Heavy Table Hot Five: April 27-May 3

hotfive-flames

Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

shepherd-song-green-keyline

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

1-new - one - hot fiveOne Love Bowl at Pimento Jamaican Kitchen
Pimento Jamaican Kitchen’s One Love bowl is just so satisfying. You get your choice of entrees, and I went with jerk chicken and jerk pork and honestly couldn’t tell which I liked best. The strong, peppery jerk is so tasty, the meats are impossibly tender, and the lightly dressed citrus slaw is the perfect foil. This one’s a keeper.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Amy Rea]

James Norton / Heavy Table

2-new - two - hot fiveBlue Blood by Indeed Brewing
We’ve been fans of the Wooden Soul series of cask-aged sours at Indeed Brewing from the get-go, and Blue Blood is another fine example of the lineage — yeasty, not too carbonated, and cherry-inflected (almost winey) without too much acidic bite or edge. Pretty beautiful stuff.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - three hot fiveSmorgasbord Plate at The Bungalow Club
We’ve been looking forward to the Craftsman’s successor — a classy but accessible Italian-inspired place called The Bungalow Club — ever since we heard about it a few months ago. It was well worth the wait. The crown jewel of our first visit was a Smorgasbord Plate that did justice to the tremendous charcuterie plates Craftsman chef Mike Phillips used to put out back in the day. The pate was light and airy, the deviled egg spread devilishly delicious (and equally light on the palate), and the pickled veg all profound without being acrid or aggressive.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table

4-new four hot fiveClarity of Purpose by Fair State and Surly
The result of a Surly/Fair State collaboration, Clarity of Purpose is an effort to create a New England-style IPA with the style’s full body, strong hop aroma, juicy flavor, and mild bitterness, but without any of the haze that drinkers typically see in this sort of beer. Mission accomplished: Although this isn’t as juicy and intense as the style can be, it’s mellow, tropical-fruity, juicy, and hop-kissed without being hazy or in any way astringent.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveCalifornia Steakburger at Freddy’s Frozen Custard
The Wichita-based and rapidly expanding Freddy’s franchise is creeping into Minnesota suburbs, so we decided to give it a shot. Although the frozen custard doesn’t measure up to anything out of Wisconsin, the Steakburgers are great, if they’re your style of choice: They’re smashed/thin/charred/steaky-tasting burgers with a lot of texture and flavor. They’re actually so thin that a double is the way to go if you want a full meal (as opposed to the double at Five Guys, which’ll kill ya).
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an Instagram post by James Norton]

Brunson’s Pub in Payne-Phalen, St. Paul

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Brunson’s Pub (956 Payne Ave, St. Paul) is the newest bar and restaurant on St. Paul’s ever-improving Payne Avenue. The pub is riffing on well-known classics from various traditions (deviled eggs to banh mi), in some cases lifting them to culinary heights, and in others fumbling a bit.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Brunson’s has upgraded the aesthetic of the longtime previous tenant, Schwietz’s Saloon, spiffing up (but not abandoning) the dive-bar feel with beautifully refinished wood floors and gleaming tabletops. It’s dark, yet it will feel instantly welcoming to anyone who has whiled away too many daylight hours in such dark rooms. The servers and bartenders were friendly and seemed genuinely and contagiously happy to be there on all of our visits. Named for one of St. Paul’s original land surveyors, with references to Schweitz’s Saloon on the menu and the walls as well as the photos of old time Payne Avenue, the place is clearly invested in the neighborhood.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Your visit might begin with snacks. The House Popcorn ($1) was freshly popped and dusted in an addictively salty, cheesy powder. It would make an excellent companion to a series of tall cans of Hamm’s. The Deviled Eggs ($8) were good, but exposed some strong opinions on what makes a good deviled egg. We agreed that the picnic standard was undeniably improved by the addition of crumbled bacon, but relish added a crunchy, vegetal element that one taster found off-putting. The eggs were mildly flavored and could have used a little more mustard, or perhaps hot sauce, depending on where you’re coming from.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Try the Braised Beef Sandwich ($11). One of our tasters with knowledge of such things was reminded of a Philly cheese steak. The chewy roll (which they called telera, but we thought was more of a ciabatta) and the hard Swiss cheese mean it is not a Philly, but the well-browned and griddled beef, onions, and mushrooms, along with the zingy red-pepper aioli and slightly bitter arugula made an expertly composed sandwich.

