Burger Meisters

Of undeterrable German shepherds and buttered bison

Dear Dara;

Hey, this is Officer Steve [rumble] from the Minneapolis Police Department. There's a place you have to check out, it's the best [something]...best burgers and best gyros in the city, just incredible, right at [rumble] and Chicago [Beep!].

This message has been deleted,

Officer Steve

 

Dear Officer Steve;

Aaaah!

Damn answering machines! Or rather, automated voice-mail systems. Damn voice systems in the mist!

Me, I wish I had listened to my grandmother, who often said, as she cracked eggs against the fire hydrant, "Dearie, when you are a grown-up fancy lady, make sure you don't have three separate push-button voice-mail systems on your cell, work, and home phones, so that sometimes when you push three you repeat the message, sometimes you delete it, and other times you spin your whole life into chaos, searching for the best burger in the Twin Cities."

Because my grandmother was right about that, as she was about so many things, and especially about the best ways to fit a live giraffe securely in the overhead compartment.

I mean, if you want to find out where the best burgers are in the Twin Cities, don't bloody well erase the message right in the middle of trying to listen to it, or--where on Chicago?

I mean, Chicago's a long avenue. From downtown to the airport, there's all kinds of Chicago Avenue and...

Did you say gyros?

You know, I did a roundup of gyros a few years back, during which I ate nearly 20 of the lamby, lamby sandwiches in a week.

Twenty.

Frankly, I have yet to recover.

Because you know what? Youth may be wasted on the young, but bad ideas? Bad ideas are not.

You know how people in graduation speeches are always telling you it's better to regret the things you have done, than the things you haven't done? That's because they never ate 20 gyros.

Twenty gyros.

I have to tell you, I feel about the words 20 gyros the way most people do about statements such as, "When I woke up, the car was on Mrs. Gilchrist's deck, and I realized my friends weren't lying, my date really did look like Baba Yaga."

Twenty gyros.

The mind wobbles.

And yet, as it wobbles, the idea of the best burger bites down, fiercely, strongly, irresistibly, like a wolverine that's been lifting weights all winter and arrives in a Lily Pulitizer sundress. Exactly like that.

And so I went on a mad burger hunt! The best burger, the best burger--who has the best burger? First, I hit the usual suspects. The Convention Grill is always a good candidate for the short list: cute, genuine, Norman Rockwell Americana in the realest sense; with real burgers, real fries, and real milkshakes presented by ladies who always seem on the very precipice of sliding you over in your booth to help you finish your homework. I ordered a burger, a half-order of fries, and a banana milkshake. The milkshake came first: creamy, made with real ice cream, rich as a Minnetonka afternoon Pilates class, and a thousand times sunnier. It was full of chunks of real, fresh banana, and tasted like comfort and purity incarnate. This is the taste of childhood. The burgers were fine, thick and meaty, presented in sweet, rich buns, but they weren't as tender inside, as crisp outside, or, generally, as unique as I remember. The fries, too, were off--they weren't the half-inch thick, long, floppy planks I used to adore. They were good, but plain old everyday fry-sized cuts. And for some daft reason I also ordered a Caesar salad, which tasted like it came out of a bag; the dressing was chemical-tasting and sharp, the cheese had that plastic texture I associate with anti-caking agents. I felt like the best-milkshake-seeking part of my soul had been satisfied, but I had to persevere. (The Convention Grill, 3912 Sunnyside Ave., Edina; 952.920.6881.)

I revisited Ike's, the retro-but-not-too-themey burger restaurant that I wrote a rave review of when it opened. Again, I wasn't too thrilled: The burger was good enough, the meat tender, the bun seared lovingly by the grill, but lousy service and a tiny, measly portion of fries overshadowed the experience. Not only did the hostess roll her eyes and run for the back when my party of two walked in the door on a Saturday afternoon. We were then escorted to a dirty table, told to wait in a nearby walkway for it, scolded by another server for standing where we were, and when we finally sat, our server took another 10 minutes to show up, whereupon he informed us that we had chosen a terrible time to show up, and that practically the only thing we would be permitted to order was the burger. And even though the burger was the whole reason we were there, it suddenly seemed like the second-class citizen's meal. We persevered, and after the server ignored our burger-doneness preferences and abandoned us, I couldn't tell if the burger was really as oversweet and flabby as it tasted, or whether the unpleasantness of the rest of the experience was coloring the taste of the burger. This, this was certainly not the perfect burger. (Ike's Food & Cocktails, 50 S. Sixth St., Minneapolis; 612.746.4537)

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