Hi-Lo Diner, Minneapolis, MN

Burger Anxiety \ˈbər-gər \ \aŋ-ˈzī-ə-tē\
noun

  • The inability to choose a burger restaurant when presented with too many options.
    “Bruce suffers from burger anxiety when searching for hamburgers to eat in the Twin Cities.”

This is a problem I’ve had lately. I can’t pick a place to eat anymore. Have I become complacent in my choice of burger restaurants? I’ve found what I like and I keep wanting to go back to the same places. I understand that is a problem for this blog and the Burger Radio Podcast. So every week I come up with the idea to go out and try some new restaurant, and I wind up suffering from this so-called burger anxiety. It usually stems from two things: cost and my taste preferences.

The Twin Cities has no shortage of excellent burgers. There are hundreds of restaurants that have jumped on the trendy burger fad. Every restaurant has a burger that is “to die for” or that is recently ranked on an Eater or Star Tribune or Thrillist or City Pages list. Food critics swoon for these fancy burgers that are spawned by executive chefs at hip restaurants. Restaurants with reputations that allow them to charge upwards of $16 for the burger alone! It’s ground beef and cheese on a bun…why should it cost so much?

Some of these premium burgers don’t align with my taste preferences. It is hard for me to go to a restaurant and order a fancy burger without sounding like a gluten-sensitive vegan with special requests. Beer mustard? No thanks. Horseradish cream? Save it. Arugula? None for me. Heirloom tomato jam? I’ll take Heinz 57 instead.  I don’t mean to come off as a burger snob, but it’s a burger for Christ’s sake, let’s keep it simple.

These are the kinds of things that start popping into my head when thinking about where to get a burger. It becomes overwhelming, and I shut down. The pressure becomes too great, and I wind up going to Burger King instead.

So on my last burger outing, I handed the decision over to Kelsey. Earlier in the week I had texted her an article about under the radar burgers in Minnesota. “You pick a place and I will just say yes,” I told her. She pulled out the article and chose the Hi-Lo Diner in Minneapolis.

The structure containing Hi-Lo is a vintage 1957 Fodero Diner that was transported from Pennsylvania to Minneapolis. Despite its vintage facade, the restaurant opened it’s doors in March 2016. As the Hi-Lo Diner approaches it’s one year anniversary, they have much to celebrate. The diner has been written about and reviewed favorably by the top food critics in the Twin Cities and has a noteriety that rakes in the customers.

We were surprised to see it so packed for a Sunday afternoon. Every teal vinyl seat in the place was occupied. Minnesota was experiencing uncharacteristically warm weather for mid-February, so, fortunately, the patio was open. We were seated at a community picnic table alongside a mish-mash group of hipsters. There was a fire in a fire ring only about 8 feet away giving a wonderful aroma of camping and the outdoors. It was cozy to say the least.

Our server arrived after a few minutes, and we each ordered the Hi-Lo burger. 1/3 lb patty on a bun with American cheese, burger sauce, and pickles. Along with the fries it rounds out to $11 total. That’s not too high of a price point. Remember, that’s $11. Fries included. I ordered mine, per my usual specifications, with no pickles and burger sauce on the side.

As we waited, plate after plate of seemingly culinary masterpieces came out of the door. This place is a diner, but make no mistake, it was no greasy spoon. The food was Instagram ready. What else would you expect from a place with an executive chef?

The burgers were beautifully plated. The buns were a shimmering buttered golden-brown next to the neon green glow of the Hi-Lo pickles. Crinkle cut french fries were covered with red seasoning and the bright orange burger sauce popped off the plate. It looked and smelled amazing.

The bun was nice and thick. It was buttered and toasted and the edges of the perimeter of the buns held the most crunch. Toasting took the bun to the next level. The top bun didn’t get steamed out by the beef and the bottom bun didn’t get soggy. The thickness of this bun, however, could have paired better with a bigger beef patty. The bread-to-beef ratio was a little off for me, but delicious nonetheless.

