Burger Jones in West Calhoun, Minneapolis

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

In case you missed the memo earlier this year, Spring 2009 is burger season in Minneapolis, starting with the April opening of Five Guys in Edina, then Smashburger‘s St. Anthony debut in May, and now Burger Jones near the shores of Lake Calhoun. As Burger Jones’ mid-May opening grew close, the number of questions grew, too. Would the offerings from this latest addition to the local Parasole family of restaurants echo the generally good reviews of its counterparts in carnivory? Or would the hype overpower the hamburgers?

Yep, pretty much to the latter. Numerous visits by this writer and several burger-loving friends over the past few weeks have elicited comments ranging from “Overall, pretty good experience. If I were in the neighborhood, I’d go back. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go there, probably.” to “Ugh, I was so disappointed.” The menu and the restaurant definitely have its highlights and low points, so let’s examine the full Burger Jones experience more closely.

Jill Lewis and Lori Writer / Heavy Table

Jill Lewis and Lori Writer / Heavy Table

1. Food

It should go without saying that a burger joint isn’t the place to eat if you’re watching your caloric intake, but just to underscore the point, Burger Jones’ hefty burgers, deep-fried taters, onions and cheese curds, and decadent shakes will wreak havoc on any diet. So let’s dismiss that potential point of criticism right now and get to the heart of the matter — the taste.

You can get your burger done two ways at Burger Jones: “some pink” (medium) or “no pink” (well-done). This may frustrate more discerning meat eaters who like their burgers cooked to more subtle variations, but it doesn’t matter how it’s cooked if the meat isn’t flavorful. Unfortunately, this is the reality at Burger Jones. The namesake Burger Jones (hamburger with lettuce and tomato) was more notable for its soft, substantial bun than the patty lying inside it. It wasn’t a bad burger, but at $6.99 (twice the price of the little hamburger at Five Guys) diners deserve more. Adding toppings did enhance the taste to varying degrees of success: The wedge of Amablu blue cheese on the Black and Bleu Burger completely overwhelmed the meat below it, but the spicy salsa on the Green Chile Cheeseburger provided a zesty, much-needed kick. The  mushrooms on a friend’s Mushroom and Swiss Burger crossed the line from sauteed to caramelized, though, and not to the burger’s benefit.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Switching turkey for beef didn’t make much of a difference. While the burger had a nicely seared crust, the mushy meat in the middle was forgetful — and almost unrecognizable. You’d be hard-pressed to distinguish its turkey-ness underneath the condiments, though props must be given to the chipotle aioli coating the burger’s surface. The Birkenstocker, chock full of beans, shredded veggies, and sunflower seeds, also took on a soft consistency that a friend likened to hummus.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

The burgers’ crunchy companions fared well overall, with the stand-outs being the trio of fries (regular, maple-bacon sweet potato, and parmesan waffle) offered both individually and by the basket. Like most fresh-cut fries, the flavor diminishes when the temperature drops, so they’re best eaten straight from the fryer. The chipotle aioli makes a good match for the sturdy onion rings, but the smoked tomato ketchup that accompanied the “Caveman” cheese curds didn’t taste any different than your average Heinz 57 variety. The curds, made with Faribault Dairy cheese, had a tasty beer-batter crust, but the cheese lacked the requisite saltiness that makes cheese curds a truly guilty pleasure.

Bless your stomach if you have room for dessert after all this food, but if you need a sweet treat you can always sip a shake or malt, made with locally produced Liberty Frozen Custard, along with your meal. Along with the basic vanilla-chocolate-strawberry trio, Burger Jones offers banana, Nutella, and Oreo varieties, along with candy-inspired flavors such as salted caramel and Goober Monkey. The Twixie Tweat blend of chocolate and caramel proved pleasing enough, but the promised Twix appeared in the form of whole candy bars, not the expected bite-sized pieces, making you awkwardly fish the candy out of the shake like an overeager trick-or-treater. Fun when you’re 10? Yes. When you’re 30? Not so much.

Lori Writer / Burger Jones

Lori Writer / Heavy Table

2. Service (aka “Where the hell are my pickles?”)

It paid to know someone if you visited Burger Jones in its opening weeks — at least from the outsider’s view. Diners with connections got warmly greeted by management and seemed to get slightly heightened service — the housemade pickles didn’t make it to this writer’s table, but surrounding tables got a small dish along with extended conversation with their server and / or manager. That’s not to say other guests were treated poorly: Servers and hosts offered friendly smiles and generally attentive service to all, and no one cringed at the request for a highchair. But end-of-the-meal service was delayed by a server’s five-minute chat with another table that was also finishing its meal (but not moving on the check as we were). Wait times have been known to stretch to a couple of hours, so if you’re aiming to eat during the typical dinner rush, either arrive early or bring a book and some patience.

