, but use “Juicy Lucy” in reference to all cheese-stuffed burgers, without specific allegiance to either Juicy Lucy**.

**See what I did there?

 

The Vincent Burger at Vincent: “Adieu, Adieu to you and you and you”

Vincent Burger

2015 marks the “death of fine dining” in the Twin Cities, following the closing of two of its classic gems, La Belle Vie and Vincent. Culinary excellence has surpassed the elegance of white tablecloths and jacket-required dress codes. Our high-end dining options are just more accessible. I’m obviously a burger dude, but I love a fancy-schmancy meal, and when La Belle Vie closed, I got sad even though I’d never been there, but rather because now I never would. So when Vincent announced its imminent closure at the end of the year, I vowed to put its legendary burger on Burger Fetish in memoriam.

But first I had to eat one, so I got the crew together, and freaked them out when I told them where we were going. We eyed the dining room through the windows wondering how much we’d stand out, then walked in and got a booth in the still-classy-but-not-so-stuffy bar area. It was their late night happy hour and we ordered a few extremely reasonably priced drinks, shared an order of poutine, and got a round of Vincent Burgers.

Chef Vincent Francoual moved to Minnesota from New York–where he spent time at four-star fine dining French restaurants Le Bernadin and Lespinasse–in 1997, but hails originally from France where he began his culinary career at age 15. In 2001 he opened Vincent A Restaurant on Nicollet Mall in Downtown Minneapolis, which was well-received off the bat. But in 2009 he introduced a burger that paid homage to both Daniel Boulud’s uber-decadent db Burger and Minneapolis’ own Juicy Lucy.

Vincent Burger cross sectionAt first glance, you’ve got a fairly standard California-style: lettuce, tomato, and raw onion with a special sauce that a finger-swipe confirms is actually a pretty standard special sauce: ketchup, mayo, pickles. The burger is grilled–with a very elegant quarter-turn crosshatched grill marks–which as we all know dries out the meat a bit but delivers a really excellent flame-licked taste, served on an eggy squishy also-grilled bun. But the star of the show is hidden from view. It’s stuffed with smoked gouda and braised short ribs, and it’s delicious. The short ribs are barely-holding-together tender and full of amazing flavor, and the gouda is just delightful and rich and goes toe-to-toe with the short rib. The California toppings and special sauce give it an air of familiarity, but the stuffing really drives the point home that you’re eating something special.

Following Vincent’s closure, chef Francoual will be moving on to a position as Cara Irish Pubs‘ Culinary Director. Luckily for us, they’re bringing the Vincent Burger to all of the locations, but before it becomes an Irish pub staple, I’m just gonna insist you get one at its original home while you still can. You’ve got two weeks from my publication date until Vincent closes, folks. Go on happy hour when the burger’s only $8. Go bid farewell to Twin Cities fine dining by eating the lowest-brow thing on the menu. But go and fucking love it for being damn tasty.

Ahem. Announcement time.

No post next week because I’m heading to New York City! I’m joining my family to celebrate Christmas, and I’m using it as an excuse to take a week off of work to eat as much as I can, but it somehow feels like it still won’t be enough. It would behoove you to follow me on the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr because I’ll be eating an unhealthy amount of burgers at as many damn places as I can, chronicling my travels on the various social medias. Of course, I’ll be giving a full round-up right here on the Burger Fetish main event, but that’ll be the next entry in about two weeks. ‘Til then, you can all drool over pictures from the road.

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.

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.

Mmmmmmmmm.

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.

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 Uptown Burger at Uptown Diner: “Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”

Uptown Diner Uptown BurgerI’m worried.

I just posted the second story in a row of a burger I didn’t dig that other people raved about. I wanted this blog to be cheeky and dickish in tone, but at the end of the day burger-positive, and it fully sucks when I don’t like a burger. I want to like every burger. But I don’t. I hope I’m not overanalyzing things, or that I’m creating unrealistic expectations and standards. I’m literally trying to eat and talk about as many burgers as I can fit in my mouth — not at the same time — and I don’t think I’ve hit the wall yet but I’m worried I’m becoming a burger snob, when I really wanna be a burger slut.