We bring a healthy dose of skepticism when an old favorite is given a new twist. So it was that we couldn’t quite get into the Pulled Bacon BLT ($9). It raised the question: “What is pulled bacon?” Pulled bacon is smoked and shredded pork belly. A better question would be “Why pulled bacon?” The meat tastes bacony, but we’ve been denied bacon’s best characteristic: crispness. In the sandwich’s defense, if it were billed as an egg and avocado sandwich, our expectations might not have undermined our enjoyment.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The Banh Mi ($10) was similarly off the mark. The torpedo roll was all wrong, missing both the crackling crust and soft interior that typifies banh mi’s French-style roll. We wanted more pickled vegetables, and the slab of pork belly, while spiced well, overwhelmed a sandwich that should ideally be more of an ensemble piece. Upscale banh mi are popping up on menus all over town, and this one raises the question of why you would pay more than $3 or $4 for a sandwich that isn’t as good as Ha Tien’s bar-setting version.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Brunson’s does really good burgers, and with the exception of the bean burger, all of them are double patties. The Schwietz Burger ($10.50) is made up of a flavorful sausage patty and a beef patty. The patties are not pressed flat, so with the kraut and fried onions on a pretzel bun, the result is a large and messy endeavor. It wanders just far enough into bratwurst territory that it’s not going to be every burger lover’s thing, but if it is your thing, this is a tasty and well-made burger. The Classic Double burger ($9) received the hearty and spontaneous endorsement of the St. Paul police officers sitting at the next table. We agreed with St. Paul’s finest that this was a great example of an aptly named and upgraded fast-food classic — aside from the presence of a little too much lettuce for our taste.

Burgers and sandwiches come with outstanding house-made potato chips. Thick cut, browned, and crunchy, they go great with their French onion dip ($1 extra). Or for a dollar, you can upgrade to the peppery fries or a generous portion of mixed green salad. We liked the chips best, but it’s heartening to see that in a world of $4 side upgrades, Brunson’s is offering a great value. In fact, the menu is well-priced across the board, especially for chef-driven pub food.

Without a doubt, much thought and skill go into the food at Brunson’s Pub. There is a lot to like on the menu, and we just scratched the surface. On a street with Tongue in Cheek, Ward 6, Cook St. Paul, and Hamburguesas el Gordo (and many others), Brunson’s Pub makes a great addition.

CORRECTION, 4-29-17: A revision of this story corrected the pricing on popcorn ($1 for a single serving) and added a mention of the parking lot.

Brunson’s Pub
East Side Pub in Payne-Phalen, St. Paul

956 Payne Ave
St. Paul MN 55130
651.447.2483
OWNER / CHEF: Thomas and Molly LaFleche / Torrance Beavers
HOURS:
Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Fri 11 a.m.-midnight
Sat 10 a.m.-midnight
Sun 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
BAR: Full
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE:
 $6.50-$12.50
NOISE LEVEL: Amenable din
PARKING: 24-car lot and street parking

The Tap: The ACL (Au Cheval-Like) Burger Reigns Supreme

Banner for the Tap: Food and Drink News

This week in the Tap: A look ahead at upcoming restaurants, notes about spots that have closed, and about those that have recently opened.

The Tap is the metro area’s comprehensive restaurant buzz roundup, so if you see a new or newly shuttered restaurant, or anything that’s “coming soon,” email Tap editor James Norton at editor@heavytable.com.

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

ALL HAIL OUR NEW OVERLORD, THE AU CHEVAL(-LIKE) CHEESEBURGER

A recent cheeseburger lunch at Lowry Hill Meats (see above) got me thinking: Haven’t I had this burger before? Lowry Hill’s version was great — richly flavored and juicy as an orange — but the combo of excellent meat plus American cheese plus simple caramelized onions plus top-notch bun is something that keeps turning up at restaurants all around Minneapolis and St. Paul. It’s a trend that’s raging with the same force and ferocity as the upscale Jucy Lucy epidemic that swept the area three or four years back. Over the past year or so, it has gone well past the upscale, chef-driven places where it got its start in 2015 and penetrated spots from hotel restaurants to bars to suburban eateries.

Call it the rise of the ACL (Au Cheval-like) burger. Chicago’s Au Cheval is famous world-round for its simple but decidedly upscale spin on a classic American cheeseburger, and now similar burgers are everywhere from Revival to Saint Dinette (the first I had locally) to Parlour / Borough (below) to Hi-Lo Diner, and so on and so forth.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The burger is a bit difficult to define. It’s not like a Chicago dog, where there’s one canonical list of ingredients down to the poppy seeds on the bun. The telltale combo is that it’s an expensive burger, but with a (seemingly) unpretentious list of supporting ingredients. American cheese is a hallmark. They make their own at Lowry Hill Meats, but that’s not a must. House-made pickles, caramelized onions, and a high-quality, carefully toasted brioche or pretzel bun are also typically part of the package. Maybe there’s some lettuce, maybe some special sauce, and the burger probably sports a quarter to a half pound of meat, so it’s not one of those dinky but delicious smashed up diner charburgers that you get at Five Guys or Culver’s. It could be one patty or two. The meat is usually a house blend that brings in some fatty richness, some steak flavor, some textural lightness, and more.

