The Importance of Burgers

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

 

W.A. Frost
Chef Russell Klein at W.A. Frost also has a commitment to both scratch-butchery and nightmare-free meat—but don't think chefs are doing this solely to try to get into heaven. When I spoke to him on the phone, Klein was quick to point out that the quality of the product and the thoughtfulness with which it was raised usually go hand in hand. I stopped by Frost for a fantastic and inexpensive lunch a few weeks ago. I tried the restaurant's pulled pork sandwich ($7.99), a mahogany-deep, achingly tender, beautifully sweet and spicy concoction made with Fischer Farms pork, raised in Waseca, Minnesota.

I talked to Klein to find out why that pork is so good, and he told me that making it takes the full force of a big French-style kitchen. They take the pork shoulder, braise it with the vegetable mixture known as mirepoix, cook it down in veal stock, shred it, and finally combine it with the spicy barbecue sauce they make in-house. "We love it," he says. "It's one of those things that would still be good if you made it with any old meat, but with the Fischer Farms pork it just becomes fantastic. It will definitely be on the menu all summer."

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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Good, because it might take a while for local barbecue fanatics to believe that some of the best barbecue in the state is being served in the genteel, pretty Frost gardens. Of course, you can order this sandwich, which comes with charming crispy French fries, in the bar if the flowery gardens are too much for you.

I also tried Frost's garlic-deepened lamb burger ($9.99), a tender but spicily feisty joy. I think it was the best lamb burger I've had in my life, which is probably due in part to the fact that it was made with the second cuts left over from Klein's favorite free-roaming, grass-fed Colorado lambs, the pricier bits of which are showcased at dinner. (W.A. Frost & Co., 374 Selby Avenue, St. Paul, 651.224.5715, www.wafrost.com)

 

Birchwood Café
Phillip Werst took over the kitchen at the Birchwood Café last year, and has recently been introducing more locally sourced, sustainably raised meats into the restaurant's vegetarian-heavy repertoire. "When I showed up we were getting things like organic chicken breasts from Sysco, but the quality was awful," Werst told me. "Now we're going local, with the Southeast Minnesota Food Network, and the quality is just so much better."

I stopped by the Birchwood for this story and tried out the locally farmed special of the day, which happened to be a turkey burger served on a Birchwood-made potato roll with sautéed apples and a walnut-cheddar cheese spread ($8); it was a hearty, comforting creation.

Speaking of the Birchwood, did you know they're offering all kinds of specials nowadays? Tuesdays and Wednesdays are half-price wine nights, and on Mondays they offer a cheap date night of $45 for a bottle of wine and a four-course meal for two. The Birchwood kitchen is now serving an array of more adventurous, non-Birchwoodian items, such as three tapas-sized plates of ever-changing daily specials, for $15. When I was there I tried good Maine mussels, served in an onion-soup-like broth further amplified with fresh ramps and fava beans, cubes of tofu grilled on skewers and served in a nutty red miso sauce alongside a watercress salad, and finally a wilted spinach salad topped with slices of well-cured chorizo and roasted crescents of potato, paired with a lively lemon and Spanish pimentón mayonnaise. Doesn't sound like the bread pudding and tofu-pizza Birchwood of yore? The place is definitely going in some new and interesting directions; I'm going to keep an eye on it. (Birchwood Café, 3311 E. 25th St., Minneapolis, 612.722.4474)

 

Clancey's
No story on sustainable meats is complete without a mention of Clancey's, the Linden Hills butcher that works exclusively with local farmers raising animals in humane and sustainable ways. In addition to meats for you to cook, however, Clancey's also offers ready-made sandwiches using meats they roast in-house and tuck into crisp, beautiful Rustica baguettes. I tried a wonderful turkey sandwich (made with Wild Acres turkey from Pequot Lakes), a delicious roast beef sandwich (made with Hill & Vale round rubbed with thyme and garlic), and a dreamy ham sandwich (made with Hidden Streams Farm hickory-smoked ham).

Regular readers know I'm a sandwich stickler and fanatic, and these sandwiches, which run around $7 and are huge, are the best plain subs I've ever had in Minnesota. However, Clancey's is not first and foremost a sandwich shop, and it takes them forever to make them, and sometimes they run out of bread. So now you know. I'd call ahead before heading over. (Clancey's Meats & Fish, 4307 Upton Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612.926.0222)

 

The Rest of the Story
Okay, I've run out of room. Here's a quick, by no means exhaustible, list of other restaurants that have ethical and affordable burgers, meatloaves, barbecue, brisket, and whatnot:

The Corner Table, 4257 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis, 612.823.0011, www.cornertablerestaurant.com

Muffuletta, 2260 Como Ave., St. Paul, 651.644.9116, www.muffuletta.com

Lucia's Bakery and Take Home; 1428 W. 31st St., Minneapolis, 612.825.9800, www.lucias.com

Heartland, 1806 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul, 651.699.3536, www.heartlandrestaurant.com

Café 28, 2724 W. 43rd St., Minneapolis, 612.926.2800, www.cafetwentyeight.com

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