3. Price

Earlier this year Parasole co-founder Phil Roberts told Heavy Table that Burger Jones’ wares would be “terribly affordable.” Well, let’s add it up: $6.99 gets you a basic burger. Cheese will cost you up to $4. The specialty burgers top out at $9.99. The Tri-Fry Tasting Tower adds another $9.99. Good thing that price includes three dipping sauces; otherwise, you’d be adding those at $1/pop. The cheese curds tally up to $7.99. Two malts can set you back another $10-12. So we’re looking at a bill of at least $45 for a couple sharing a basket of curds, two burgers, the fries sampler, and two shakes. That doesn’t include anything alcoholic or dessert. Outrageous? Not for a Saturday night on the town. But terribly affordable? No.

Bottom line: You can find tastier — and cheaper — burgers in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Save your money for another Parasole restaurant if you’re a fan — remember, you can get those same fries at Salut.

Burger Jones

Rating: ★½☆☆ (Notable)
Burger joint in West Calhoun
3200 W Lake St
Minneapolis, MN 55416
612.746.0800
OWNER / CHEF: Parasole Restaurant Holdings / Andrew Suthers
HOURS: 11am-1am daily
BAR: Full
RESERVATIONS: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: A smidge / No
ENTREE RANGE: $6.99-9.99 for burgers, $7.99 for hot dogs; $2.99-9.99 for sides and appetizers

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Jill Lewis

The great-granddaughter of an Eastern European Jewish baker, Jill Lewis cannot escape her genetic predisposition to carbs. Her love of baked goods, wine, cheese and chocolate may not come in handy for her day job as a Twin Cities PR professional, but it proves infinitely helpful for her gigs as a contributing writer for The Heavy Table and the co-author of the Cheese and Champagne blog. A former resident of Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin and suburban Washington, D.C., Jill now lives with her husband, two young sons and cat in St. Louis Park.

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24 Comments

  1. first, i never post about restaurants unless i have a very strong opinion, good or bad.

    second, this place is not good…the food has no flavor, none. I had the bison burger, comes with Gruyere, and a onion marmalade. tastes like nothing. the meat is flavorless, the guyere, not strong enough to overcome the bland meat, and the bun is so think and flavorless that it merely distracts from the poor burger.

    i also had the waffle fries. I’ve had then before, from every other place that sysco delivers to. In addition i ordered the dipping sauce, sweet chili to be exact, ive had that before too, at every lame Chinese restaurant ive ever been too.

    everything about this place is bland, even the service.

    i was so pumped for this place to open, but i wont be returning. the bulldog NE is much, much better. hell edina grill’s burger is better

    dont waste your time

  2. Bill K 06/01/2009 Reply

    Thanks for saving me a trip. I’ll stick to the Nook for my burger fix. This place sounds like a complete waste of time.

  3. kassie 06/01/2009 Reply

    Wait! I didn’t get an pickles either. Bastards.

  4. Yeah, sounds like it’s not in my budget to go. Thanks for the info!

  5. jessica 06/01/2009 Reply

    I’ve read/heard nothing but bad things about this place. Bummer because I live really close and was looking forward to it opening.

    I don’t think I’ll bother wasting my time and money to check them out now. Thanks for reaffirming other negative reviews I’ve heard.

  6. Although I believe every restaurant should be ready for customers with its best effort on Day 1, I’m not sure a lot is gained when you review a restaurant open less than two weeks.

    Burger Jones’ parent, Parasole, is a company that operates high-volume table-service restaurants, but nothing in its stable is close to the kind of food factory that Burger Jones is, and I suspect it is are still adjusting to the volume of business (and takeout) it is doing and a measure of chaos is the result. I will not begin the process of reviewing a restaurant until it is open 30 days–not because I believe I owe it to the restaurant, but because I don’t believe we can yet provide readers with a realistic take on what the restaurant will be like once it’s reached its level of consistency.

    The new Parasole custom burger grind, consisting of hanger steak, brisket, and chuck, is one of the strongest-tasting beef grinds being served in the Twin Cities. I think only Murray’s is beefier. Unless BJ ran out of product and had to find some ground chuck from other than their regular purveyor, its meat should not be bland. The grind will not taste identical from day to day, but it is a strongly flavored beef grind without the benefit of any toppings or seasoning. It’s puzzling to me to find it described as bland.

    Finally, to compare Burger Jones unfavorably to Five Guys, which basically serves burnt fast food burgers in an over-lit suburban strip mall environment is a head-scratcher. Five Guys is cheaper, but is vastly inferior to Smashburger, its new fast food competition.

