The Importance of Burgers

Can frugal carnivores eat locally, humanely, and well? Dear Dara finds out.

"We're not at 100 percent with our beef yet, but we're trying to get there," Mattson told me. "We're a big operation, and it's hard to find suppliers who can keep up with us, but our goal is to get to 100 percent for beef. For instance, two years ago 10 percent of our black beans were organic. Now 20 percent are, and we have this thing called a Food Integrity Program, where our goal is to lead the revolution for sustainable, responsible farming."

Now, I know there are some food snobs out there who think that Chipotle is somehow contemptible because they're partly owned by McDonald's. But this really strikes me as the worst sort of knee-jerk stupidity, like refusing a life raft from someone because you don't like her pants. If you like burritos and you like Minnesota family farmers to thrive while humanely raising free-roaming hogs, what's not to like?

But now that you know that Minnesota-family-farm-supporting, non-Schlosserian-nightmare foods are available on the cheap all around you, let's get back to your question: Which local restaurants have the cheap, casual, tasty, and ethically acceptable foods you crave? What follows is the list of the best ones I know of.

The Dakota’s winning--and defensible--Cobb burger
Kris Drake
The Dakota’s winning--and defensible--Cobb burger

Location Info

Map

Barbette

1600 W. Lake St.
Minneapolis, MN 55408

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street

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(I know this list isn't comprehensive, so if you have a restaurant, or know of a restaurant that is working with local farmers and isn't on this list, mail or e-mail me, and I'll publish a more thorough update in the future.)

 

Bryant-Lake Bowl & Café Barbette
You might know these Lake Street legends, both owned by Kim Bartmann, as, respectively, an old-man-adorable retro bowling alley with one of the best beer lists in the state, and Minneapolis's most beloved all-day café. But did you know that every single animal product at the Bryant-Lake Bowl is local, organic, sustainable, and ethically as good as can be? If you knew, you had one over on me. I had no idea. All the beef is bought from local Moonstone Farms. The two restaurants buy three steers at a time, send the prime bits to Barbette, and use the rest at the Bryant-Lake Bowl for burgers and various daily specials. Pork comes from local farm Pastures A Plenty.

"I took over the kitchen at the Bryant-Lake Bowl two-and-a-half years ago and we've been trying to make this happen ever since," chef Al Potyondy-Smith told me. "All the beef and pork has been local, organic, and sustainable for about two years now, and we just got all the chickens and eggs fully local, organic, and so forth. Kim is really conscious of the fine points of keeping local economies strong, and we also wanted to get the finest ingredients for our scratch kitchen, so we could offer a product that customers can easily tell is really good. We realized a long time ago that health, product quality, and economic strength are all things that create one another, so we went to a lot of trouble to make this happen."

I stopped in at Bryant-Lake Bowl recently and had a Moonstone burger (from $7.50) and the Pastures A Plenty barbecue pork sandwich ($8.75), and they tasted real, meaty, clean, simple, and good. When I looked around the room I got a particularly funny feeling. By golly, all these happily drinking hipsters and families were participating in the most radical of all possible economies: the knowable one their grandparents had. (Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612.825.3737, www.bryantlakebowl.com; Café Barbette, 1600 W. Lake St., Minneapolis, 612.827.5710, www.cafebarbette.com)

 

Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant
Meanwhile, in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, the Dakota uses beef from Creekstone Farms, a Kentucky cattle company that specializes in humanely raised, vegetarian-fed animals raised in an environmentally conscientious way. I stopped in recently and had a burger fit for the local burger halls of fame: It was delicious, scrumptious, and truly craveable. I speak here of the Cobb burger ($10.50), an avant-garde creation whereby a fist of well-charred, extremely tender beef is set in the midst of a plate adorned with all the good bits of a Cobb salad—the avocado cut into precious cubes; the bacon scattered in rich, twisty salty bits; the creamy, perky blue cheese lolling in wee lobes. Every bite was rich, deep, and extremely satisfying. The fries were crisp, fresh, and just right. My lunch buddy and I also tried a beautiful blood orange and watercress salad ($9) and a fine, light, and herbal peeky-toe crabcake sandwich ($11).

"Why have you been hiding the Dakota from everybody?" demanded my lunch date. "People need to know!"

I talked to the Dakota's sous chef, Brian Linehan, who explained to me that ever since chef Jack Riebel took over the restaurant they've been doing most of their own butchery in-house. Part of the reason that Cobb burger is so good is because it is freshly made from the second cuts that remain once the steaks and tenderloin are reserved for the dinner crowd. "Generally, Jack or myself will take down all the protein in-house, from fish to meat, which allows us to put together products we wouldn't be able to do otherwise," says Linehan. Like what? Like from the pork that they break down, house-made chorizo with lots of cider vinegar and cinnamon, potstickers filled with Kahlua-marinated pork and shrimp, and so forth. The poultry too, says Linehan, is something you can eat with mindful peace. But back to that burger. If you want one that's both ethically responsible and completely delicious, this is my pick. (The Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 612.332.1010, www.dakotacooks.com)

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