So upon completion of writing my last post on the eve of publishing it, i went for a bike ride. I remembered a great article I saw on Thrillist and I locked up my bike and sat down to re-read it. David Blend gives a fantastic analysis of the unapologetic lack of pretense to be found in a diner burger. And that’s what I needed. With burgers getting too complicated and my brain going with it, I needed to simplify my brain with a simpler burger. But due to geography and time restrictions, I went to Uptown Diner.

There’s no chef to speak of, and its history can’t be found. It isn’t strictly a diner in the greasy spoon sense as much as a family restaurant whose bread and butter is the weekend brunch crowd, and whose 24-hour status on weekends has led me to stuff my drunk face post bar-close amongst likeminded Uptown Minneapolitans. I’ve literally seen someone puke here. They have a few other locations with the exact same menu and logo design under different names and no overt association between them for no apparent reason. I think they’re trying to establish each location as its own independent thing, but they’re lazy about any other aspect of branding or menu design. Their main “spin” on traditional diner fare is a few cajun-lite breakfast dishes — mostly the addition of cayenne pepper and andouille sausage to hollandaise-drenched hashbrowns and eggs. But I wasn’t there for breakfast.

At the Grandview Grill (don’t click this link unless you loooove when websites autoplay shitty music), it’s the Grandview Burger, at the Louisiana Cafe (don’t click here, either), it’s the Louisiana Burger, and at the Uptown Diner, it’s the Uptown Burger, but they’re all the same: half-pound patty with American and Swiss, applewood smoked bacon, tomato, lettuce, and mayo on sliced sourdough.

It’s a hot mess. The burger is very clearly obviously a prepackaged preformed perfectly round patty that was decently seasoned and seared, and they didn’t ask how I wanted it cooked — which I like — and it came out medium well — which I don’t. Swiss cheese was basically nonexistent under the dominant American, but double cheese means double-cheesiness. Bacon was nice and crispy and smoky. Mayo’s probably my favorite sauce option: smooth and creamy, fatty, mostly tasteless except for a slight egginess. It doesn’t overwhelm anything, and makes things saucy, which is all it needs to do. Romaine lettuce for crispiness, tomato slice for tomatoiness, and it came together to make a fairly tasty if basic burger except for the stupid sourdough.

Let’s talk about the bread for a second, because it’s second only to a well-seasoned patty in importance. Its role is to hold the burger together and sop up the juices and balance the meatiness with carbiness, and sliced sourdough is such a dumbshit choice. I mean, come on. Look at it! The surface area of the sourdough is roughly twice the size of the burger, and upon picking it up, the patty broke through the flimsy untoasted surface. Like, come the fuck on! What did you think would happen? It’s far too much bread hanging off the sides. Toasting the bun is all you can do to it, increasing flavor and texture and butter. It could have used a piece of lettuce between the bun and the patty to keep the bun dry so the damn thing didn’t fall through, and they could have toasted it — are you fucking kidding me right now? — but when it comes down to it, it really fucking needed a more properly-fitted, heartier bread choice, like Texas toast if you’re going for sliced bread, or — I don’t know — a fucking bun.

Waffle fries were frozen and fried and perfect in that overprocessed, properly seasoned, battered and spiced way. I’m not a french fry dude. If given the option, I usually go with option b, but waffle fries or curly fries are my goddamn well-seasoned mealy chewy battered-fry jam. A little ketchup for dipping and I’m set.

This burger did the job. It helped me get over the dumb feels I had about this blog by kind of sucking in a way that was pretty fun to talk about. It’s a burger I had just the lowest expectations for, and it did not disappoint on that front. It certainly isn’t redefining the burger, and in direct opposition to the article that inspired its consumption, it is nowhere near being better than “fancy” burgers that are redefining themselves already and becoming simpler and better in ways that bring them even closer to nostalgic ideals of burgers that keep us eating burgers. I didn’t learn anything new from this burger, but maybe I’m not supposed to. Maybe sometimes I just eat a shitty burger and it doesn’t have to mean something, and I carry on with a meaningful wonderful relationship with burgers at large that’s sometimes great and sometimes rough, but we’re working on it, and trying to do right by the other.

And unfortunately, that’s what love is to me.

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.