American Burger Bar in Downtown St. Paul

Lori Writer /  Heavy Table

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Piling on evidence that the Twin Cities is in the midst of a burger boom, American Burger Bar is the latest restaurant to roll the dice, taking over the longtime home of Gallivan’s. This is the third attempt to fill the wood-paneled space on Wabasha St. in St. Paul: Matty B’s Supper Club, powered by Vikings player Matt Birk, occupied the the space just short of three years. Prior to that, it was the lackluster Rockin’ Lobster.

More “gourmet” than its take-out focused sibling American Burger Emporium in Woodbury, American Burger Bar’s menu promises ”a burger experience.” The menu features burgers ranging in price from $9.95 for a basic black Angus beef burger and maxing out at $18.95 for “The Experience,” a Kobe beef burger with foie gras, black truffles, parmesan cheese and braised short ribs topped with fried onions and red wine sauce. All burgers and sandwiches are served with aptly-named skinny fries and a signature mayo, which varies depending on the burger.

Selling burgers that are the mix and match Garanimals of the beef world, American Burger Bar gives you the option of adding toppings ranging from sprouts, $.50, to portobello mushrooms, $4.75. An additional dollar or three will buy you an upgrade from the skinny fries to choices including tater tots and onion rings. Bun choices include whole wheat, white, onion and ciabatta.

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

The concept is appealing, but while the skinny fries were crisp and perky,  “The Senator”  Burger ($14.95, ground Angus beef with sage, Wisconsin Cheddar, caramelized onions and spicy mayo) left us wondering when the experience part of ”the burger experience” would begin. It’s going to take more than a little sage.  For $15, one expects a beast of a burger that knocks you over with its sheer bulk.   Instead, it was meek and overcooked and priced almost twice what a burger costs over at Bulldog in Lowertown, which has nothing over $10 on its dinner menu.

“The Gallivan” sandwich ($15.95) of tender sirloin steak served open faced with mushrooms and onions and crisp greens was fine, but not spectacular.

Still, the menu shows promise.  Served to another table, meatballs on a stick, $6.50 for the trio, one each of bison, lamb and Kobe beef, looked playful and comparatively affordable.  Each meatball was adorned like a birthday cake with a comically wiggly skewer and was served with its own signature sauce.

Kobe beef, bison, lamb, and ahi tuna each make numerous appearances throughout the menu, which also includes salads, macaroni and cheese,  and a veggie burger.  Continuing with the mix and match theme, you can add a cupcake or shot of “your favorite” cordial to your shake or malt.

American Burger Bar has enough of a beer selection– including  Summit EPA, Fat Tire, Surly Furious, and Stella Artois–to keep an beer afficionado happy, but not so extensive it is a destination.  Bulldog Lowertown, on the other hand, has 40 beers on tap.

Hopefully, American Burger Bar will shake opening week nerves and the recent curse of 354 N. Wabasha.  In order to do that, though, it will have to find a way to step-up and deliver a true experience with its $15 burgers.

American Burger Bar

★☆☆☆ (Notable)

Upscale burger and bar, Downtown St. Paul
354 N Wabasha St.
St. Paul, MN 55102
651.222.2123
OWNER:
Eric Sandrock
HOURS:
Mon-Sat
11am-2am
Sunday:
Still working on their schedule. Call ahead to confirm.
BAR:
Full
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN:
Limited options.
ENTREE RANGE:
Dinner ($10-25)

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25 Comments

  1. ugh, sounds very disappointing. perhaps they should go back to the basics — a good blend of ground beef, simple cheese (american), and learning to cook a burger to the proper temperature — before they worry about sexing the burger up with sprouts, etc.

  2. I have to dissagree with the writer of this article to a point. I believe you have to give a restaurant a grace period (more than their second day open:) I had their parmesean skinny fries and I have to say they were fantastic! I have never had fries like them.
    I spoke with one of the owners and it seems like it they have a pretty good idea what they want to do with the place.
    I for one hope they break the curse of that place. Expecially since it has one of the coolest atmospheres in saint paul!

  3. bill jones03/19/2009Reply

    The burger was done medium very good and juicy. But for the price it should be a 1/2 lb instead of 1/3 will see if that changes will depend if I go back.

