Burger Meisters, Revisited
14460 240th St. (Hwy. 61), Miesville
Brookside Bar And Grill
140 Judd St., Marine On St Croix
1100 Nicollet Mall
How about a field trip about 40 minutes south of the Cities for an afternoon or evening of baseball with the Miesville Mudhens, followed by the best burgers in Minnesota at King's Place? King's is across the street from the best outdoor ballpark in Minnesota, and we think they have the best burgers anywhere. My husband's favorite is the Rook: I only order the Mudhen--sauerkraut, bacon, and cheese. Chased with a beer, we're about as close to burger and baseball heaven as you can get.
The Mudhens aren't slouches, either. Three of their pitchers were drafted to the Twins during the strike, and they've won the state championship, I think, more than any other team of a town their size in Minnesota. Of course, you can always tailgate in the parking lot before a game, but King's is the best place for a post-game burger, beer, and yukking it up with the Mudhen players than any other sporting or eating event I've attended in Minnesota. Finally, don't forget the kids, who can retrieve foul balls in the cornfield. Priceless.
--Terri in St. Paul
When the boom! boom! boom! came a-crashing at the door, and I looked outside to see the 10 Indian elephants City Pages had been forced to hire to cart my mail to me, I knew something was up. To say that my best-burger roundup of a few weeks ago had touched a nerve would be ludicrous understatement. In fact, my exploration of the best burgers in town verily plunged both hands through the ears of the local consciousness, coming up with brimming fistfuls of ganglia, neurons, and general socio-cultural-regional cerebellum goo.
Ick. Forget that.
But you know what you all really, really like? Burgers!
You keep logs in your cars of the best ones. You drive across river and dale in search of them. You collect and trade them among your friends. You, you out there, you mellow moms parking your Caravans, you, you mechanically minded motor heads making double-strength pots of coffee, you, you modish moppets throwing away your tip money on Red Bull-vodkas, all of you, you only look like mild-mannered Minnesotans. In fact, you are all a bunch of burger fanatics. Fanatics! Obsessives! Single-minded and loony with it. I so applaud you for it.
And so I sifted through the mail, I drove through the lilac-drenched countryside, and I decided to present to you what you really, really want: Three more of the best burgers in the state, to add to your spreadsheets, your summer plans.
First, let me tell you about Miesville. Population 135, closely grouped around Highway 61 between Hastings and Red Wing. The kind of place a city slicker might mistake for a speed trap. Not so! Outdoor baseball is the big draw here. Imagine the Saints' stadium, but three times more bucolic, ringed by cornfields and distant, regal, navy blue silos. (Find out more at www.miesvillebaseball.com.)
Across the road from the baseball stadium and down a few steps is King's Place, which is kind of like an extremely domestic classic roadhouse. Knotty pine, beer signs, knotty pine, wooden booths, more knotty pine, the opportunity to buy chocolates for local charities. It's the kind of roadhouse where the back room will get taken over by a dozen grandmotherly-looking ladies with careful permanent waves, as it was when I visited.
But don't confuse domestic with timid. No. They are putting together burgers at King's Place that I have never heard of, never imagined, never imagined imagining. Like the Sacrifice ($4.20), in which the King's signature moist, fluffy, fresh-ground burger is topped with ham, corned beef, bacon, cheddar cheese, and sour cream. Or the Intense ($4.10), topped with salsa, jalapeños, pepper cheese, lettuce, and sour cream. Yes, I said sour cream. I said it twice. This is dairy country, and King's has five, count 'em, five, burgers topped with sour cream, and at least one topped with three kinds of cheese and sour cream. Three kinds of cheese, and sour cream, on a burger. In Miesville they don't know the word fear.
