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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 joint in West Calhoun
3200 W Lake St
Minneapolis, MN 55416
OWNER / CHEF: Parasole Restaurant Holdings / Andrew Suthers
HOURS: 11am-1am daily
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