Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Double cheeseburger at Parlour
Sometimes there’s nothing a couple of righteously seared beef patties dripping with cheese and pickles can’t cure. Stacked under a soft but toasted bun, a burger is like a juicy, cheesy little gift in your hands. I bet you’re craving one right now. I am. But for some chefs, the burger is a gift and a curse.
Take the Parlour burger (and, if you’re like me, shove it in your face). The simple yet exquisite double cheeseburger with pickles and white American cheese has become a cult phenom in the cocktail bar below the North Loop restaurant Borough, itself known for fancier plates and tasting menus. In Parlour’s early days, the reputation of its bar burger eclipsed that of the restaurant. So many burgers were ordered that they began to take up precious kitchen space where the fancier things ought to be cooking. It wasn’t long before we insiders heard grumbling from the Borough kitchen that it resented the fact that among all the beautiful food that it was cooking, the burger was king. Today, that cult menu item is only available at the bar downstairs at night, or at Borough over lunch.
Vincent Francoual has a similar story. Here’s a guy who created a standard-setting French restaurant in Minneapolis, and what is he best known for? The Vincent burger, a gloriously stuffed bomb of beefy goodness oozing with gouda and love. And now that he’s working with Cara Irish Pubs, what signature dish do you think he brought with him?
Imagine being a creative culinary soul who wants to stretch and innovate, but suddenly becomes defined by something elemental and commonplace. Daniel Radcliffe will always be Harry Potter, no matter how many arty plays and films he does. But the other side of that coin is that Daniel Radcliffe can now choose to do arty plays and movies because of that wizard money. It’s a similar deal with cheffy burgers.
There are, of course, plenty of cooks who don’t blink an eye at burger-mania. An Uptown chef once told me that when the rooftop’s open he will happily sell burgers all day long and come out with a huge money day. You’ll find a similar ethos at Saint Dinette, whose beloved burger draws diners to Lowertown and, fingers crossed, hooks them for a return visit.
But whether loved or resented, let’s not overestimate the power of a burger. After all, Il Foro had one of the best in the city, but it wasn’t enough to save the place, which closed in May.
And finally, to the anti-patty set: What’s up with treating burgers as the ultimate insult to fine cooking? Isn’t there room on the menu for an elevated take on the lowbrow classic? For those who cry about the tyranny of the burger, I say have a look at Shake Shack, which just opened its 95th global location at the Mall of America. It’s the creation of über-restaurateur Danny Meyer, who is equally lauded for his highbrow spots like Gramercy Tavern in New York City. Has he lost any street cred from Shake Shack? I don’t think so. Making a great burger that people flock to is an accomplishment that should be celebrated in a world where mediocre burgers abound.