Fatty beef! The beef was just fatty enough. It stayed juicy, but not drippy or greasy. The patty was cooked to a little more than medium-well, but the fat content and simple seasoning kept the burger flavorful. It was nice to have a hand formed patty. Every bite was just a little bit different from the previous.

The cheese was stock. American slice. Melty. American cheese is definitely not my favorite. It got the job done by adding a nice creaminess to the burger but just lacked in flavor. My question is: for a restaurant that is churning out culinary masterpieces, why did they choose such a shitty cheese? Have some respect for our taste buds.

The fries were crinkle cut and seasoned with a tangy seasoned salt. It almost gave a Lay’s BBQ Potato Chip flavor. The ones on top of the pile were delicious, no complaints. The fries that were on the bottom of the pile however…

Now try and stay with me here. Don’t get me wrong, I loved this burger. I highly recommend it. And it is a great addition to the Twin Cities burger scene. But I have to get this off my chest. They put pickles on my plate. Hats off to the chef for making and serving these sweet departures from dill pickles. But if you put 1/2 cup of pickles on the plate, then you better make damn sure that you don’t also put 1/2 cup of pickle juice, too. Most of my fries were soaked and soggy with pickle juice, as was the bottom bun of my burger. The taste of the pickle brine was too over powering. And if you were paying attention, you’ll remember that I ordered my burger with no pickles. Again, its not the end of the world, but for an $11 burger, c’mon, I want to taste the beef, bun, and cheese. Not the pickle juice.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Hi-Lo Diner. I can’t wait to return to try everything else on their menu. The crew in the kitchen is doing a hell of a job.

burgerradioIf you want to hear a more in-depth review of our experience of the Hi-Lo Diner check out our latest podcast episode: Burger Radio!

Subscribe to this blog and subscribe to Burger Radio on iTunes! Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: @BurgerRadioPod

Hi-Lo Diner
4020 E Lake St
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(612) 353-6568

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Bruce’s Burger Philosophy

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How I feel when asked, “What’s your favorite burger?”

“What’s your favorite burger?” This is the question I get most often when people find out that I write a burger blog and host a podcast called Burger Radio. It is a fairly innocuous question, yet I always find myself flustered and unable to give a coherent answer. “Hmm…uh…well…uh it depends…” are the first words that tumble from my brain through my mouth.

The short answer is I have no favorite burger. There are burgers that I like, burgers that I love, and burgers that I loathe. I have yet to find, in all my burger endeavors, that perfect burger that fulfills my burger criteria. Don’t get me wrong, I am hardly a picky eater. However, I do have an ever changing idea of the elements to my perfect burger.

My burger philosophy stems from one word: simple. Like the saying goes, K.I.S.S., Keep It Simple, Stupid. There are only so many things you can do to a burger to make it awesome. Some places stack ingredient, upon topping, upon condiment, on their burger. But when all that extra stuff is stripped away, what is almost every burger left with? Beef, bread, and cheese. These are the key elements of the burger. If a place fails to get these three things right, then there is no magical combination of toppings, sauces, or pork products that will save the sandwich.

The beef:

The beef is the basis of the burger. No beef, no burger. Good beef is hard to come by, especially if you are eating a “cheffy” burger at a fancy or hip new restaurant. Lots of restaurants emphasize their beef choice as if beef choice alone automatically makes a burger taste good. Wagyu beef, Kobe beef, Certified Black Angus beef, brisket beef, ground chuck, Pat LaFrieda artisan beef. There are so many choices it is easy to get confused. What most burger consumers fail to realize is that no matter what kind of beef a place chooses, the fat content, seasoning, and cooking method are the only things that matter.

The fat content in ground beef is hands down the most important component. The fat is what ultimately gives the beef more flavor. I prefer a fairly high fat content in a burger. 80/20 (80% lean/ 20% fat) seems to always have the best flavor profile in a burger. There is enough fat to keep the burger juicy. Much of the fat will melt in the cooking process, saturating the lean beef. This gives the burger a nice airy quality. A burger should be somewhat soft when you bite into it. Too often if there is not enough fat, the burger will lose it’s soft, airy texture and transform into a hockey puck. Nobody likes to eat hockey pucks. Nobody.