    But it’s all a great reminder that personal taste is not objective and all of our palates are different. Not that Burger Jones needs help, but I’m not confident you captured its essence, but instead a snapshot in time during a very chaotic first month.

    Adam Platt
    Restaurants Editor
    Mpls.St.Paul Magazine

  7. And didn’t the Heavy Table just do a poll about when it’s best to review a place that showed that most readers agreed that reviews should wait?

  8. kassie 06/01/2009 Reply

    I did a review on Chow and stated the same thing: the burger is bland. It has very little taste. Salt and pepper would help, but better would be switching to a grassfed beef. I don’t care what part of the cow they use, it just doesn’t taste like much.

  9. @adam platt.
    Your telling me that Parasole isn’t ready for the volume what a joke. Figlios…Chino Latino…have you been on a friday?

    A burger is fastfood,so comparing to fiveguys/smashburger/lions tap is par for the course. If Parasole wants to church it up…more power to them…but they best hit it out of the park.

    Sounds to me like they grounded out.

    in regards to the blandness could that be people responding more positive to fat content than actual “beefiness”

  10. Troy H 06/01/2009 Reply

    Why is the guy from King of the Hill in the logo?

  11. I think the fact that someone decided that Minneapolis even needed a Burger Jones, and that people are turning out for it, shows that we’re doing something wrong here in Minnesota. Sure, we have Matt’s and the Matt’s-alikes, but apparently there aren’t enough of them.

    I’m suspicious of any burger marketed as a pile of lettuce, tomato, and bun. It’s as if they’re afraid to let the customer taste what they came there for in the first place: a freakin’ burger!! Any fan of Matt’s should try some of the no-nonsense joints across the country, notably Solly’s in Milwaukee or Dryer’s in Memphis or Ted’s or Louis Lunch in Connecticut — really, just pick up a copy of Hamburger America by George Motz and follow along. These people don’t screw around! You’ll come back to Minneapolis and wonder why anyone really *needs* these “boutique burgers” in the first place.

    But I’m only ridiculing the concept and not the product. I’ve been to Burger Jones once, and while it didn’t leave me feeling the urge to come right back, I’ll try it again in a month when it’s more settled down there and they have things more figured out (note that the two-hour wait times, while fact, do overstate the actual demand there; once you get in you’ll notice that at least 25% of the tables are empty).

    As for the review, I wish you had more than just mentioned the salted caramel shake, and actually tried/reviewed it, because it was one of the best shakes I’ve ever eaten. And the ketchup they served with my cheese curds was definitely discernible from supermarket ketchup. Very smokey in flavor. Overall, though, it was the sort of takedown that I enjoyed reading.

    I do predict that in 2-3 years Smashburger will stand tall and Burger Jones will be long gone, unless Burger Jones changes their tune or someone opens a few new joints with some real heart and soul.

  12. Author

    Dave – I’m a sucker for Twix bars. :)

  13. Lesa H, 06/02/2009 Reply

    My husband and I tried it out last night. It did seem a little pricey, especially because fries were not included with the burgers. We tried the cheese curds, they had good batter, but the cheese kinda gave me a stomach ache. Meat was a little bland, but the cheddar, bacon, and onions I had made it tasty. I wish they had more pre-made specialty burger options like Red Robin. Adding a few items can quickly turn a $7 burger into a $14 burger. Might try again, but not anytime soon.

  14. I live nearby and my plan is to wait a few more weeks at least, and then go get me some poutine. Now that I see there is a salt caramel malt, I’ll get that too.

  15. whenever Adam Platt and hamburgers are involved, a steady stream of comments are sure to follow.

  16. Also, how come there are 4,000,000 negative reviews of Burger Jones on the interwebs, but nobody has done a takedown of the soul-less namesake replacement of Excelsior / MTKA’s Neu Gold Nugget? Is it just that Phil Roberts knows how to tittilate you people?

  17. Philly 06/03/2009 Reply

    I will never go back to this place. I ordered the white trash burger, it’s the one with cheese curds and the chicken fried bacon. I ordered my burger pink, and with such a easy setup they still managed to send me a well done burger, so i sent it back only to get another well done burger. Not only were they unable to cook my food properly, they neglected to inform me when my first burger arrived that the kitchen was out of cheese curds. So when I inquired about it after the second one, they told me they were in fact out. Please inform me when I order my food you don’t have something, not once you put it in front of me. Not only I will never go back to Burger Jones because of my horrible experience, I will never go to another Parasole restaraunt again.

  18. ms. burglar homes 06/05/2009 Reply

    It seems that if the wait time was so long, yet there were open tables, then that may point to being overwhelmed by the volume of orders coming into the kitchen.

  19. Geoff I did a takedown of Gold Nugget, it would be nice to see the mainstream media’s take to see if I was looking thru rose colored glasses at the old vs new?

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