The Cheeseburger at Saint Dinette: “Perfection is perfected so I’mma let ’em understand”

Saint Dinette Cheeseburger

Beef. Cheese. Bun. That’s it. Do you really need anything else if all three are amazing?

Saint Dinette opened in the summer or 2015 in the increasingly awesome Lowertown Saint Paul. It’s owned by the team behind the Strip Club, J.D. Fratzke and Tim Niver, along with Brad Tetzloff, and helmed by Chef de Cuisine Adam Eaton and general manager Laurel Elm, both La Belle Vie alums. It’s part of the downscaling of upscale, serving meticulously executed distinctly pan-North American food in a comfy-classy environment.

I went in hungry and got a bunch of stuff: ricotta dumplings were crispy, delicate, sweet, and wonderful with a tingly-not-lingery spiciness. Smelt fries were texturally marvelous zesty umami bombs, served with a tangy remoulade. I finished off my meal with some delightful churros, warm from the fryer tossed in cinnamon sugar with a cocoa dipping sauce that I really wanted to drink straight from the cup when I was done, but I managed to restrain myself–I ate it with a spoon like a damn grown-up. But before dessert, I had the burger.

Saint Dinette cross section

The trick here is the cheese, because there’s otherwise no sauce, and that’s usually a dealbreaker for me. Although the menu just says “cheddar” and that’s definitely the strongest ingredient, I’m calling foul, because it certainly doesn’t melt like cheddar, and there’s something bigger going on here, leading me to believe Saint Dinette has a masterfully homemade American cheese, and it’s absolutely transcendant. I’ve looked into making American cheese (here’s a recipe, if you’re curious), and theirs seems to fit the formula: slight wine flavor, melts right, but tastes really really good. Any smoothness and moisture that a mayo or ketchup traditionally contributes was more than made up for via this cheese, which I’d eat with nearly anything.

I don’t know if the bun is homemade or not but it pulls off that oft-impossible task of being essentially squishy. Look at the cross section above. The bread’s less than half its original height, and that bottom bun is flush to the patty. This is what bread should be doing: carrying the meat. They skip the illusions of grandeur that come with putting a burger on brioche, full of the knowledge that if you’re going to serve up an inappropriate amount of butter it should be slathered onto the bun and flattop grilled alongside the patty. It fuses an extra layer of Maillard the carbs couldn’t achieve on their own, but keeps the focus elsewhere while making its presence known.

And the beef. It’s a tasty well-seasoned beef blend that managed to stay miraculously moist despite employing the smashing method. It had a nice sear, just crispy enough, but the meat was a good pink; it’s tough to find that balance, but they nail it. Texturally, there was just enough chew to keep it in my mouth long enough to make sure I enjoyed every second of it.

And to top it all off, there’s a small stack of pickles on the side to cut through some of the fat with acid.

But the masterpieciness comes from how well all three parts play together. Skipping sauce has the added effect of placing the beef and cheese center stage, while the bun is the stage–you aren’t looking at it, but without it the main characters would fall through. Since they opened, the burger at Saint Dinette has been one of the most hyped food items in town, and since I started Burger Fetish, people have been asking if I’ve had it. Well, now I have. And I can definitely see what everyone’s talking about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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