The type of beef, in my experience, has no effect on the final outcome of the burger. I cannot emphasize enough how much it is all about the fat content. For example, take a nice grind of expensive, ground Wagyu or Kobe beef. If the fat content is not high enough (at least 80/20) the burger is going to be dense and dry. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not pay a premium for overcooked beef, even if it has a fancy lineage.

As far as seasoning goes, my philosophy holds true. Simple. Salt and pepper (always before you cook!) are the only two seasonings necessary. Salt and pepper form the basis of flavor. Magically, they make everything taste better. If you feel so inclined, use a seasoned salt like Lawry’s or Morton’s.

Once we have a nice, fatty patty seasoned well with salt and pepper, it’s off to the grill we go! Or to the flat top? This is an easy choice for me. I’ve never been a fan of grilled burgers, and if you’ve read this far you may know why. When a burger is cooked on a grill, much of the fat drips right down onto the coals and flames. There goes all the flavor, all the juiciness, all the fun. Remember, fat equals flavor.

It’s got to be a flat top. Give that delicious beef a chance to survive. Let it sear evenly across its entire surface. A flat top burger should come out juicy with a thick caramelized crunch to the exterior. The flat top cooks the burgers evenly, and better yet, lets the burger cook in its own fat (flavor!).

Note: I prefer my burgers to be cooked medium-well.

The bread:

Bread choice can be a bit more complicated. Some places serve burgers on toast, but almost all restaurants use buns. Brioche bun, ciabatta bun, kaiser roll, potato bun, pretzel bun, challah rolls. And that’s all before lettuce wraps, english muffins, donuts, and grilled cheese sandwiches. The amount of vessels to put your meat on is mind blowing.

This is where my burger philosophy kicks back in. Keep it simple. I have to think to myself, “Will this donut bun really make the burger taste any better?” More often than not the answer is no.

What is most important is choosing a bun that can hold up to the burger. If the burger is thin or small (or even grilled), then a kaiser roll will hold up fine. However, if the burger is thick and juicy, the potato roll may hold up better. There is nothing worse than a bun that can’t handle its burger.

There are, however, two things that I believe make a bun, and by extension the burger, better. Toasting and butter.

Toasting is essential to a good bun. It makes the bun stronger and more stable to withstand the burger’s steam and juiciness. Preferably, the bun should be toasted directly on the flat top alongside the burger.

And if you’re going to toast the bun, you might as well give it some butter. The butter takes the toasting to the next level. Toasting with butter creates a crunchy layer to help keep the bun from getting soggy when adding the burger. Butter also adds fat to the bun which means it adds, you guessed it, flavor! Keep it simple here, too, and use regular salted butter. Save the unsalted butter for baking cookies, and save the clarified butter for your seafood and popcorn. Salted butter is simple and delicious.

The cheese:

Cheese choice is subjective. Restaurants offer so many kinds of cheeses, and, to tell you the truth, it is hard to go wrong with most of them. That being said, I do have a preference. I shy away from the overly processed American cheese, which seems to be the standard, and instead opt for the cheddar.

 Cheddar has the most flavor, and I want a thick slab of sharp cheddar on my burger. Sharp cheddar lacks the meltability of American or Swiss, but it more than makes up for meltability with flavor. Sharp cheddar has a strong smell and rich taste, plus it tastes less milky when you compare it with American.

No matter what cheese you choose, you gotta add it before the burger is done cooking. This gives it a chance to melt and seep down into the crevices of the burger. There is nothing worse than cold cheese on a hot burger.

What makes a great burger? It is simple. Good quality, higher fat content beef. An appropriately selected buttered and toasted bun. Melty cheddar cheese. If these three elements don’t come together, your burger stands no chance.

Interested in learning more about how my burger philosophy applies to toppings, condiments, and veggies? Stay tuned.

Tune in here to hear the latest episode of Burger Radio where I talk more about my burger philosophy! 