  4. Small burger they charge extra for cheese etc over $12.00 for a small burger come on.

  5. Ordered a burger to go yesterday, wimpy burger, overpriced can get a better meal at the St Paul Grill for the same price.

  6. Lithopedian03/20/2009Reply

    I haven’t been there — but wait a minute. “For $15, one expects a beast of a burger that knocks you over with its sheer bulk”. I see — oversized portions are what really matters. Not so smart. If you want big food — go to Chammps. I’m getting tired of this silly idea that the plate should groan with food. Nonsense. Give me a sensible portion of quality ingredients any day. No, if this place isn’t there yet, that’s one thing, but simply judging a place on portion size is dumb.

  7. Joanie Cunningham03/23/2009Reply

    I disagree with the article. Think of the ingredients – black truffles, foie gras, Kobe beef, etc – it’s all quality. Tell me who needs quantity.. I mean look at our nations obesity problem! I was impressed – I had The Experience and the truffle/parm skinny fries. I finished my meal (minus a few fries) had a few cheese curds and 1/3 of the fabulous served-warm bread pudding (with whiskey sauce) and didn’t feel bogged down in grease! The french fries were beautiful as was my burger. It didn’t need the tomato or the pickles it was perfect the way it was served – medium, juicy, melt-in-my-mouth Kobe beef topped w/ something OTHER THAN American cheese and ketchup.

    This concept is not designed to take the place of the Bulldog, a Juicy Lucy or the Nook. It’s different and yes a bit expensive but so are it’s neighbors. A grace period is necessary as kitchen staff perfect the menu and prep operations. It’s a restaurant designed to be in addition-to what is already downtown.

  8. I disagree with this review. Since most reviews are subject to personal opinion, I chose to see for myself. While I will say they may have a few opening week jitters to correct- this menu is clearly based on quality. This is not the Bulldog nor does it seem to want to be-I saw no hotdogs on its menu, nor was I served my entree in a basket. Likewise I didn’t see foie gras on the Bulldog menu, nor was my plate decorated with parcley flakes; two different bars with two seperate identities. I found my burger to be delicious, I had the Kobe Lucy- a juicy Lucy made with Kobe beef; I’ve never seen it before. The skinny fries are addictive. All the burger came with fries- no extra charge! I also had a carmel shake-sinful! The happy hour menu had menu items for $3. The bar also has a late night happy hour. Since the menu is add your own toppings I guess it’s as expensive as you make it. Opening jitters aside the quality is unmatched – all beef is not created equal. Servers may need a bit more experience/knowledge but that will come, friendliness they have down! Welcome to the neighborhood in my opinion-this fits well in between POP! and Bulldog. I salute you American Burger Bar!

  9. The skinny fries were the only standout to the meal I had at the American Burger Bar. I had read about their “kobe, foie, and truffle” burger and decided I had to try it. I walked in not expecting much based solely on the $18.95 price tag. A burger touting these ingredients would fetch a much higher price if the ingredients themselves had quality to them. When my burger arrived (which I didn’t get to specify a temperature, finding out later they cook everything to medium) I couldn’t find the braised short ribs the menu claimed was on it. Upon further inspection, I also could not find foie gras. I found what resembled some type of pate or other forcemeat. Granted the pate probably consisted somewhat of foie gras, it is not what you expect when ordering it. You should get a nice little slab of sauteed foie, not some spreadable meat paste. Also, there was no trace of any truffle flavor at all. Please don’t go touting this place about the “quality” of the ingredients on the menu, especially since those ingredients don’t have the quality they should or even appear on the item when it arrives at your table.
    Tarzan, given the choice, would you eat a plate of dog food with parsley, or as you say “parcley”, sprinkled around it or a quality burger cooked to your liking served in a basket? There is infinite room for improvement and I hope that they do improve.

  10. Chambo, I described my experience. I never intended for my experience to represent yours. Thanks for the spell check on parsley.

  11. Have heard a lot of mixed reviews from the industry crowd downtown. Everyone hopes that a restaurant with Rino Baglio’s name attatched to it would be golden right>? Can’t wait to give it a try for myself.