Our own Peter Sieve captured the essence of the trend at its dawning at the start of 2015, writing about the Parlour burger:

“There is nothing hiding the refined bare essentials except the burger’s deceptively simple appearance — the two patties are formed from ground sirloin, ribeye and brisket. There is no aioli, no sad, obligatory lettuce and tomato, no fucking bacon (is the bacon thing still a thing?). It’s a double cheeseburger.”

Simplicity done well, that’s the thing. Farewell, aioli; hello generally better cheeseburgers nearly everywhere. — James Norton

Editor’s note: We received the following thoughtful email from restaurateur Tobie Nidetz:

Great segment on the Au Cheval influence.  But there was something in town pre-dating it all. The burger at Ike’s downtown. We created it with the same ethos of great meat, simple cheese (we chose a 4yr Wisconsin cheddar for a little high brow) on a locally baked egg bread bun from Franklin Street.

NOW OPEN

Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table
Paige Latham Didora / Heavy Table
  • Black Stack Brewing, 755 Prior Ave N, St. Paul | Sharing a complex with Can Can Wonderland (above).
  • J Selby’s, 169 Victoria St N, St. Paul | Vegan restaurant that prefers to call itself “plant-based,” opening tonight.
  • The Early Bird, 1612 Harmon Pl, Minneapolis | Formerly Bearcat, formerly Third Bird, still a Kim Bartmann joint. Sometimes just referred to as “The Bird,” further muddying the waters.
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
  • Old Southern BBQ Smokehouse, 4501 France Ave S, Minneapolis | New barbecue chain from the founder of Famous Dave’s; we reviewed and enjoyed the location in Hudson (above).
  • HeadFlyer Brewing, 861 E Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis
  • Mercy, 901 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis | The former Marin.
  • Jambo! Kitchen, 1939 S 5th St, Minneapolis
  • Rah’Mn, 300 Snelling Ave S, St. Paul | A Chipotle-style build-your-0wn-ramen restaurant by Tryg Truelson, formerly of Tryg’s.
  • Baja Haus, 830 E Lake St, Wayzata  | A second restaurant by Billy Tserenbat of Sushi Fix, focused on Mexican seafood and scratch margaritas.
  • Bellecour, 739 E Lake Street, Wayzata (former Blue Point Location) | A second restaurant for the much-heralded chef owner of Spoon and Stable. This one is a French-inspired bistro and bakery.
  • Copperwing Distillery, 6409 Cambridge St, St. Louis Park | Distillery and 45-seat cocktail room.
James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table
  • Bottle Rocket, 1806 St. Clair Ave, St. Paul  | A reboot by the Blue Plate Restaurant Company of the former Scusi space with craft cocktails. Our review here.
  • Bar Brigade, 470 Cleveland Ave S, St. Paul | French-inspired bar from J.D. Fratzke (Strip Club Meat and Fish) and Matty O’Reilly (Republic) in the old Ristorante Luci space.
  • Geno’s, 12 4th St SE, Minneapolis | Italian sandwich shop from the owners of Lyndale Tap House.
  • Zait & Za’atar, 1626 Selby Ave, St. Paul

Keeping it Simple: Eden Prairie’s Lions Tap

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Burgers: They never go out of style, and honestly, what can’t you do with a burger? It’s possible today to get anything from a Reuben burger to a black ’n’ bleu burger to burgers made out of black beans or with cheese curds or fried eggs or chipotle mayo or Brie and truffle oil or peanut butter or sriracha. Who could possibly want a basic burger with all these choices available?

Apparently a whole lot of people. Eden Prairie’s Lions Tap remains faithful to the most basic renditions of burgers and has built a decades-long success with them. With nary a drop of truffle oil or a squirt of sriracha to be seen, Lions Tap still packs in people who want a burger and crinkle fries and not much else. How did that happen?

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

The answer is: through a process of evolution. Lions Tap didn’t just spring up fully formed and ready to grill. Oddly, it started with vegetables and involved a rotating door of owners before it settled into its role as a purveyor of grilled patties. In the 1930s, second-generation family farmers Severin and Ernest Peterson decided it would help their farm if they built a farm stand, called Peterson Brothers Market, to sell their products to passersby. They also thought that perhaps offering beer at the vegetable stand might attract more customers (we can only assume Severin and Ernest would applaud the current craft beer scene in Minnesota). The beer itself proved so popular that a couple of changes-of-ownership later, the vegetable stand was closed so more attention could be paid to the bar business.