Burger Radio Podcast

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Click the picture to hear Burger Radio! Subscribe on iTunes

If you are a long time reader of this blog, you may have noticed a change in my burger-review-posting frequency. Writing this blog went from a small hobby to a large passion in a short amount of time. I couldn’t get enough of the experience of going to new places, sharing food and great times with friends, and writing all about it. Even after my big move from Houston back to Minnesota, I still wanted to go and experience burgers and share it with all of you. This blog was a great outlet in a very stressful time in my life.

Then I got busy. I began to distract myself in a different way with a different outlet: Podcasts.

I moved in with my friend, Tyler, at the beginning of 2014. Tyler lived in a one bedroom apartment in Richfield. He offered up his couch for my transition back to Minnesota. “Stay as long as you need, Bruce.” Little did he know, I would be there for 10 months. As a way to fill my time and cope with stress, I asked Tyler and my friend Jeremy if they’d be willing to start a podcast with me. I was huge fan of listening to podcasts, so why not make the jump to making my own? They agreed. I went and bought as much equipment as I could afford (microphones, stands, cables, audio mixer), and I dusted off my old Dell laptop. We set up a small “studio” on Tyler’s rickety, red, 60s-diner-style kitchen table, then sat down with some beers and started to record. We had no plan, no topics, no experience. And it was fun as hell.

For the past three years my extra time and energy has been devoted to recording and producing Bruce Juice Podcast. (*shameless plug* follow @brucejuicepod on twitter!) While still living with Tyler, we recorded weekly. I got a high from doing the show. I still do. We talk about nothing, and yet I find it extremely entertaining to record and listen to. An audio record now exists of my conversations with awesome friends. I can always go back and relive those memories. Some people like to journal or make home movies. I like to record podcasts.

While I was busy with the podcast, my blog was still there. Waiting for me to write in it. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t forget about it, and I didn’t stop eating burgers. I just never took the time to get back to it. Until recently when my girlfriend, Kelsey, and I took a trip to Houston. I showed her the places I used to go and what I had written about. She suggested that we go find a new burger place. And my blog came back to life. Kelsey is a writer, by the way, so of course she would push me to write. I’m glad she did.

Kelsey gets my brain going in very creative ways. She encourages me to come up with different ways I can express myself whether it be podcasting, making art, or writing. So when it comes to this blog, I have to keep moving forward. I’ve devoted a lot of time, energy, and resources to it. There are a thousand ideas I have bouncing around in my head about what to do. What better way to move forward than to use all of my resources? Who says a blog is something you can only read? I’ve got all of this recording equipment already…

I ran an idea by Kelsey on a Friday afternoon. What if we created a new podcast? We could talk about the burger scene in the Twin Cities, revisit some old reviews that I’ve written, talk about burgers on our travels, interview people, have guests. The possibilities are endless. An hour later I found myself setting up a studio getting ready to record.

So here it is: Burger Radio. Everything you love about Bruce’s Burger Blog and more. (Cheddar cheesy, I know, yum!)

If you are a fan, do yourself a favor and subscribe on iTunes (or wherever you listen to podcasts), visit our website, follow us on twitter @BurgerRadioPod.

Click here for our first episode!

Now, understand, this is by no means the end of Bruce’s Burger Blog. In fact it is just a new beginning. Stay Tuned!

Band Box Diner- Minneapolis, MN

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 burger:

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.

The fries:

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

The Hay Merchant – Houston, TX

Ah Houston, it’s been too long. I left this mecca of madness over two years ago. Life got a little too real for me and I had to go. It was hard to leave, I had established myself here. Houston treated me well.  Art, entertainment, friends- this city had so much to offer. But, the best offering that Houston brought to the table (pun intended) was the food. Before I left I took a legal pad from my desk and, with bright red ink, scrawled a list of all of the burgers I wanted to eat and write about. When I finished compiling my list I was staring at a sea of red. I ate and wrote my ass off trying over the next few months to bust through that list before I left. I wish I could say I made a dent in that list, but there were too many burgers left uneaten.