  12. Rino Baglio03/27/2009Reply

    Thanks to each one of you. Your opinion it’s really important to me, give me the chance to correct and improve my new concept.
    Without critics and critiques the world will be a “Tabula Rasa” “Flat “World”.
    Unfortunately not all the donuts come out with a hole. I need time to train my team and I am working hard, 14 hours a day to do so. And at the end of the day, I can only ask myself, have I done all I can and with my faithful patrons pray and believe that I will make this Restaurant fly.
    It is my job and self expectations as well as those who employee me that I am capable to help a business grow. I don’t promise gold. Like my Mamma use to say if it gets people to gossip about you, you must be pretty important. Thank you for your attention and eloquent label, “the golden touch”.
    With all that is going on in our world today isn’t it fabulous that we can all find such joy and pleasure in the debate of American Burgers, restaurant endeavors and the little pleasures of being served with a smile. Thank God for the entrepreneurs and risk takers in this economy that have provided new jobs in our beloved St. Paul. Please join me at your earliest convenience, I look forward to meeting all of you. Ciao for now! Chef Rino

  13. Nice answer.They will let you work in peace now?
    Good Luck Chef Rino. We miss you.

  14. Michael Mingo04/12/2009Reply

    I ate at American Burger last week and really enjoyed it – and think this reviewers rating should be more than one star. The burger I ate (don’t recall the name of it but it had mushrooms) had great flavor. The onion rings I had with it were also very good – your basic onion ring but better than I’ve had at other restaurants.

    We also had some great cocktails from the bar – it’s worth checking out and making up your own mind.

  15. I took my son to get a great burger, what we got was an overdone bland kobe burger, the frys were cold and the service very slow!
    I have never been more disapointed in a meal.
    Two small burgers 4 beers and the tab was $61.42, what a joke!
    I did leave a 10.00 tip just because I assumed with food like this she would’nt me getting many more.
    If you want a get burger go to Ruby tuesdays and get the prime burger.

  16. Ate there last night. Liked the food pretty well but a few things were awry. First, when I pulled my chair out, I was greeted by a gob of old ketchup (left by some child I suppose). Actually, for a place that just opened 7 months ago, the upholstery on the chairs and the carpet look very aged. I am guessing they did not replace either when they took over the space. Next, my son’s Blue Moon beer was totally skunky and had to be returned. Then, my medium rare burger was great til I got to the middle where it was blood red and tepid. I like it red but not raw! Finally, the fries with truffles…. the truffles specs were about the size of a pepper flake. What a waste, though the price was higher for it. Tsk Tsk. Overall, I like the ambience of this place and the food is OK but the gaffes were too many and the dining room is not clean enough!

  17. servers are dumb didnt come back with my change somebodys drinks on my bill. oh and there food to on my bill. no email you about this didnt hear back.

  18. Dinned at the “American Burger Bar” a few weeks ago. I work downtown Saint Paul so it was easy for me to slip in for lunch. The atmosphere was pleasant and the bar looked stocked. I felt there was a contrast between fine dining (when it was Gallivans) and a sports bar (when its trying to be the ABB), almost as if the place couldn’t decide what it wants to be.

    Ordering was easy enough I found out that Medium Rare = Medium = Medium Well which is fine but the server should really declare this pre-ordering. Medium rare nothing rare about it, medium does NOT have a hot warm pink center and medium well… never mind about medium well, you people are ruining good meat if you order a burger that way. I ordered the American Classic “Medium”. The burger itself was fine nothing glamorous; it was a standard juicy burger ($11.50). Milk shake ($4.99) I had was a little over done and out way before the meal, a little too runny for my taste. The fries were good but I do not eat to stuff myself so I only had half the amount given to me.

    I walked out of the place full but not really content. When you have things on your menu such as, Tuna Tartare and angus beef you should be able to produce a medium burger, made to order with a hot to warm pink center. I will see if things have changed in a few months.

  19. I went there the other night and sat down to have a great burger. I ordered the Juicy Lucy and parmesan truffle fries. It was delicious and service was good for it being a packed house. The only troubling part was after my meal. I have known Chef Rino for a few years know and I was hoping he could pop out and I could introduce him to my fiancee. I asked the server is Chef Rino was busy and the server informed me that Chef Rino is no longer employed at American Burger Bar. I asked what happened and the server promptly dropped the subject. Needless to say, I will not be going back and will have to find a new place to have my family reunion at this summer. I’m not sure why a world-renowned chef is just gone like that but I don’t see that place staying open much longer without him. Too bad, the restaurant had such potential with Rino at the helm.