For many years, the focus was on beer (and for a while, bootlegged whiskey). When food was introduced, it was what eventually became Deli Express. But in 1958, Irene and Sears Lyons bought the bar, renamed it Lyons Tap, and decided to try serving burgers. The first burgers were made in a frying pan on a small stove, four at a time. The burgers were such a hit that the Lyons had to buy a grill that would allow them to produce eight burgers at a time.

When the Lyons decided to sell, the new owners added crinkle-cut fries, because — well — burgers and fries. They didn’t hang on to the bar and grill for long. In 1977, three years after adding fries, they sold to Bert and Bonnie Notermann, who changed the bar’s name to Lions Tap. The Notermanns upped the burger game a bit by adding their own secret seasoning (now available for sale), which tastes of garlic and onion powder, among other flavors. And they’ve trusted in the hand-patted burgers to keep driving customers to their door.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Today, Lions Tap is owned by the Notermann’s son, Matt, whose nieces and nephews are already making regular appearances in the kitchen. His contribution to the enterprise was to change the beer offering to a Lions-Tap-branded set of beers that are produced by Janesville, Wis.-based Gray Brewing Co. But otherwise, the kitchen staff is still hand-patting burgers and offering them up in a very few varieties: plain (single $4, double $7.30), cheese (single $4.65, double $8.50), bacon-cheese (single $5.45, double $10), California (single $5.30, double $9.70), California cheese (single $5.95, double $10.85), and the most recent menu addition (circa early 2000s), mushroom and Swiss (single $5.45, double $10). Burgers are cooked to order, and you can get them as rare or as well-done as you like, although, as Matt Notermann admits, the cooks in the kitchen may have something to say about anyone who wants a burger very well done. Oh — and if you really, really don’t want a burger, you can request a grilled cheese or BLT off-menu. Know that your bread will be the same bun as the burgers get.

With burgers the star of his menu, why hasn’t Notermann jumped on any bandwagons in terms of menu modernization? “We don’t like fancy, frilly stuff,” he said. “And people appreciate that about us. They know nothing’s changed, and they’ll get their favorite every time they come here. Why mess with it? It works.”

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

It certainly isn’t the location that drives business. Lions Tap is situated in a lonely roadside spot along what was once Highway 169, then became Highway 212, and is now simply Flying Cloud Drive. There are no other attractions to draw customers (unless you count the Fredrick-Miller Spring just down the street). The restaurant has had to contend first with the flooding of major roads nearby (Highway 101 crosses the Minnesota River to Shakopee and regularly flooded in the spring), and more recently with the solution to the flooding — reconstruction of the bridge, which closed down traffic in the area for months. There’s more reconstruction planned for the road adjacent to Lions Tap, but Notermann’s not worried. “None of that affected us at all,” he said. “We survived. People kept coming. If one road was closed, they’d figure out another.”

That means a lot of meat goes in and out of the Lions Tap kitchen. Fresh beef is delivered daily, with the restaurant using between 2,500 and 3,500 pounds a week. Staff spends two hours each morning hand-forming the patties.

Why do people keep coming when the menu doesn’t change and is limited in scope? “We have one item. We have to do it well,” said Notermann. “And if we’re doing well, why mess with it? Chicken, fish, salad — that’s not us. That’s not what we do.” If he could add one new thing to the menu, it would be not an entree, but onion rings, something the current kitchen can’t handle. But the customers, many of whom are repeats and known by the staff, don’t care. “We get people in suits, families, teenagers, construction workers,” Notermann said. “Everyone’s happy here.”

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

Which leads to the question: Why only one Lions Tap in 60 years? If people are still swarming off the beaten path to its door, why not franchise or expand? “I get calls about that every week,” said Notermann. “I have looked at the possibility of expanding into other markets.” The reason he hasn’t? Obviously not location — if he can keep the restaurant successful in its current location, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t succeed elsewhere. “The biggest problem is staffing,” he said. “Our staff is part of the big picture here. Half of the staff has been here at least 10 years. Some have been here 20 years or more. A few weeks ago, we had a party for an employee who’s been here 35 years, which is the longest. Our customers form relationships with our staff. They come, they bring their kids, the kids grow up and keep coming, and later they bring their kids, and they know the staff.” Not being able to guarantee that kind of staffing elsewhere gives Notermann pause.

