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.

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.

Two Cheeseburgers from Five Guys: “Love, Peace, and Grease”

Five guys, wideI don’t know what you believe in, but I know you believe that sometimes things just work out. Call it fate, coincidence, kismet, the stars aligning, the hand of God making His presence known to the Universe, call it dumb luck. Whatever it is, sometimes things happen with absolutely no reason, and you get exactly what you want. What I wanted was a greasy fucking cheeseburger.

And, naturally, not just any greasy fucking cheeseburger, but a Five Guys burger.

Five Guys Burgers & Fries opened in 1986 in my home town of Arlington, VA, but I didn’t have one until years later after they moved their first store to the neighboring Alexandria, VA. It’s a company focused on quality and not cutting corners, and making greasy fucking burgers that embody the pinnacle of desirable nastiness. In 2002, they began franchising, which I wouldn’t discover until 2009 when a franchise opened in Edina, MN. I was driving down France Avenue when I saw the name on the side of a strip mall and I pulled over immediately, went in and was asked “have you been here before?” GOOD ONE, YOU DUMB IDIOT, I’LL HAVE A CHEESEBURGER WITH PICKLES, TOMATO, GRILLED ONION, MAYO, KETCHUP, MUSTARD, AND JALAPEÑOS. AND FRIES.

It tasted like home.

And it’s exactly what I wanted this past Friday night. But they closed at 10, and I work at a restaurant. I’m “first cut” on Fridays which means I get to leave first. I don’t get to leave at a predetermined time, just as soon as it’s slow enough that they don’t need me anymore. This means I could go at 8 or I could go when we close — midnight on Fridays –but usually means I leave around 10. And I wanted a greasy fucking cheeseburger.

At around 6, my dream seemed out of reach. We were busy as fuck and would be for the next three hours, but around 9, the clouds parted and sunshine peeked through, and it looked like I would be getting out of there after I got a few things ready for the next day. I got everything in the bag around 9:30, realizing I now had 30 minutes to bike to a place that took 20 minutes to bike to, and checked the Five Guys website to discover a most blessed boon: online ordering. At 9:35 I was out the door with an order placed to be ready before I got there. Straining muscles that hadn’t sat for 12 hours that day, I pedaled like the Devil was at my back and made it to Five Guys in 15 minutes.

But I didn’t get a greasy fucking cheeseburger that day; I got two. One with almost nothing, and one with nearly everything.

Five guys, bagFirst of all, this is what a bag carrying two greasy fucking cheeseburgers should look like. I biked home with it in my bag — because yes, I’ll make you cook my sandwiches 15 minutes before you close, but I’m not gonna be that lollygagger in the dining room that you have to passive-aggress out the door — which may have contributed to the bag’s sexiness. Regardless, the burgers contained sufficient grease to squeeze out into the bag, and I didn’t even get any fries this time. I want a juicy burger, and good fat content is the be-all-end-all, but a there’s a certain amount of straight nastiness that tastes like sweet sin. All together now: greasy fucking cheeseburger.

Five Guys, almost nothingFor the first one I went simple: pickles, mustard, ketchup. Five Guys makes their own sesame seed buns, which are nice and squishy — perfect for holding a greasy fucking cheeseburger. The sear’s surprisingly great here for a fast food burger. It’s well-seasoned, and wonderfully greasy for a medium-well. And American cheese, obviously.

Five guys, almost everythingThe second one I went all-out: mayo, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, jalapeños, hot sauce. Honestly, I went too far. There was too much going on, and I should have been going for some kind of specific flavor profile. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great. To be completely honest, the first burger would have been better with some onions. It’s all about balance.

Five Guys’ focus on quality shows. They’re picky about ingredients, but it doesn’t mean everything goes super well together. You gotta have a plan, you gotta think about crafting something, and you might fuck it up, but for $6.99 a pop you can afford a little trial and error. The Five Guys empire is built on quality and consistency, so I’m confident that anyone in the country can walk into any of their literally hundreds of locations and get a nasty fucking greasy fucking cheeseburger, and love every sinful second of it.

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?!

Juicy Liu at Unideli: “Liu Kang wins.”

Juicy LiuOn a random trip to United Noodles with Teresa, I’m trying to mentally piece a meal together and my brain is totally fried. I’m tired, I’m hungry, but look over there! It’s a Unideli! I can kill a bowl of ramen and be back on my game in no time!

Unideli’s pretty rad. I dig their stuff, even if I can recognize a lack of “authenticity,” which inevitably arises in any discussion of ramen. At its heart, though, Unideli exists to highlight the ingredients available in the greater grocery store, and therein has a different authenticity. I once worked at a Korean restaurant where the owner wanted to put the ramen he grew up eating on the menu, which was really exciting to me because I’d never at the time had any sort of authentic ramen experience. So when he shows up with a bunch of ramen packets, and I’m like “what’s this shit?” But that’s the ramen he, a Korean-born-and-bred person, ate growing up. Just like mom used to make — from a packet. Unideli makes food entirely out of stuff available to buy at United Noodle, so you won’t have complex bone broths, but you get a tasty bowl that they’ve added soft-boiled eggs and chashu made in house, topped with chili oil and scallions. And therein, you’re getting an authentic experience of ramen you can do at home, which is pretty damn respectable, and pretty damn clever.

wpid-wp-1435500611267.jpegBut when I go up to order, I’m made aware of a weekly special they have available. And it’s a burger. A Juicy Lucy to be precise. They call it a “Juicy Liu”. Teresa goes, “I think you have to.” I don’t want to talk about a burger special at a place that doesn’t actually do burgers on the regular, but they do specials every week, and different burgers seem to pop up often enough, and I really liked it, so I’m talking about it. It’s a ground beef patty stuffed with what they call “garlic chive cheese.” I’m always suspicious of something called “cheese” without specifying variety (mind you, I love American cheese), but I’d place this somewhere near a gouda. The patty’s then put on a bed of kimchi, slathered with a gochujang mayo, and topped with slivered carrot, cucumber slices and a few sprigs of cilantro. The whole ordeal is served in a pork fat-seared steam bun, which honestly didn’t do much flavor-wise, but added a good crisp to the steam bun. It turned out quite well-layered and the flavors somehow balanced nicely, as flavors switched quickly between the carrot-cuke-cilantro gave a banh mi effect, and the gochujang-kimchi combo obviously gave it that Korean kick. I really think that “cheese” tied the whole thing together.

And, yes, this tasty treat isn’t available anymore, but following United Noodle on the social media will keep you up on their weekly specials, and remind you of the other awesome food they have.

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.