Photos by Caitlin Abrams
Editors eating burgers for the 2015 Burger Crawl
Citizens of the Twin Cities, hear this! There has been a monumental shift away from the fussy burger. That's right, eaters of pattied beef have turned their guts toward a simpler, more elemental burger style: chef-driven burgers, stripped down, and served at restaurants that are definitely not burger shops. Out of serious kitchens where acts of braising and circulating are daily occurrences and technique is king, come something glorious, topped not with pate, but rather with insitutional cheese. They're deceptively simple thin-pattied double cheeseburgers. Good old dive bar burgers with a white tablecloth pedigree; like Elvis, back from the dead and swinging his golden hips while doing the Nae Nae.
And with five amazing new instutional double cheeseburgers in town now and a furor over which is best, what's a burger fiend to do but gather some troops and head out to sample them all in one afternoon, with the aim of crowning a king? Armed with avowed burger fans and self-described everymen, Jake Nyberg and Tim Niccum, we faced our demons, checked our cardiac jokes at the door, and forged a path we think you should follow.
But before we begin, let’s make one thing clear, this is a league of champions in which even the worst is the very best. Jake Nyberg said it more than once: This is like trying to judge Russian gymnasts in the ‘80s; they're all so elite, there are no losers. And that's why it was important that our criteria (all ranked on a five point scale) was ironclad in its simplicity: Beef (Was it flavorful? Was there crispiness to the edge? Did it juice?), Cheese (How was the quality? Was there enough? Was it goopy?), Bun (Was there an essential squish? Did it disintegrate? What was the butter quotient?), and finally Sentimentality (How did the burger make you feel? Did the burger fit the space in which it was served? What is your heart telling you?).
STOP I: Noon @ Borough/Parlour
Honestly, this is the double-thin patty beauty that started it all. In a way, we collectively wondered, are all the other burgers mere reactions to the cult status of this burger? This is a hefty burger, no condiments, dill pickles on the side to be used at your discretion.
Fries and chips were ordered, foolishly, and in the name of purity of the scientific method, we ordered beers and drinks so that we might experience the burger as we normally would (as a second dinner after a cocktail fueled night down in Parlour).
- That bun is the toastiest thing I’ve ever seen.
- The cheese is the glue that holds that baby together. Has it always been white?
- I’m fully aware that I have a bias toward this burger, I’ll try to put it aside.
- I don’t know if I’ve ever actually seen this burger, it's usually in the dark at Parlour where I throw it down.
- There’s butter in the meat, you know that right?
Overall: It hit home, it made us happy. It didn’t disappoint with rich and crispy patties mantled with just the right amount of cheese. We truly felt that it was the yardstick by which all other burgers would be judged.
STOP II: 1 p.m. @ Il Foro
This burger is only available during the lunch hour, which handicaps it a bit. But it’s called the 2.0 Burger because chef Joe Rolle, credited with creating the Parlour burger, has taken it to the next level in his new space. Also a big burger, no condiments, and pickles on the side.
We ate at the bar, cocktails/ beers all around. Fries with one burger, salad with another, neither consequential.
- Before I ate it, I might have felt odd about eating a burger in this fancy ambience, but afterwards I recognized the decadence matched.
- I could totally Hasselhoff this burger.
- The bun wasn’t as toasty as Parlour, but I didn’t miss it.
- It’s almost like burger meatloaf, in the best way.
Overall: The cheese rated tops with this one, garnering all fives across the board. It is a gooey orange cheese-laden bomb that juices with each bite. Good luck not needing a nap after lunch.
STOP III: 2 p.m. @ Revival
Yes, it’s the land of fried chicken, but the burger is not to be missed. This one is smaller than the last two, and comes slathered with mayo and sweet pickles on the burger. Though fans have been known to order this with bacon (as pictured above), we abstained to keep it pure.
We got there right as lunch was concluding. There were bottles of High Life, and some glasses of pink bubbles. Also, fried chicken was ordered as a side. **
- This one is the most restrained of all so far, it’s efficient in its luxury.
- The bun to meat ratio is supreme.
- I’m not sure about the sweet pickles, but I wouldn’t kick it out of bed.
- Holy shit, did you try that chicken?
Overall: This burger was a compact beefy treat that didn’t begin and end on cheese, there was more to this package than a dairy wonderland. The pickle-mayo addition makes a down-home Southern stand as far as condiments go.
** The owners clearly tried to sway our vote by presenting us with an additional pimento cheese stuffed burger. While we appreciate all bribery, especially in food form, we stayed true to our mission. But damn, that pimento-stuffed burger was gooood.
<< Here, it might behoove you to walk to Five Watt Coffee and stretch a bit. Get a little shot of espresso and compile notes while you wait for Nighthawks to open. >>
STOP IV: 4 p.m. @ Nighthawks
Photo by Caitlin Abrams
It’s a modern diner burger and there’s a whole lot of expectation that comes with that. This daddy was the tallest and biggest cheeseburger, sitting on a rug of caramelized onions, it’s capped by a gorgeous glossy dome of a bun. There’s also a special sauce that’s made by throwing all burger things together in a blender: ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, burger, and bun. Yes. Fermented pickles came on the side.
We nudged in a bit early, ordered the flavored Pabst beer (done pickly with herbs in the hop rocket) and glanced approvingly at the potato salad and slaw sides.
- That sauce gets major points for creativity.
- This is a long, tall, drink of water.
- I know you can get this as a single, I just don’t know why you would.
- I might not make it to the last stop.
Overall: This was a full sensory burger situation. The fermented pickles brought it to a new place, and the onions brought it to an old place, White Castle to be precise. The house made potato bun was sturdy and held up to its task, staying true and supporting even the last bites.
STOP V: 5 p.m. @ Saint Dinette
Driving to St. Paul might be an advantage to the burger crawler who is questioning his or her mettle, a little car ride can settle many things. This charmer is a simple double cheese, with thicker patties than the first few, but not huge in size. No condiments, pickles on the side.
Again we nudged in a bit early, had an Old Fashioned and some tallboys. By this point in the day nobody even wanted to look at fries.
- The cheese pretty much takes a quantum leap forward here, is that technically fondue on there?
- I feel like there’s buttered popcorn in here.
- I could smell that bun coming a mile away.
- Did we seriously just finish those?
Overall: As our fifth burger of the afternoon, there were those of us at the table who needed a bump to even pick the burger up. But funny enough, at the end, there was nothing left. The elevated cheese sauce, which hints at Champagne tastes but brings the Jordache trashiness, takes this burger to another level. And the integrity of the meat was unreal: juicy, seasoned, with just the right amount of crisp. It all came together in perfect union.
AND THE WINNER IS . . . SAINT DINETTE!
After we tallied the scores, took an additional blind vote, and popped a handful of Prilosec, the winner ended up being unanimous.
When, after eating four burgers and hearing the defibrillator calling to you from the hallway, you get so bowled over by the last one that you nearly levitate, that's the winner. Saint Dinette’s ode to the humble double cheese is a nuanced homage to burgerdom that balances both heart and mind. The rest was basically a battle royale for second place.
But hey, this isn't a bedtime story, people, it's a call to action! Believe it, a five burger afternoon is a gauntlet worth throwing (even if you spread that afternoon over a weekend, or a few weeks), so we've given you our score card and dared you to tally your scores and send them our way at email@example.com or leave your results in the comments. We have faith in you.