After moving back to Minnesota, my need to write about burgers diminished. I tried several times to write about the many burger joints in the Twin Cities, but for some reason the spark was gone. I didn’t feel that unyielding desire to go out and explore. Don’t get me wrong- the burger scene in the Twin Cities is phenomenal. There are a multitude of restaurants stepping up the burger game featuring chefs that aren’t afraid to step back and  just make a damn good burger. But it just didn’t feel the same. I would eat, write, and throw it away. Eat, write a bad review, post, delete. Then I would just eat. The fire wasn’t there.

Coming back to Houston, to visit my mom, lit a match in the back of my brain. I was showing Kelsey around the city and drove by several of the places I had written about and found myself saying, “I’ve been there. I wrote about it,” or, “Tyler and I went there for one of our burger reviews.”

That red list that I had written years ago suddenly popped back into my mind. “You should write a new burger review,” Kelsey suggested and I agreed with a slight hesitation. Being out of the burger review game for so long I wasn’t quite sure how to bust back in. I tried desperately to remember all of the places on that list. What was one burger that I should pick from that list?

One burger in particular always struck me as peculiar is called the Cease & Desist burger, offered at the Hay Merchant as well as Underbelly. The burger was originally called the “IN-n-OUT” burger, named appropriately after the wildly popular IN-n-OUT burger chain and was a total copy of the double-double burger. Double patty, double cheese, lettuce and tomato, served with fries. The name of the burger eventually got around to IN-n-OUT and a cease and desist letter was served to the restaurants. So, why bother looking for a new name? It was right there in front of them.

The Hay Merchant is located on Westheimer Avenue attached directly to the backside of Underbelly. Westheimer has a reputation of being the trendy, hip neighborhood. Every city has them-In Minneapolis it could be compared to the Lyn-Lake area of Uptown. The Hay Merchant prides itself on serving a bevy of craft brews and unique snacks such as half a pig’s head served with tortillas. (Yum, pork eyes).

Walking in I could see that this place was fun not only for the patrons but the staff as well. It was TV dinner night: a gourmet 3 course “TV Dinner” style meal served while your favorite TV shows are shown. Not really my cup of tea, I was here for the beef. Kelsey and I took respite from the glow of the TV’s out on the side patio.

The patio proved to be an excellent place for this outing. The weather was actually cooperating and provided a cool(er) night than we had expected. String lights were hanging above us on this wooded patio. It almost felt as if we were on a patio at a friends house until you heard the buzz of traffic 20 feet away on the ever busy Westheimer.

Our waiter came and strangely said very little. He poured us each a glass of water from a glass liter bottle and asked if we wanted beers. We skipped the beers and went straight for the burgers. I would describe or service as “no shit customer service”. The waiter didn’t waste our time with mindless chit-chat or tell us anything we didn’t need to know. He took our order, served us, rang up the bill. He wasn’t an asshole, but he just gave us good service with “no shit.”

Now these burgers are supposedly parroting fast food burgers. But holy smokes, they came out of the kitchen about two minutes after we ordered. I’ve seen slower service at actual fast food restaurants. The burgers were served in a small basket buried in a sea of piping hot fresh cut fries. The only part of the burger that was visible was the top bun which looked buttery and smelled delicious. The veggies on the burger were extremely fresh. The tomato was thick and beefy. It had an actual bite to it that most tomatoes lack. The crisp iceberg lettuce was stacked proudly on top of the steaming beef and cheese. Not one for many veggies on my burger, I tossed both aside to get to the real prize.

The beef and cheese were intertwined perfectly into a melty savory mess. The beef was seasoned simply with ground pepper and salt, seared to a perfect medium well, and layered with cheese (Either American or a mild cheddar, it was hard to tell).

The real superstar of this burger, surprisingly, was the bun. Without this bun this burger would be nothing special whatsoever. The bun was buttered and then toasted to a dark brown, almost on the verge of being burnt, color. This did two things: it protected the bun from becoming soggy, and gave the burger this amazing taste. It had a flavor almost like a homemade grilled cheese sandwich. I pulled the bun up close and it smelled like toast from Denny’s. May not sound appetizing to some, but damn it was good.

