Is the entrée dead? This incendiary little question has been batted about among food media for a bit, what with the fact that the small-plates trend never does seem to fade. Funny enough, the question comes as more people tend to eat more like food critics, with rotating plates and traveling forks snaring bites from arm’s reach, also known as grazing, if you will. No ownership of plates, we’re all in this together! There’s also the argument that appetizers are more fun, more focused, and seem to get all the creative play from the minds in the kitchen. Why would you order a plated hunk of protein and starch when you could dazzle your mouth with a few bright and startling bites of this and revelatory spoonfuls of that? Maybe it’s our collective ADD.
Of course there are diners on the other side of the table who suggest this eating is unsatisfying, that you end up paying a lot for a little and still have to find a taco for sustenance on the way home. These eaters have always been able to find refuge in the ultimate church of meat and potatoes, the steak house, but perhaps not for long.
Isaac Becker and Nancy St. Pierre have a knack for being talented eaters as well as creators. 112 Eatery clearly exists because they were craving a place that was neighborhoody but driven by the creative comfort food that fuels chefs on their own time. Bar La Grassa is an eater’s pasta joint, not rigidly bound by Italian convention, more of a personal evolution of their shared D’Amico past. And now they have opened Burch Steak and Pizza Bar, which seems to be a reimagining of modern meatdom, not only celebrating the grazers but changing the way we see the most iconic entrée in America, steak.
To even call Burch a steak house seems alternative, what with the open, airy space of street-side plate glass windows and towering brick. There’s no cowhide pattern or branding iron art to be found, just simple lines, warm lighting, and an open kitchen with plenty of action. As the former Burch Pharmacy has turned into a welcoming signpost for the entrance to Uptown, you should be alerted: This is not your traditional steak house.
But let’s get right to the meat of the matter. The smallish menu is split down the narrow; on the left you have your raw options, salads and starters, dumplings, and sides. On the right you have steaks and entrées. As you gaze on the meat you realize that there are multiple sizes, prices, cuts, and types of steak to be chosen. They aren’t simply condescendingly offering a “ladies cut” of filet mignon; this is an invitation to choose a grass-fed or choice or prime New York steak, and to have it in a 7-ounce or 14-ounce portion, paying anywhere from $21 to $60 for your pick. Do you know how exciting this is? Do you know what it does? It takes the pressure off the steak and opens the meal up to so much more. While you can still get a great sizzling hunk of beef—check the porterhouse served Florentine style with a lifting squeeze of lemon, and celebrate with a full and personal dance in meaty glory—you don’t have to. In essence, all grazers want is choice, and in this way it opens the steak house model up for permutation, for the eater’s control.
And let's not be shy on the beauty of these steaks, grass-fed cuts from Grass Run Farms of Iowa and natural cuts from Niman Ranch (whose founder Bill Niman used to work in the family grocery a block from Burch). Accompanied by little pots of house béarnaise, steak sauce (with a velour background of Asian spice), and pickled mushrooms, the cuts I tried were flavorful and perfectly seasoned. Knowing I am a bit of a tough order as a mid-rare-super-crispy-char girl, I met with both perfection and imperfection of doneness across the board. Nevertheless, I understand volume cooking of steak is a mystic art and I am confident they will master it. More to the point, any mishap was fixed and handled with efficiency and the utmost professional and gracious service.
So now that our meal is open to influence, to grazing and choice, where do we go? Begin with the raw and try the lamb tartare, which is delicate, soft, and earthy with a swath of sheep’s milk yogurt and a tangy touch of mustard seed. The Dungeness crab salad is such a charming and fresh mound sitting atop crunchy green sea beans, and it contrasts completely and beautifully with the rich, decadent broiled prawns with hazelnuts in silken brown butter sauce, which you’ll find yourself chasing with any spare bite left on the table.
And because it is rare to find an entire menu section devoted to dumplings, please make your way there. There are all forms and nationalities (we are all united by dumplings), from the fun-to-say-and-more-fun-to-eat schupfnudel, which are Germanic gnocchi, to the Czech kinkhali, a sturdy purse full of ground pork and veal that plays with your sloppy joe nostalgia.
So many vegetarians lament being lined to the sides at steak houses—they will find vindication here with gorgeously prepared veg such as simple roasted cauliflower kicked with anchovies and bound with burrata or herbaceous and springy rapini risotto. Indeed, some perfectly tart then luscious sauerkraut, as you break the poached egg over the butter-drenched croutons, might be the dish I think about most. The treatment of veg as being as viable a main option as meat is just another sign you’re not in Kansas City anymore.
Yes, there are entrées and they include quite a few seafood dishes. We had a very satisfying speck-wrapped trout special, as well as a perfect surf ’n’ turf reimagining in the scallop and foie boudin blanc sausage. These are creative and composed plates, nothing that would overtake and redefine the menu’s focus, but nothing that feels simply like a nod to the anti-beef vote.
So, is the entrée dead? Not really, but to tie it all in a bow, there is a new steak house in town that is quietly, subversively, without too much steak house bravado, turning the iconic American model on its ear for the modern eater, by letting steak be a part of a great ensemble cast instead of hogging the limelight. (Read on for details about Burch's split side: the lower level pizza bar.)
More on Burch
Pizza bar in the basement? Yeah, there’s a pizza bar in the basement of the steak house. It’s a whole other animal, like a modern tricked-out rec room with a wood-burning oven. While cavernous, it is pretty bright and friendly, and it carries a more casual buzz. There seems to be more of the younger neighborhood set sitting down for Neapolitan-style pies. The list is small, but the ingredients are exciting. The rich Coppa Cotta pairs smoked pork shoulder with peppers and crunchy (!) hazelnuts, the Polpo delivers tender octopus with zippy olives and peppers, and the Aragosta melds unconventional lobster claw with taleggio, mint, and chili flakes on a very bright and tasty red sauce. There are some other wood-fired tasty bites that come from the oven: the mussels with BLG sausage are great, but the broccolini with turmeric stole the show. Also check out the lamb meatballs, and when was the last time you ordered chicken salad at a fine establishment? One with smoky blue cheese, escarole, and crispy skin? Trust me, do it. 1933 Colfax Ave. S., Mpls., 612-843-1515, burchrestaurant.com