In the meantime, Lions Tap just keeps those burgers and fries flying out the door. It doesn’t hurt that the company is big in the community, providing extensive support for local schools and youth sports teams. Everyone’s welcome — even those who want a very well-done burger.

Lions Tap
Burgers and beer in Eden Prairie

16180 Flying Cloud Dr
Eden Prairie, MN 55347
952.934.5299
HOURS:
Daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
BAR: Beer
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Sort of / No
ENTREE RANGE: $10-$17.50
NOISE LEVEL: Moderate
PARKING: Free lot

Piper’s Coffee and Burger Bar in Eden Prairie

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Back in 2009, when Eden Prairie was mostly home to chains and didn’t have the likes of Gogi Bros, Bay Leaf Indian Cuisine, and Tavern 4&5, Jenny and Mark Jundt opened JJ’s Coffee Company & Wine Bistro. The food offered had some execution issues, but the inviting space quickly drew a loyal following.

Times change, and there are now more independent eateries offering higher-quality food. And people change too, especially when they, as Jenny Jundt recently did, add a baby to the household. Now JJs has rebranded itself as Piper’s Coffee & Burger Bar, named after baby Piper, and the menu has been overhauled. While some of the previous menu items are still present, the focus now is on an extensive, intriguing list of burgers, from the basic cheeseburger to more exotic offerings.

A recent visit found that the rebrand (and, presumably, the baby) seems to have inspired something in the folks in Piper’s kitchen. We tried three burgers and were more than pleased. All of them had thick, hand-formed patties cooked to our specification and served on a rich, buttery brioche bun. The one lament was a lack of salt.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The Hangover Burger ($12) would be an excellent cure for that condition, with generous slabs of oozing sharp Cheddar and smoky, thick-cut bacon, topped with a soft fried egg and hot sauce. It may not be the most original of the burgers we tried, but it was a solid rendition.

More interesting was the Farmer John ($13), which offered more of that thick-cut bacon (it’s on many of the burgers, and who can argue with that?) along with mushrooms and onions cooked in red wine and topped with provolone, rosemary, arugula, and aioli. The sweeter mushrooms and onions were a nice offset to the peppery arugula and pungent rosemary.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

The favorite of the visit — by a close margin — was the Whistlestop ($12). This iteration swapped out the bacon for some delicately crispy pieces of speck along with fried tomatoes and onions. There was also a sizable mound of Gorgonzola, not melted, as described in the menu, but as it turned out, that was fine. The sharpness of the cheese was balanced by the smoky speck and zippy arugula, a wonderful mix of textures and flavors. Even the non-blue-cheese fan at our table said she’d order this one again.

Burgers come with a choice of fries: regular, sweet potato, or Buffalo. The first two could have used more time in the fryer, coming out soggy rather than with a crunchy texture, but the Buffalo fries, drenched in Buffalo sauce, ranch dressing, chopped bacon, and red onions, earned approval from everyone at the table. They would be a great choice on its own along with some of the tap beers Piper’s is in the process of adding.

Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table
Brianna Stachowski / Heavy Table

Piper’s Burger & Coffee Bar, 7942 Mitchell Rd, Eden Prairie, 55344; 952.974.1000; Mon-Thu 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri 6 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun 8 a.m.-9 p.m.

Burgers at Jimmy’s Pro Billiards

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The sign out front says it all: “22 Pool Tables – 22 Burgers – 22 Beers.” But when you walk into Jimmy’s Pro Billiards, all you see is an ocean of pool tables. Where exactly does one go to eat?

… To the back corner, by the bar, where there are a few tables and chairs set out. This could lead some people to believe that the “22 Burgers” is just hype, that Jimmy’s is really only about the billiards. But that’s not the case at all. Beyond the rows of pool tables, behind a movable wall that shields the grill from the diners, Jimmy’s is frying up far-better-than-average burgers — burgers worthy of a stop, even if you’re not a billiards fan, as a recent installment of the Central Avenue Checklist explained.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

There are indeed 22 burgers on the menu: everything from classic burgers (plain, bacon and cheese) to novelties like Taco, Reuben, and Italian. There are also rumors of a burger number 23, an off-menu concoction involving mozzarella sticks. Sadly, it was unknown at our recent daytime visit, but the staff said that it might be a creation offered by the night crew. “And anyway, we’ll make any kind of a burger anyone asks for, as long as we have the ingredients,” the day cook told us.

That willingness to please is another reason to visit Jimmy’s. Can we get some mayo? “No problem!” How’s the seasoned sour cream ($1.50)? “Excellent — I used to work at Champps, and I use their recipe.” The day we visited, our server was also our cook, and he honestly seemed to care whether we were pleased with our meal.

Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table
Brenda Johnson / Heavy Table

And boy, were we. We tried the Bleu Burger ($10), a burger slathered with blue cheese dressing, Cheddar cheese and bacon. The freshly made burger (or, as the sign out front says, “Hand Patted”) was thick and juicy. The blue cheese dressing didn’t overwhelm the burger, but added a nice tang to the gooey Cheddar, and the bacon added both a welcome salty-smoky flavor and some crunch.

St. Patrick’s Tavern in New Prague

 

Amy Rea / Heavy Table
Amy Rea / Heavy Table

If you happen to be out on a weekend drive exploring the expansive farmlands around Jordan and New Prague, you might stumble across a church on a hill, and at the foot of the hill, St. Patrick’s Tavern. Even though the church’s name is also St. Patrick’s, the two are unconnected. But given their proximity, it’s hard for an observer not to imagine the small-but-stately church looking down at the lowly tavern with various forms of sin inside — beer, pool, pull tabs — and to reflect on the two extremes abiding side by side.

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

Inside the tavern is your basic, bare-bones community bar, dimly lit, with water stains on the ceiling. On one Saturday afternoon, a few patrons relaxed over burgers and beer while a couple of kids tried to play pool with cues taller than they were. From the windows of the main dining room, the church’s cemetery was visible. A lot of the conversation revolved around the upcoming fishing opener.

The menu is a lengthy list of bar standards — burgers, chicken, chicken wings, jalapeño poppers. There’s no printed beer list, but if you ask the smiling, but not very chatty server what they have, your conversation might sound like this:

“What kinds of beer do you have?”

“All kinds.”

“Summit?”

“On tap.”

“What kinds?”

“Pint or mug.”

Peppers and Fries in Longfellow, Minneapolis

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

As Longfellow begins to heat up as a homestead for young families, the neighborhood’s food and drink offerings have been undertaking a compelling odyssey. Peace Coffee showed up and started packing them in; Parka flared up, burned out, and was reincarnated as a Dogwood Coffee; and even the Rail Station has added a ton of craft beer taps and a new breakfast service. Add to the list Peppers & Fries, a newly opened joint that underpromises and overdelivers.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Peppers & Fries (which bills itself as a “burger and burrito grill”) doesn’t look like much — it’s a former service station converted into an independently run burger joint with a stripped down design aesthetic and plenty of big-screen TVs. But after visiting a couple of times, we found more than enough to come back for, particularly on warm days when the garage doors are rolled up, and the whole restaurant is converted into an open-air beer garden.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Start, for example, with the cheese curds ($9). Our experience with breaded cheese curds has been almost uniformly negative — in contrast to the soft, almost fluffy texture of battered curds, breaded curds tend to be hard, unpleasantly flavored geodes, their rocky exteriors concealing doleful, doughy bits of congealing cheese. Peppers & Fries offers breaded curds, but we found the breading to be pleasingly thin and the cheese inside of the curds to be piping hot and delicious. The idea of returning for a basket of these and a cold beer or two is truly appealing.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The burgers are just what you’d hope: classic, solid takes on the dish, reasonably sized (6 oz.), and served on tasty, toasted buns. We particularly enjoyed the Firehouse 21 ($10), which comes with grilled jalapenos, melted pepper jack, and chipotle mayo. The menu description touts the burger as “cooled down with cream cheese,” and that’s exactly right — the cheese’s tangy neutrality tames the fiery elements of the burger until they’re flavorful and balanced.

Farms in the Lens: Twisted Suri Alpaca Ranch

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

About the Farms in the Lens series: Much of what we write within these pages is focused on the restaurants of Minneapolis and St. Paul. But much of what we eat at those tables comes from farms around the state. With underwriting from Clancey’s Meats and Fish, we’ve set out to document a half dozen of these farms, focusing on the relationship between humans and animals. Check out our complete Farms in the Lens series, including: Wild Acres, Hidden Stream, Shepherd’s Way, Redhead Creamery, Twisted Suri Alpaca Ranch, and Paradox Farm.

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In early 2011, Roger Welck saw a string of comments like this on the Facebook page for his Twisted Suri Alpaca Ranch:

“We don’t eat our alpacas here in the Civilized World.”

“This is simply appalling … ALPACAS ARE FIBER ANIMALS!”

“Greed caused this. Why not have the vet euthanize them instead of eat[ing] [al]paca burgers?”

“Do you slit their throats and hang them upside down to bleed out? I asked 10 times? Shoot them? Hit them with a hammar [sic]?”