  20. Kendrik J.06/13/2010Reply

    I have gone to American Burger Bar almost once a week since they opened. I always have had different servers, so I don’t think they realize that I am, what most restaurants would consider to be, a “regular”. I stopped in last week and they had a live band in. I usually stop in during the week and rarely on the weekends so I was never aware they had live music. For a restaurant of that atmosphere, that is a neat concept. Nice soft, quiet, relaxing, live music to add to the ambiance of the restaurant. Um….not exactly. That music was so loud, I could not even hear myself think. I noticed a lot of patrons asking their servers if they could be moved to a quieter place in a restaurant. First of all, that should never happen. A customer should never have to ask to be moved because something is disrupting their meal. So I ordered my usual meal, the pineapple chicken sandwich, and it was delicious as usual. I eat out a lot so I understand that when the “house is packed” service may not be the best. I understand that servers have a lot of customers and try to tend to them all. What I don’t understand is why my server provided such inadequate service that night when he only had 4 or 5 tables. I mean the service was just bad, it was HORRIBLE. My server got my drink, took my order, a different server brought me my food, and he dropped off the check, that’s it!! Never checked in to see if I needed something else, or offer dessert, or anything. And the best part of the evening…. After I ordered my food, the noise was so unbelievably annoying I got up and asked the hostess if I could be moved into the back room where everyone else was hiding from the noise. She said “Of course” and said she would notify my server to move me immediately. Nothing happened. After I finished my meal, I flagged down a different server and asked to speak with the manager immediately, I was not happy. She said that she would have him come out immediately to speak with me. I thanked her and waited….waited for 20 minutes to have my server come back out. At this point I was getting a bit frustrated. I kindly asked the server if I could speak with the manager. The server kindly replied, “I am the manager.” I didn’t know what to say, I just sat there in shock. First of all, why is the manager waiting on tables? I understand that management should pitch in when the place is at capacity, but it was nowhere near that. To make it worse, when I left I noticed 3 other servers standing in the back with no tables and nothing to do. I find that extremely tacky for a restaurant, the manager takes all the tables while the servers stand around bored. Come on! I have had almost every other server in that place wait on me before and the service has been good on average. Great on some nights, less on others. But those lesser occasions were when the place was packed for lunch or dinner, so that I understand. I’m sorry, as delicious as the food is, I will not support a restaurant that blows out the eardrums of its patrons and can’t even accommodate those that wish to dine in peace and quiet. Even worse, I feel so bad for the servers that work there and have their tables taken by the boss, not sure on the reasoning behind that one. Sorry American Burger Bar, I’m not sure what is different about your restaurant, but that is not the same restaurant that opened last March, and I will not be back!

  21. Kendrik J.06/13/2010Reply

    I forgot to mention, when I left the restaurant that evening, I asked the hostess on the way out, “Why didn’t you have my server move me?” SHe replied, “I did ask him to move you and he said he would take care of it.” I left just shaking my head. So disappointing. Looks like the Gallivan Curse continues…

  22. What a dump… overpriced, extra-bland burgers. Absolutely horrible service. The guy who seemed to be in charge (owner? manager?) was a coked-up jackass. I wouldn’t set foot in there again for a free beer.

  23. Terrible service, burgers all overcooked. Spent $$$, could have done better myself @ home. Waiter was cocky, rude. Just plain awful!

  24. Wow….I ate my best burger yet at American Burger Bar. My server was very pleasant and nice. This place has value….great food…..great prices and true st paul hospitality. I got my burger, which was a 1/2 pound for $8.99 and a plate full of fries. I cannot go to a truck stop and eat that cheap. The woodwork in this restaurant is gorgious along with the alot of the people I saw. I am so glad I found this spot. They also validated my parking ticket for the victory ramp and I only had to pay $2.00 instead of $8.00. That is a great deal! Oh and my beer was $3.00. WOW…..

  25. On a trip to the Twin Cities, I stopped in for a bite a little after the kitchen was officially closed. However, the chef agreed to rustle up what was the best fish sandwich I’ve ever had – the Walleye BLT. A plump, juicy filet on a crisp chiabatta with a flavorful garlic mayo. I’d definitely return.

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