The fries were good but nothing too special. Almost everyone serves freshly cut fries, but almost no one does them in a unique way. They all start to taste the same after a while. Hot, salty, good.

Go to the Hay Merchant. End of story.

Houston, I have to say this is a good welcome back. And I can’t wait to come back and knock more of these burgers down.

The Hay Merchant

1100 Westheimer

Houston TX

The Hay Merchant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

Red Cow- Take Three: Oskar Blues Event

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The Red Cow has done it again. Quickly climbing to the top of the Minneapolis burger scene, the Red Cow continues to knock it out of the park with their inventive food and drink events. I have been fortunate enough to experience a few of these events, including the New Years Party and the one year anniversary of thier opening. Each time, the Red Cow offers an abounding assortment of new beers and great food.

This time around, Oskar Blues Brewery, based in Colorado, was featured in a one night event. Oskar Blues is a craft beer company that has the distinction of being one of the only craft brewers that exclusively can their beer rather than bottle it. From Dale’s Pale Ale to the Old Chub and Ten FIDY Imperial Stout, Oskar Blues aims to please every beer lover’s palate.

Oskar Blues, in addition to their brewery, also owns a Hops to Heifers farm. Here they feed the cows brewers mash, consisting of malted grains leftover from the brewing process. This ensures that the all natural Angus beef will be lean and tasty!

Obviously, the Red Cow couldn’t find a better match. At the special event, the Red Cow offered all of Oskar Blues’ brews as well as a new burger featuring beef from the Oskar Blues’ farm. This burger was appropriately named “Oskar Blues Burger.” And you may have already guessed that it is a black and blue burger: Freshly seared Oskar Blues’ beef topped with fresh bleu cheese and smothered with a rosemary and cracked pepper infused apricot jam. Tyler and I both decided to grab this limited special burger.

The food, surprisingly, only took a few minutes before it arrived in front of us. The smell of the beef and fresh fries filled the air. The first thing that grabbed my attention was the taste of the beef. The beef was buttery and left a smooth feel on the tongue. The apricot jam was straight forward in its flavor profile: the sweetness of the jam paired excellently with the rosemary and cracked pepper. The bleu cheese was a bit overpowering for me. I am not a huge fan of bleu cheese to begin with. Tyler, however, was not let down with the cheese whatsoever.

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Since I am not a huge beer fan I did not try any of Oskar Blues’ beer selections. Instead, I left that up to Tyler. Here’s what he has to say:

“I have tried a few brews from Oskar Blue in the past. The brewery had never really stood out to me until I tried the new and different beers that were offered at The Red Cow during the Oskar Blues event. I enjoyed two brews that evening: the Maker’s Mark Dale’s Pale and the G’Knight. Both were fantastic!”

“Of the two, I really enjoyed the G’Knight. It has a strong peach aroma and flavor to it, along with its dark red color. It is a smooth drinking beer with little to no bitter notes. It is somewhat reminiscent to the Shiner Holiday Cheer, but the overall tones are more developed and the peach flavor is less of a punch in the face. Definitely give this beer a try if you can find it. The G’Knight was a perfect pairing with the Oskar Blues Burger.”

Hats off again to the Red Cow and owner Luke Shimp.  If you have not yet been to the Red Cow, what are you waiting for?! Get up and get there ASAP! Your mouth can’t miss out on this amazing food. Even if you are not in the mood for a burger, there is plenty of great selections to please any person! My non-burger recommendations include the cheese curds with triple berry sauce, the pork belly sliders, or the shrimp tacos. Spread the word about one of the new best restaurants in Minneapolis!

Visit The Red Cow at:
http://redcowmn.com/
3624 West 50th Street,
Minneapolis, Minnesota
(612) 767-4411.
Red Cow on Urbanspoon

Hubcap Grill – Houston, TX

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I recently made the long awaited visit to The Hubcap Grill in Houston, TX. The Hubcap Grill is a staple in the burger scene in Houston. Featured on many top burger lists, Hubcap Grill has a reputation that is second to none. They pride themselves on serving fantastic food and drinks while providing an atmosphere to please all.

