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93: Duck Burger at the Happy Gnome

The Happy Gnome is known as a beer joint, with 70-something taps at all times, but don't let that steer you away from the plated options: The food here is as serious as the beer.

This St. Paul restaurant draws influence from finer food establishments, eschewing deep fryers, American cheese, and iceberg lettuce for more sophisticated fare. One can have a candlelit dinner in the more formal dining room, or in the bar area where booths, TVs, and loud conversation define the experience.

See also: 94: Buffalo Tots at the Blue Door Pub

Candlelit dinners aside, it's a burger that you'll want sitting alongside your frosty pint glass. More precisely, the duck burger.

Duck is a touchy bird, often on the strong and gamey side and definitely not typically pressed into a patty. The Happy Gnome blends the duck meat with wild rice, creating a firm patty and countering those overpowering elements with an earthy starch to hold it together. The rice tones down the flavor, but subtly, while the cherry aioli (served on the side) brings out the wilder elements but with a sweet touch that softens the sandwich's impression.

It's topped with goat cheese, giving a creamy texture to the already light (as compared with red meat) patty and accenting the delicacy of the sandwich. It's soft, smooth, and filled with powerful but complementary flavors. This isn't a tamed version of wild game, it's just very well dressed, as the aioli and cheese bring a cocktail of strong flavors into one meal but never overpower. Top it off with the standard lettuce, tomato, and onion at your discretion and pair it with a saison from the beer menu to perfect the meal.

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