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Welck had just come back from a meeting of the Upper Midwest Alpaca Association and word was spreading that he was developing a terminal market for alpacas. In other words, he was harvesting and processing them. In other words, he was eating them. And packaging their meat to sell to retailers and chefs.

Some of the commenters — all alpaca owners themselves — acted as if he were eating his own family members, Welck remembers. But a good number of others wrote some version of: “Thank you. It’s about time.”

Roger Welck got into alpaca farming for the same reasons that most other people do. Neither he nor his wife had a background in farming, but after 14 years in receiving at Frito-Lay in the Twin Cities, he was ready to leave city life behind, to move the kids out to the country, to set his own hours, and to do something more hands-on than the modern-day paper pushing that occupies most of us all day. As farm animals go, alpacas are famously adorable and even-tempered. Welck remembers that when it came time to decide which breed to focus on, he chose Suris over Huacayas in part because of how cute they look when they bound across a field. That was in 2007.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table
Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

In Brooklyn Park, Welck had kept an award-winning yard and garden, and the original plan was for him to raise perennials for sale at the farm in Princeton, Minn., and keep the alpacas as a kind of tourist attraction, selling fiber, hats and mittens as a way of maintaining customer traffic year round. But, as alpacas tend to do, they had soon taken over his business and his heart.

By 2010, Welck had 80 alpacas in his fields and barns. And, like a lot of alpaca farmers around that time, he started doing the math.

Heavy Table Hot Five: Feb. 20-26

hotfive-flames

Each Friday afternoon, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email editor@heavytable.com.

Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table
Tricia Cornell / Heavy Table

1-new - onePho from Lotus
When it’s -9˚F, what you need is a bowl of Minnesota’s unofficial state soup. And it helps if it’s served by the sweetest, warmest family in the Twin Cities. They’ve been around for 25 years, and the brothers who were raised in the restaurant are now running it and raising their kids there, while Grandma makes the spring rolls and hand rolls the tapioca for bubble tea (in the summer) in the back.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Contributed by Tricia Cornell]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

2-new - twoDuck taco from The Harriet Brasserie
Served with salsa diablo and pickled vegetables, this simple taco packs a kick — piquant flavor, delicate texture, and real depth. We tried ours at last night’s North Coast Nosh (above), and we got hooked.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Contributed by James Norton]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

3-new - threeMedium-rare hamburger and a Chocolate Shake at Ike’s Food and Cocktail
When we found ourselves at the airport this week, the steakhouse comfort of Ike’s called to us most strongly, even amid the bevy of new places to eat near the tarmac. The burger was simple as they come, but correctly cooked, tender, and rich, with a high-quality bakery bun. And an accompanying chocolate milkshake made with Sebastian Joe’s ice cream was arguably too good. “I’ll just have a few sips …” turned into, “Oh, Lord, please let me stop!” in a matter of seconds.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Contributed by James Norton]

Ted Held / Heavy Table
Ted Held / Heavy Table

4-new four18-Hour Porketta sandwich at Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub
This is Iron Range soul food at its best: slow roasted pork with sauteed onion, topped with melted Swiss, and sandwiched in an egg bun. The pork is piled high and fall-off-the-bone tender, and the cheese and sweet onions know their place as supporting characters. Northbound adds no extraneous ingredients to detract from their excellent porketta.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #2 | Contributed by Ted Held]

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveFennel Sausage Link from Black Sheep Pizza on Nicollet Ave
Black Sheep Pizza’s new location boasts a gorgeous grill operated by a bold metal wheel that brings food closer to or further away from the heat that pours up from below. We tried and loved the fennel sausage link starter — disarmingly light in texture and bright in flavor, but fire-charred and satisfying, complemented by pickled veggies and a scrap of bread.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #4 | Contributed by James Norton]

Red Cow at 50th and France in Minneapolis

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

There is something comfortingly familiar about Red Cow, the new burger-and-beer joint near 50th and France in South Minneapolis.

Comfort and familiarity, it turns out, are in its DNA: Owner Luke Shimp used to be a part owner of the Blue Plate Restaurant Company, which runs the Highland, Edina, and Longfellow Grills — all family magnets with the kind of long, keep-everyone-happy menus that let the whole family just exhale and enjoy themselves. The other Blue Plate properties, the Groveland Tap and The Lowry, go through fewer kids’ menus and crayons, but it’s basically the same idea, with some grown-up touches like oysters and beer snacks thrown in.

Last fall, Shimp sold his Blue Plate shares to strike out on his own with Red Cow, which fits right in with its Blue Plate step-siblings: dressed-up comfort food for folks in the financially comfortable South Minneapolis neighborhood. (The burgers are all north of $10.)

