Ode to a Stinking Rose

Bullwinkle's Saloon
1429 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis;
(612) 338-8520

Hours: 11:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-1:00 a.m. Sunday; kitchen serves daily until 11:00 p.m.

Golooney's East Coast Pizza
2329 Hennepin Ave. S., Minneapolis;
(612) 377-8555

Hours: 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-1:00 a.m. Sunday; Golooney's also delivers to much of Lowry Hill, the Wedge, Uptown, and Whittier

 

As anyone can tell you, I am a very, very, extremely romantically minded individual. Why, all I have to do is hear the faintest crinkle of red foil on a bon-bon and I'm just flinging lace antimacassars on every table and hot-gluing paper doilies to the passers-by.

So when I heard that Valentine's Day fell on a Wednesday--why, the very day this paper hits the stands!--I was beside myself with delight, which afforded me the rare opportunity to see how my hair looked from the back. Immediately, I vowed that this would be the year I put together the most romantic meal imaginable. I assembled all the necessary particulars: Hermès table linens, Baccarat crystal, lavender-scented candles, Rodgers and Hart songbooks, tins of osetra caviar, little polished bone spoons, whole foie gras, delicate stems of white asparagus--no expense was spared! Rare apéritifs, even lacy unmentionables from a certain little boutique on the Rue St. Honoré, all were combined for the unforgettable day. Perhaps a salade mixte of it all was a poor idea, for, leaving the hospital, clasping a particularly vicious bill for stomach pumping, the hard laughter of interns and nurses echoed in my ears, and I resolved never to give romance a second chance. Indeed, I vowed that this would be the year that only an unromantic flavor would get my attention, only garlic, the taste said to repel vampires and smooches with equal speed.

And what a good idea! I haven't eaten this well in months.

First on my agenda was Bullwinkle's Saloon, a bar in Minneapolis's Seven Corners that looks pretty much exactly like any other bar in Seven Corners, sparkling with beer neon and festooned with banners advertising improbably cheap pitchers of suds. The Bullwinkle's menu is simple enough, printed on brown paper and containing dozens of the most recognizable dishes known to barflies: grilled cheese, quesadillas, Coney Island hot dogs, chili. I ordered quite widely from the menu, tasting sweet, textbook Chicago-style hot dogs ($2.95), good onion rings (4.75), and even salads (from $2.95), which are most notable for appearing with a fried breadstick that's kissing cousin to a doughnut. But it was with the garlic burgers that I found true love. Garlic burgers (from $4.25) are a mixture of good, fresh ground beef, raw chopped garlic, and black pepper, all gently united to a loose, tender patty, then grilled. Unadorned, they taste fierce and feisty, and remind me of some of the tastiest corners of Eastern European, Russian, and even northern Asian cooking. Throw some raw onions on there and you've got a hamburger with the personality of a mountain cat.

All the burgers come on a good, soft, grill-seared white bun and with your choice of milky cole slaw, chips, or skin-on fries. There are squeeze bottles of vinegary house hot sauce on all the tables: Douse the fries in the hot sauce, and alternate with garlic burger. Yearning to take your Ukrainian or Korean grandma for a burger? Here's where.

The garlic burger made extreme is called the "lonely guy" ($4.50), for breath-related reasons. A lonely guy is a garlic burger topped with squiggly rings of sweet, fried onions, which are secured to the garlic burger with lots of melted pepper cheese: peppery, garlicky, meaty, salty, oniony. My first bite of the lonely guy and I had to put the burger down and stare out the window; I felt like I had come home. (That I have a Ukrainian grandma probably helps.) The lonely guy needed only a few bites to fight its way into the pantheon of kick-ass local cult-burgers: Move over, Juicy Lucy!

And let me direct a big Bronx cheer to the fact that I've probably driven past Bullwinkle's about 47 million times, never suspecting its plain façade hid a wealth of tasty garlic burgers. Sheesh, just when you think you know a town.

Ditto for Golooney's, a little pizza place I've been to plenty, mainly because it's a perennial contender for the best pizza in Minneapolis, and they sell good slices cheap. It came to mind for this piece because you can get roasted garlic on your slice--which looks peculiar, with the soft brown cloves perched atop the cheese (like so many commas come to life on a page), but tastes good. When I got to Golooney's, though, I ordered a calzone, on a lark. A standard calzone costs $7.95 and comes with your choice of two pizza toppings; I had them go and stuff two more in there, at 95 cents each. Waiting for my calzone, I sat down and had a Philly cheese steak ($4.05 for a six-inch "half" sub; $6.35 for a whole one). It was both surprisingly good and enormous--a nice loaf of glossy-crusted Italian bread overflowing with sautéed onions and banana peppers, and glazed with real, melted provolone, all of it uniting some very high-quality, pleasantly hefty sliced rib eye. (Well, hefty, that is, for minute steaks. The meat was thick enough to bite into, and tasted real and fresh--not of chemicals and freezers, the way so many razor-sliced prefab minute steaks do.) As far as I'm concerned, a good cheese steak when you're not looking for one is blessing enough, but when my calzone appeared my heart went all Bugs Bunny, leaping from my body in a heart-shaped imprint while my ears spun around in circles and made propeller noises: Whatta calzone!

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