Looking for new burger experiences can be exhausting. I find myself constantly looking at magazines, newspaper articles, and websites that list the ‘Top New Burger Joints’ or the ‘Best Burgers of 2016.’ These lists are gigantic especially in a place like the Twin Cities where new trendy food is popping up everywhere. Sometimes it’s nice to just step back and stick with a classic.
I first stumbled upon the Band Box in March of this year. And when I say stumbled I actually mean stumbled. Kelsey and I were walking around exploring downtown. A few blocks after we had passed the Convention Center I saw a small white building with red trim and the words Band Box across the top and Hamburgers painted prominently below the windows. What was this little place? I had never heard of it. But if I learned anything from my time writing about burgers in Houston it’s that the best burgers usually come from the smallest places. I was immediately overwhelmed with the need to go to this place. “If this place is open on our way back, I’m going in,” I told Kelsey. As my luck usually goes, it was closed on our way back. This only solidified our plans to go there the next evening.
I never wrote about my first experience at the Band Box. Or my second. Or my third. It was kind of my own little secret and I didn’t want to share. I felt like this little place, tucked away in a small corner of the Elliot Park neighborhood, only existed for me. But after all of these wonderful experiences I’ve had there I realized it would be downright irresponsible of me to not spill the beans on one of the best and underrated burger spots in Minneapolis.
Today, Kelsey and I spent the morning hiking around the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington. I had been gone on a three day field trip up in northern Minnesota with a few of my students last week, so Kelsey and I decided we wanted to have a date day. Hiking, burgers, and then a little exploring the cities. It was fairly cold out and heavy wet snow was new on the ground. But we kept at it through the mud and slush. Around 1:00 pm we headed back to the car to go downtown for lunch. “Band Box?” I asked Kelsey.
We arrived at the Band Box around 1:30 pm. We walked in and found the only table open near the back. The small red diner tables were filled as were the stools bolted to the floor in front of the bar: single, couples, families, and us. Most people were just finishing up. The Sunday lunch rush was nearing its end. Our waitress came to our table to take our order right away. Kelsey pointed out to me that it it very comforting that we have the same waitress everytime we visit. She is always there working her ass off serving, cooking, and cleaning. We wasted no time in ordering. I ordered the Double Cheeseburger with cheddar cheese while Kelsey opted for the single cheeseburger with cheddar both complete with fries. Simple.
Simple is the key here. There are no wild frills or thrills on the menu. This little diner serves up burgers, breakfast, and hot coffee. Everything is freshly made in house, or locally sourced. The same griddle is used to cook everything. A young man with a scraggly beard and a red bandana wrapped around his head is flying around behind the bar cooking everything at once. It’s just the way a diner should be. They keep things really simple and I think that is the key to their success.
Our burgers were up within a few minutes. As the waitress placed these behemoths in front of us I couldn’t contain my excitement. I immediately started to eat the hot fries and went to pick up my burger. Kelsey asked me if I wanted to take pictures for this post so I paused for a few agonizing minutes. The cheese was oozing and the smell of the buttery bun and beef was driving me insane. After the pictures, I crushed through the double burger and inhaled the french fries. The only thing left on my plate were a few slices of pickles and onion. Kelsey on the other hand had only taken a few bites of her burger. I do this to her all the time, and it’s not on purpose. I just have a tendency to eat very quickly while she takes her time. They do say opposites attract, right?
The bun was toasted. And buttered. These are always two of my benchmarks of an excellent burger. The bun has to be toasted, and if you toast it you might as well butter it, too. This isn’t just a taste thing. Toasting and buttering helps to keep the moisture from the burger, cheese, and other toppings from saturating the bun. Nobody likes a soggy bun. The buns at the Band Box come fresh from the Franklin Bakery just down the road. Excellent choice.
The fresh black angus beef was seared nice and brown on the outside and cooked to a perfect medium well inside. Somehow the beef managed to stay really juicy without the drippiness. All of the flavor stayed inside the patties instead of all over my hands and plate. I’m not quite sure how they do it. Some people prefer that a juicy burger also be messy. I, however, do not believe this. Sloppiness does not equal flavor.
And finally the cheese. I was given the option between American, cheddar, or swiss. I went with the cheddar. I was delighted to taste the sharpness of the cheddar. Many times I find that restaurants will use a milder cheddar for the burger. The extra meltability of mild cheddar comes at the expense of the taste of a sharp cheddar. This cheese melted perfectly and molded itself into every crevice of the beef. Heavenly.
I applaud the Band Box for their attention to potato choice. Ditching the typical russet they opt for hand cut red potatoes. These red potatoes fry up with a nice crisp without burning. They stay nice and soft in the center, but not fluffy like russets. To top it off they season the fries with Morton’s Season All. It gives the potatoes a nice subtle salty kick. No ketchup needed.
There it is. The secret is out. I have no idea why this burger isn’t ranked on the top burger lists I’ve seen. Sure, the Band Box lacks the novelty of craft cocktails, chef created burgers, kobe beef sliders, and all the other bullshit you find at the new trendy restaurants. But it does have a history of being the last of the 15 Band Box diners in the Twin Cities. It has been feeding the great people of Minneapolis for 77 years, and that speaks volumes, if you ask me. They do things simply, and sometimes that’s all you need.
Band Box Diner
729 S 10th St
Minneapolis, MN 55404