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).
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.
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.
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.
Burgers and beer in South Minneapolis
3624 W 50th St, Minneapolis, MN 55410
HOURS: Mon-Sat 11am-1am, Sun 11am-midnight
Bar: Beer and wine
Vegetarian / Vegan: Yes / No
Reservations / Recommended: Yes / Not yet