Since burgers are the name of the game here, that’s what we stuck to on our first visits. There are 15 to choose from and not one of them is just a straight-up cheeseburger on a bun (though they’ll make that for you if you ask).

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

The bun, we are unafraid to say, is perfect. Perfect is a strong word, you say, not one that should be thrown around casually in reviews or in life in generally. So true. So we’ll, say it again: perfect. This is the ultimate burger bun. It’s a high, crusty, brown dome, substantial but airy, enriched with milk and butter, soft enough to sop up any burger juices but sturdy enough that you can actually pick up your burger. It is exactly the right size. It is flavorful in its own right without overshadowing the burger. It is perfect.

And that makes it kind of a tough act to follow. That the insides of the burgers don’t inspire the same level of accolades as the bun is really no knock on the burgers themselves. That bun is a lot to live up to.

The burgers are hearty 6- to 8-ouncers, made of Angus beef, and of the flat (but not crispy-smashed) burger family, rather than the tribe of round, pink-centered softball burgers. They come cooked all the way through unless you speak up.

Mostly the burgers are about the toppings: the BBQ Burger ($11) balances battered onion petals and bacon slices on its melted blue cheese and barbecue sauce. It’s a lot of flavors, but refinement is hardly the point here. (And, thanks to that bun, you can still actually pick it up.)

The breakfast burger (fittingly served between large slices of toast) is going to cure a lot of hangovers in the years to come. Someone in the kitchen, after stacking the rather predictable bacon, egg, and cheese on the burger, must have taken a bite and said, “It needs a little something more to put it over the top.” So, naturally, they slathered peanut butter on it. Naturally. And it is exactly the little hit of umami your breakfast / lunch / dinner needs, blending nicely into the dripping runny egg yolk.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Some of Red Cow’s attempts to head upscale work out very well indeed. The elk burger is actually Elk Wellington, a plump, medium-rare dome of ground meat in puff pastry, like the fanciest pasty ever created. The elk is lean, flavorful, and sure to win some converts. The salmon burger was less exciting; billed as a “salmon risotto patty,” it seemed like the filler overwhelmed the fish. But vegetarians will be pleased that the chickpea burger was made with as much flavor and care as the meaty versions.

Burgers go with fries like… burgers and fries, and Red Cow’s fries definitely live up to the burgers. They are hand-cut, skin-on, nice and crispy russets, but not the kind of fries with that are meltingly soft inside. They come with a house-made ketchup that mimics the bottled stuff pretty successfully, with a nice extra fruity note.

It’s the sweet potato fries that steal the show. Crinkle cut and extra crispy, dusted in seasoned salt, they’re among the best sweet potato fries we’ve had — an elusive title indeed. “These are even better than the ones at the Edina Grill,” someone at our table said of the sweet potato fries, without knowing about the connection. It seems sibling rivalry may be a powerful spur to achievement after all.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Since nothing goes with burgers and fries like beer, Red Cow has 30 beers on tap, a nice mix of locals and domestic craft brews, and almost that many in bottles and cans — no surprises, but with 20, 30, 40-plus taps becoming almost standard, it’s hard to put together a beer program with real surprises any more. The wine list is packed with hearty tempranillos, merlots, and pinot noirs, with a lot of California representation. And almost everything is available by the glass, thanks to a fancy setup that taps the wine bottles almost like beer kegs, keeping oxygen out. Huh.

While comfort and familiarity are pluses in most ways at the Red Cow, the familiarity of the old exterior is not, really. It is immediately obvious that this old Blockbuster building got nothing more than a coat of paint and a new sign. The interior, however, got a little more love: wood paneling on the walls, a faux-tin dropped ceiling defining the bar area, and shiny red booths. It’s still boxy enough inside that you can practically picture where the rom-com shelf used to be, but give it a few years and Red Cow will age into the space. Luke Shimp clearly learned from his successes at Blue Plate and he knows what he’s doing with Red Cow.

Sarah McGee / Heavy Table
Sarah McGee / Heavy Table

Red Cow
Burgers and beer in South Minneapolis

3624 W 50th St, Minneapolis, MN 55410
612.767.4411

HOURS: Mon-Sat 11am-1am, Sun 11am-midnight
Bar: Beer and wine
Vegetarian / Vegan: Yes / No
Reservations / Recommended: Yes / Not yet

 

Ginger Snap Ice Cream Sandwiches and Recipe Roundup

Grilled pizza with bacon jam and eggs, ginger snap ice cream sandwiches, creamy mac and cheese with prawns, tikka-spiced tofu, blackberry mead sorbet floats, and a cream cheese and pepper burger.