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