When Isaac Becker announced he would be opening a new restaurant in the old Burch Pharmacy space on the corner of Franklin and Hennepin in Uptown, it caused a stir of mixed emotions. On one hand, it meant that a longstanding, locally owned, independent business and neighborhood landmark, a place that could claim Sir Paul McCartney as a onetime customer (he was was spotted there perusing the greeting card selection back in the early aughts), would be gone forever. On the other hand, steak. Steak and dumplings and a raw bar with marlin crudo and lamb tartare and a banquet table stocked with a splendid array of layer cakes and uniquely shaped bundts. And a full bar. And reasonably priced wine by the glass. And a kitchen that stays open until 1 a.m. on weekends. And, as if that weren't enough to appease every palate in your dining party, there's a separate pizza bar on the lower level, which is, in my opinion, a function of the highest nobility for unused basement space.
"We joke that we opened a restaurant and ... a restaurant," laughed Nancy St. Pierre, general manager and co-owner of Burch with Becker, who serves as executive chef and the conceptual craftsman of this "Midwestern steak house for a more modern audience," as St. Pierre so eloquently summarized it. "When we go out to eat, I rarely want a big piece of meat," she elaborated. "I tend to eat lighter, but Isaac still likes to be able to order something big and from the grill, so that was kind of where we started. Just like with 112, where we made a bistro sort of the way we imagined it, and Bar La Grassa, where we wanted to do lots of pasta but still offer plenty of other options, Burch is our steak house. It's meant to fit the tastes of people who eat like me and people who eat like Isaac."
As you might imagine, Isaac Becker eats very well, but both he and St. Pierre emphasized that they wanted the diners at Burch to have that steak-house experience without it hitting their wallets too hard. "That's why we have so many different cuts and sizes of beef on the menu," Becker explains. And that is no lie. In fact, I worked it out, and theoretically you could eat at Burch every day for a month and never have to order the same exact steak twice. Not only does Burch offer three designations of beef (grass-fed, natural, and prime from Grass Run Farms in Iowa and Niman Ranch in California) in every kind of cut from hanger to porterhouse, it also gives diners a choice with portions. So you can get a robust prime rib eye in either an eight- or 16-ounce portion, or a lean and clean grass-fed New York strip weighing in at either seven or 14 ounces. The minerally grass-fed beef is really excellent, and every cut is given equal expert care in its preparation, but let's be real — fat makes things taste good. It's why a high-quality beef burger served with nothing but a bun still beats out a fancied-up turkey burger any day of the week. So based on pure taste and texture, and without regard for cardiovascular health, the prime beef at Burch is absolutely superior. It's the kind of meat that originated the phrase "a cut above the rest," and it's why Becker chose it. "To me, the Niman Ranch prime beef is on par with Kobe beef in terms of the marbling and flavor. It's that good."
And even if you go for prime, you don't have to go all out. "I think last week 80 percent of the steaks we sold were the half-size ones," says St. Pierre. "So it seems like people appreciate the more manageable portions." Personally, I found it to be more than enough, especially when you factor in sides, which you absolutely must do. There's horseradish-heavy, buttery pureed potatoes with poutine gravy; sweet roasted carrots with thyme and goat cheese; and caramelized cauliflower with sweet bread crumbs, creamy burrata, and the umami tinge of anchovy. Everything is a la carte, though all steaks do come with a tray of sauce accoutrements: smoky and acidic house steak sauce, a beautifully smooth Béarnaise, and a dish of pickled mushrooms with tons of whole mustard and coriander seed.
"I think just in general, people are eating differently than they did 20 years ago," says St. Pierre. "That was part of the reasoning behind the raw bar and designing both the small and large plates as ones you could potentially share." Yes, in addition to all that beef, there are a few other main dishes — mostly fish, with a pork shoulder and pressed whole duck thrown in for good measure — that could work as light individual entrees or a make-your-own surf and turf. The simple salmon in parmesan broth with braised artichokes was lovely and well balanced, but the monkfish scallopini suffered from serious oversalting and an overwhelming amount of relish-like tartar sauce. I preferred the smaller plates overall, like the sweet, creamy, utterly oceanic Dungeness crab salad with crisp sea beans; the charred Brussels sprout salad with pancetta and a bright sherry dressing to balance the bitterness of the greens; and the savory turnover filled with chocolate-braised rabbit, which had a great depth of flavor, if a little on the salty side, complemented perfectly by a smear of pureed acorn squash.
And then there are the dumplings. "The whole dumpling thing actually started out as its own concept," says Becker. "I went to the Czech Republic, which is supposedly the dumpling capital of the world, and I ended up finding out more about what I didn't like in a dumpling than what I did like." What resulted was a small menu of different styles of European dumpling — pierogi, kinkhali (a meat-filled Russian dumpling), and Schupfnudel (which is like Germany's version of gnocchi), all with Becker's own finishes: sweet raisins and poppy seeds, chile threads, rich bone marrow, and the sheen of brown butter.
At Burch, in the upstairs alone, a lot is going on, but somehow it all works. You can get the full menu at the bar or eat at a communal table with friends or strangers, and it's a great place for a mixed group where you have to impress everyone. Then downstairs is Burch Pizza Bar, which is a whole other ball of buffalo mozzarella. "Everything that's cooked in the pizza bar — all the appetizers, some of the components of the salads, obviously all the pizza — it's all coming out of that wood-fired oven," says Becker, who describes the Burch pizza style as "mostly Napoli," with chewy crust, spare cheese, and some seriously fancy toppings, including lobster and braised octopus. The bold coppa cotta with smoked pork shoulder, roasted red peppers, and hazelnuts resonated big-time with our table, as did the beautifully tangly funghi with creamed leeks, generous handfuls of meaty mushrooms, and truffled boschetto cheese.
Both upstairs and down, the dessert selection seemed to have a bit of an English theme: suet cake (made with real grated suet — the hard, raw beef fat); creme brulee infused with Earl Grey tea; fudgy chocolate tablet with glossy pears; and fruit jelly. Becker says he's happy to offer "something different — things no one else is really doing" for the final course, but that when it comes to dessert he just likes a great piece of cake, so Burch has that too. The chocolate hazelnut cake is fantastic, and their baba rhum is my new favorite in town.
Burch fosters a fun, boisterous atmosphere, with lots of options and more European flair than you'd expect from a steak house. When you're waiting for your food to arrive, dig into an excellent house-made pretzel roll and take a look around. Everywhere people are silently chewing, having that love-at-first-bite moment, and slowly closing their eyes in what can only be described as beef bliss.
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