I headed to the Hubcap Grill on a Saturday afternoon. As I pulled in to the dirt parking lot, I noticed that there was already a crowd gathering near the front. Crowds are most often a sign of one thing: good food.

The menu board hanging over the order window was daunting. There were so many choices. From simple to spectacular, all of the burgers sounded delicious. The Hubcap grill offers many novelty burgers, but if you’re a frequent reader you know I kept it simple. I ordered a double cheeseburger. Two 1/3 patties stacked with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and mayo.

I did, however, go for the novelty factor with the fries. I decided on the Hell Fries. Fresh cut potatoes covered with jalapenos, cayenne pepper, and sriracha mayo. Sounded spicy enough; I can’t wait.

Fortunately my burger was ready after about ten minutes. I grabbed my tray full of goodies and had a seat at a picnic table around the side of the building. I couldn’t help but grin at the sight of the burger. This was one of the biggest burgers I’ve ever come across. It must have stood 8 inches tall. The burger patties looked way bigger than I had anticipated. Add to that the thick tomato and onion, this burger was a behemoth.

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My first bite into the beast almost dislocated my jaw. I felt a little like Guy Fieri. I really had to concentrate on how to approach this burger. The flavor of the beef was beyond comparison. Buttery, airy, expertly seasoned and cooked to a perfect medium well. The cheese melted between the patties adding even more savoriness. The veggies were fresh and complimented well. I was impressed to say the least.

The Hell Fries were the bomb. Cut and fried fresh; Hot and spicy. No need to say more.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this food was AMAZING. But I came nowhere near close to finishing all of this. Between the burger and fries, there must have been three pounds of food on my tray. Be warned- the portions live up to the Texas standard.

Above all else, the atmosphere at the Hubcap Grill trumps that of any other burger joint in Houston. Order at the window, grab a cold beer or craft soda, and head around behind the building to a picnic table. The junkyard decor, mixed with the mishmash of picnic tables, makes for a relaxed setting. This is a great place to chill with friends and enjoy the great Texas weather.

If at all possible, don’t skip the Hubcap Grill!
Hubcap Grill on Urbanspoon
Hubcap Grill
1133 W 19th St
Houston, TX 77008
(713) 862-0555

The Bulldog Northeast – Minneapolis, MN

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I was recently referred to another local burger joint here in Minneapolis: The Bulldog Northeast. My cousin Charity had told me about her burger experience there. She was describing a burger that had peanut butter smothered on it and topped with bacon. That was not really the draw for me, but she did say one thing that made my ears perk up: Waygu Beef.

Waygu beef is comes from a specific breed of cattle. The cattle tend to yield beef that has a great deal of marbling. This type of marbling is sought after because it can give a wonderful flavor and texture to the beef.

The Bulldog has been around for quite a few years now. It has won several awards in local publications for its food. So I thought, “Why not give it a try?”

I headed to The Bulldog on a Saturday night with my friend Tyler. Here was our experience:

Bruce: I was impressed with the atmosphere of the bar as soon as we walked through the door. The bar was huge and the place was packed. It seemed to be the place to be in Northeast Minneapolis.

Tyler:*DON QUINN! Don Quinn was there at the Bulldog! The bar is gigantic and takes up most of the main eating area. We were not lucky enough or cool enough to be seated at the bar. When we were seated at a side table I looked over the beer menu and they had a good selection of local and regional beers. I ordered a Summit Winter Ale and Bruce ordered a Dr. Pepper. The drinks came rather quickly considering how busy the bar was.

Bruce: I decided on a bacon cheeseburger with fries. Any good burger restaurant should be able to cook up this bad boy perfectly. This seemed to be the safest choice on the burger list as well. The Bulldog offers several “novelty” burgers to the more adventurous diner.