I tried a couple of the King's Place burgers, and found them good. The plainest ones showcased the estimable burger itself, the fluffy but well-knit patty that comes only from meat that's very fresh, and never over-handled. The most elaborately dressed burgers were more like casseroles. The Rook, for instance, is covered with sliced green olives, cheddar cheese, lettuce, and a nice, mild, pink special sauce. The whole thing combines into something incredibly moist, grandly salty, and deeply rich. When tasted with its sweet, soft bun, it becomes more than a meal, and only slightly less than Christmas dinner at Grandma's house.
In short, if you are a burger fanatic, I insist you rip this column out and shove it in your glove compartment for use this summer. And to force the issue, here are a few things you can do in and around King's, besides attend Mudhens games.
Alexis Bailly Vineyards is only a few miles from King's. Alexis Bailly is Minnesota's best winery, and they're open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays June through November so that you can amble about looking at the picturesque vineyards, playing bocce ball, tasting wine, and generally having a fun time. The first two weekends in June, the winery hosts its annual open house, when Nan Bailly, the winemaker and owner of the little vineyard that could, debuts her 2003 wines. "They're jam-packed," said Bailly, when I called to check how things were going. "It's fun to taste them when they're this young. Of course, it's a cause for celebration whenever I have another miracle vintage to release. We've had no snow cover down here for two winters in a row, we've been plagued by pestilence, bugs, it's been biblical disaster down here. But, with wine, quantity and quality arrive in inverse proportions, so the more devastated the grapes are, the better the wine." (Alexis Bailly Vineyard, 18200 Kirby Ave., Hastings, 651.437.1413, www.abvwines.com.)
If bucolic nature without stemware is more your thing, let me ask you, have you ever ridden your bike on the Cannon Valley Trail? It's a flat-paved converted railroad bed that snakes through 19 miles of beautiful countryside, and threatens to be a breathtakingly pretty thing to bike upon from now until the next big snow. (The Cannon Valley Trail folks can be reached at 507.263.0508 or www.cannonvalleytrail.com.)
Just wanted to offer another vote on the best burger in town. The Brookside Bar and Grille out in Marine on St. Croix has the most consistently great burger that I have found. So consistent it survived an ownership change several years back.
The two burgers I crave from time to time are Matt's Jucy Lucy and the Brookside's Red Bridge basket (with veggies, not fries). The Red Bridge delivers every single time without fail.
--Adam in St. Paul
And so, on to Marine on St. Croix!
Now, if you decide to drive from Miesville to Marine in one single day, as I did, you will get a lot of good St. Croix River time in. I saw about eight soaring hawks, four gliding herons, and roughly 2,000 dazzling picture-postcard views.
This was even before I got to Marine on St. Croix, a town which is to picture-postcard scenes what Las Vegas is to sins, what New York is to dreams. Every tulip, every finial, every sparrow seems to cock its head to you and say: If you only had your camera, buddy, you and me could make a beautiful fundraising calendar here.
Now Marine is also in the 651 area code, it's about 15 minutes north of Stillwater off Highway 95, down by the river, and is such a cute, sweet, pretty, wee, little, ittle, wittle willage dat I just wanna cwy.
Anyway, the Brookside is more Connecticut than Minnesota, the kind of place where extreme wealth and extreme countryside-working-class seem to cohabit happily. Which means that imported Paulaner or Spaten beer on tap costs only $4.50 a pint, and you can have Murphy Goode Merlot with your cheese curds if it so appeals to you. Okay, I, too, agree that the Spanish Rosé is a better cheese-curd choice, but that's not my point. My point is that you don't find such classically made cheese curds ($6.50) everywhere, ones that are big, lumpen, and irregular, just like they're supposed to be, so that the little nubbins are hard little crisps, and the big guys are molten gooey pull-aparts. They're classic Minnesota cheese curds! The chili is better than Minnesota classic, it's light and lively, full of tender meat and loose bits of stewed tomatoes; it bears every hallmark of being handmade by a true cook.
