Red Cow builds buzz-worthy burgers

Red Cow builds buzz-worthy burgers
E. Katie Holm

The list of things that took an embarrassingly long time for me to learn in life is, well, embarrassingly long. I didn't catch on to the whole "telling time on an analog clock" thing as quickly as my elementary school peers, for example. And I was well into my teens before I understood that Liam Neeson and Leslie Nielsen are not the same person. Just last weekend I realized I may never be able to recall which personality type (supposedly) correlates to right-brained thinkers and which to left-brained, though the fact that I can never remember that probably indicates which side of my own brain I use more. Then there's the late-learned lesson that fills me with regret when I think back on every diner and steak house I have ever visited — the one about ordering a high-quality beef burger by using an elegant economy of words: medium rare.

Though it's a temperature request usually reserved for strip steaks and sockeye salmon, a perfectly medium-rare burger, made of well-sourced beef (increasingly important when phrases like "pink slime" and "secret horse meat" are in the headlines) and very little else, is a thing of beauty. So it's a bummer when you aren't given the option to order it that way, especially at a place that touts burgers as its specialty. But that's exactly what happened on my first visit to Red Cow in Edina. I didn't realize until I took my first saucy bite that no one had asked me how I wanted my burger cooked. Why not? Because Red Cow does so many loaded, stuffed, and non-beef burgers that temperature preferences are more often than not predetermined for you.

But you'd have to be a terribly nitpicky curmudgeon to have the whole cooked-to-temperature issue detract from your experience here, and based on how busy Red Cow is at all hours of the day, people are not nitpicking. They are eating. They are eating big cast-iron skillets of poutine — hand-cut French fries with shreds of braised beef smothered in a Summit-spiked cheese sauce that somehow doesn't make the fries all sad and sodden. They are picking apart massive, meaty wings slicked in a tangy buffalo sauce (and, if they're smart, avoiding the lackluster blue cheese dressing that comes with them). They're tossing back handfuls of caramel bacon puffcorn — the greatest improvement on pub peanuts any bar has ever offered. It's a salty, sweet, chewy, foamy, stick-to-your-molars kind of snack, and it's perfect alongside one of the many beers and wines Red Cow has on tap. Oh, yes, there's wine on tap. And an impressively long wine list — over 30 are served by the glass, highlighting California reds, French whites, and a $20 glass of pinot noir that I can't imagine anyone ordering alongside a pizza burger, no matter how well it might complement the salami and marinara on top of it. Lots of local brews are on tap, including some from Indeed, Harriet Brewery, Fulton, Lift Bridge, Lucid, Badger Hill, and several varieties from Surly and Summit.

The restaurant (a former Blockbuster Video store, I'm told) is divided into two sides. Go left from the entrance and you're in the buzzing bar (which serves the full menu) with glossy high-top tables and an exit to a small parking-lot patio. Go right and you're in the quieter dining room, with big, roomy booths and floor-to-ceiling windows. Whichever side you end up on, you'll undoubtedly feel a sense of familiarity. The menu fonts and branding, the turkey burger with pistachios, the little pails the French fries are served in, the fact that the place is a very kid-friendly restaurant but you can still order a glass of champagne — all of it induces a wave of deja vu. Perhaps that's because Red Cow owner Luke Shimp spent some time working in the Blue Plate family of restaurants that includes Longfellow Grill, the Lowry, and Edina Grill, which is just a hop, skip, and jump from his new restaurant. Shimp has taken the elements that work at those dressed-up diners and retooled them with a tighter focus on the burger-and-beer idea.

Burgers and beers may have been the impetus behind Red Cow, but its kitchen staff seems to know their way around the fryer. Three of the best things I ate here came out of that apparatus but were all surprisingly ungreasy. The cheese curds, served with a thick, tart, triple-berry ketchup, are bang on. The tempura-like batter tightly but lightly encases the gooey Wisconsin white cheddar, keeping each curd separate and equal. The sweet-potato crinkle planks (the description is apt, but who really wants to say that whole string of words when they're ordering a side?) are tender, tasty, and totally worth the upgrade. And the fish and chips, made with that same light, almost breakfasty sweet batter used on the cheese curds, were generous and flaky, with some really dilly homemade tartar sauce.

But what about the burgers? Though I loved the brown crust on the griddled patties and have the highest praise for the lofty, buttery, squishy toasted buns that almost all the sandwiches come on, I found most of the burgers too seasoned, the flavor of the meat covered up by a pinch too much salt or heavy-handed saucing. The Barcelona burger, stuffed with prosciutto and topped with manchego cheese and piquillo peppers, already had so much going on that the finishing glob of smoky aioli tipped the scales in the wrong direction and made the whole thing overwhelming. The burgers that performed better exercised more restraint and were more balanced. I loved the duck wild rice burger with its gamy, sausage-like patty and the smack of that same tart, triple-berry ketchup, which evened out the saltiness and funkiness of the chevre. The more traditional mushroom and Swiss burger had depth and tang from the merlot used to cook the fungi, offsetting some of the seasoning on the otherwise satisfying Angus patty.

But I suppose I do prefer a flavor bomb to something bland. It's just that I love the meat part of a burger, and I wished Red Cow had allowed that to shine a bit more. That said, it takes all kinds, so if you like a saucy burger and a lot of options (including a totally admirable vegetarian one made of curried chickpeas and topped with avocado), this is the place for you. Whether you're left-brained or right, there are no split decisions when it comes to Red Cow's appetizer menu. So saddle up at this well-placed neighborhood eatery and bar, order a cold local beer and some fabulous fried treats, and don't worry about learning any lessons, just about snatching up that last cheese curd.

Red Cow's Barcelona burger piles on manchego, prosciutto, piquillo peppers, and smoked aioli
E. Katie Holm

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