Serious foodies instinctively distrust restaurant chains. Chains evoke the processed, middlebrow, not-too-spicy-or-my-tummy-will-hurt blandness meant to please the masses. And they're, like, totally soulless, too. Isn't it obvious that the multi-grain, sustainably-sourced, earth-friendly, chef-driven spot has to be better? Well, it depends on what you order. This week, we use turkey burgers to scrutinize a basic tenet of foodie scripture.
The Venue: The local Blue Plate Restaurant Company diner hydra has many faces: The Highland Grill, Groveland Tap, and this week's contender the Edina Grill are just a few of the wildly popular places this group runs. The opposition is the fully sustainable folks behind the French Meadow Café on Lyndale Avenue, which is not a chain even though it's recently opened a second location near Macalester College on Grand Avenue.
The Weigh-in: The Edina Grill has been a mid-priced staple of the 50th and France neighborhood for years. Known for its family-friendly sandwiches and breakfasts, its menu is heavy on familiar dishes with unusual twists. French Meadow has been at the heart of the local, organic, low-impact food front for the last 22 years. It teems with health-conscious, healthy-looking people stopping in for coffee and a "sweet" treat or an organic, vegetarian or vegan meal. Here's what they have in common: Both places claim turkey burgers and side salads as legitimate and viable parts of their menu.
Round 1: The bun True, any burger needs a bun sturdy enough to withstand being picked up and put down repeatedly. But if the buns are too big, they'll overwhelm the burger and toppings. French Meadow serves its turkey burger on an organic sprouted bun, but it really shouldn't. The bottom of the bun broke in half after a few bites and was so aggressively textured and crumbly that the turkey patty in between the bread got lost. The Edina Grill's buns, which come from Franklin Street Bakery, are the epitome of taste and functionality. Their glossy outer crust and soft center are ideal for any kind of sandwich or burger.
Round 2: Burger and toppings Sure, turkey patties are about as inherently flavorful as rice cakes or boiled shoe. More than most burgers, they depend on their seasonings and toppings. French Meadow's sends out a beautiful patty topped with lots of smart choices: roasted tomatoes, tart pickles, caramelized onions, and Eichtens gouda. Although this is a great combination of flavors, the turkey patty got lost in the mix. The Edina Grill offers a well-seasoned patty enhanced by a pesto aioli with just enough bite to convince you that the patty really is something special. A bit of lettuce and cheese add enough crunch and flavor to render ketchup and mustard optional.
Round 3: The side salad Okay, okay, so ordering the side salad instead of the fries is mildly transgressive. But summer is coming, and who couldn't use a side of sensible greens? French Meadow serves beautifully dressed organic greens in a light vinaigrette that lets them shine. Edina Grill adds some julienned banana peppers, kalamata olives, diced cucumber, diced tomatoes, and a few croutons.And the winner is... The Edina Grill. If there's a better turkey burger out there, we'd like someone to let us know where it is.This should be the Blue Plate Company's signature dish: It's so reliably good and tasty that, given one to try, even foodies will understand why chain restaurants got so popular in the first place.