The burgers are splendid: char-touched, tender, snuggly in sweet, fresh buns. I tried the Mill Stream ($6.50), which is topped with a fierce little cloud of crumbled, melted blue cheese. Now, not all burgers can stand up to blue cheese, but this one can. A pesto aioli sat to one side in a little plastic cup, as if daring me to render this burger fully gourmet. I took the bait, and then it was almost too much. It was show-offy. "I am such a good burger," it seemed to boast. "I am so good that I can withstand blue cheese, onions, garlic, everything you've got, I can take it, and still dominate them all with my fabulous roasty, meaty self."
Now, usually? Usually I'm not much for taking that kind of guff from a burger, but I have to admit this one had the goods to back it up, so I gave in, cried uncle, and ate every last crumb.
Still, even with all that burger sass, I can't say enough good things about my lunch at the Brookside. So put this one in your summer playbook, too. Marine makes a perfect lunchtime destination if you're clambering around Taylor's Falls, hiking at William O'Brien State Park, or admiring the art at the Franconia Sculpture Park. (Franconia, if you've never been there, is amazing--imagine the Walker Sculpture Garden meets the circus, meets farm camp. Franconia, 29815 Unity Ave., Shafer, 651.465.3701, www.franconia.org.)
Vincent has a tasty burger with spare ribs hidden inside!
--Matthew of St. Paul
Now this, this was just a dunderheaded blunder. How did I miss Vincent's burger the first time? Was I blind? Was I mad? Was I blind, mad, and a danger to common decency?
Because I knew about Vincent's burger. But I forgot all about it. Which is like making a list of things that are blue, and leaving out the sky.
This burger. Crikey. Heavens. Lord, take me now!
Just when you think that the absolute height of burger achievement has been achieved, along comes Vincent, and remakes the entire playing field. This burger--and at $11.75 I know you're already skeptical, but trust me, it's worth it--this burger is a miracle.
To make it, the chefs at Vincent first braise short ribs overnight in a complicated stew of tomatoes, tamarind, Worcestershire sauce, and lots more. (This is a recipe chef Vincent Francoual picked up when he cooked at former New York City super-important restaurant Lespinasse.) The chefs then pull these short ribs off the bone, make a little patty of that short rib meat, add some smoked gouda to that, build a sirloin burger around it, and then just grill the heck out of it till it tastes like it's been outside on a fire, when it hasn't.
This miracle burger then gets tucked into a light, eggy bun that is best described as some meeting point between brioche and a Kaiser roll, a roll further dressed with a thing the restaurant modestly calls French cocktail sauce--a mayonnaise gussied up with more kinds of secret ingredients, including sherry vinegar and minced cornichons. The Vincent burger comes with all the fancy-restaurant accompaniments you hope for: sliced tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, leaf lettuce, wisps of onion.
Every bite of this burger is rich, profoundly meaty, as full of flavor as a symphony is full of sound. Like any great dish, it conquers several dimensions: In terms of flavor, the roasty qualities of beef are accented by the sweetness of the bun and the cocktail sauce, while the salt and smoke of the cheese give meaning to the fresh and light of the toppings. In terms of texture, though, the burger is exceptionally accomplished: The soft and stringy texture of the short ribs plays off the melting texture of the cheese, which teases out the more muscular texture of the burger. You know, it's not easy for a burger to remain fascinating through every bite, but this one is.
And the great news, the fantastic, you-read-it-here-first news is that this burger, which comes with some nice, crispy, ultra-thin fries, used to be available only at lunch. But as of now, it's also available at dinner time, only at the bar. (And this bar is likely the best-kept secret in downtown. I was always surprised that the understated, quiet bar tucked in the back of Vincent didn't take off--but I bet it will now. I recommend it wholeheartedly as a place to dip into for garlicky escargot, a carafe of wine, and now, that fantastic burger. And as long as it's not within an hour of curtain time at Orchestra Hall, there's always a seat.
So that's it! No more burgers! I don't care if you find one with six kinds of bacon that bicycles while whistling "Oklahoma."
Okay, I'm lying. Of course I care. I especially care because, if current trends continue, that burger should arrive any day to a plate near you.
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