Tyler: I laughed at Bruce and his simplistic burger while I ordered the Chorizo Burger. Our orders were in and we waited and waited and waited. Keep in mind that the restaurant was very busy (we got one of the last open tables) but during our wait no one came to ask how we were doing or if we needed a refill on our drinks. By the time Bruce had eaten the last ice cube in his long empty Dr. Pepper glass, HIS burger was placed in front of him… it looked and smelled fantastic.

Bruce: Totally. The burger looked nice and buttery and the fries smelled fantastic. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into this bad boy. But, not wanting to be rude, I decided to hold off until Tyler’s burger arrived. It seemed strange that our burgers didn’t come out together. As the food runner set my burger down I could see it in his eyes- Tyler’s burger wasn’t coming anytime soon.

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Tyler: I stole a number of Bruce’s fries (satisfying fries but they lacked salt) while I waited and before long our waitress came back and said, “How are the burgers here?” I looked at her and then looked down at my invisible burger and said, “I don’t know.” The waitress ran off to find my burger and only ten minutes later it showed up. I started by tasting just the Waygu Beef by itself, it definitely tasted differently than your average burger but not different or better enough to be a big selling point. Upon first bite of the burger itself… I tasted no Chorizo. Chorizo should have a spicy porky flavor but his Chorizo Burger had none. The burger itself was good but nothing that I would order again. Bruce, what are your final thoughts on The Bulldog?

Bruce: It was average at best. The beef was overcooked and there was no noticeable difference in the waygu beef. I’ve had lesser quality beef taste better. To me a burger is only as good as it is prepared. Unfortunately, we hit the Bulldog on an off night. It has won numerous awards for its food, but we did not see that on our visit.

I would definitely recommend this place to anyone looking for a trendy bar to hang out at. The bar itself looks like the place to be with lots of beer on tap. If you are hungry, grab some food, but skip the burger.

* Funny story: As we were leaving, a big group of people were coming in. One of the guys in the group looked me straight in the eye and said, “Sup Don!?” I continued to walk out the door and he just kept at it: “Don…DON! DON QUINN!!!”

The Bulldog (Northeast)
401 E Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55414
(612) 378-2855
http://www.thebulldognortheast.com/
The Bulldog on Urbanspoon

Review Take Two: The Red Cow, Edina MN

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Over the holidays I was fortunate enough to spend some time with my burger buddy Tyler. Tyler had previously done a guest review on The Red Cow back in October (Click here to read). So, instead of giving you the in’s and out’s of the joint, let’s jump straight in:

Tyler and I actually visited The Red Cow on two different occasions.  The first was a Saturday night and the second was on New Year’s Eve. This was great because I was able to try out several burgers on the menu.
Both nights we sat right at the bar. The bartenders were extremely friendly and very knowledgeable about the variety of beers and wines available as well as the food.

Up First: The Royale. I liked the name right off the bat. It reminded me of that car scene from PULP FICTION:

Vincent: And you know what they call a… a… a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?
Jules: They don’t call it a Quarter Pounder with cheese?
Vincent: No man, they got the metric system. They wouldn’t know what the f*** a Quarter Pounder is.
Jules: Then what do they call it?
Vincent: They call it a Royale with cheese.
Jules: A Royale with cheese. What do they call a Big Mac?
Vincent: Well, a Big Mac’s a Big Mac, but they call it le Big-Mac.
Jules: Le Big-Mac. Ha ha ha ha. What do they call a Whopper?
Vincent: I dunno, I didn’t go into Burger King.

This Royale came complete with a certified angus burger topped with pork belly, brie cheese, arugula, and tomato jam. It sounded interesting enough to me. The Royale sounded like an almost gourmet take on a bacon cheeseburger.

My first bite into the burger was a wonderful surprise. The beef was cooked masterfully. Medium-well cooked perfectly. The flavor of the beef was great by itself. Beautifully seasoned and seared to perfection.

But the rockstar of this burger was the pork belly. It was cut thick and the fattiness took the burger to flavor town. It gave off that great pork taste without adding any extra saltiness. Pork belly was an amazing departure from bacon.

The brie and the arugula added creaminess and spice to the burger. And the sweetness of the tomato jam closed out the entire flavor profile of this complex burger. My hat’s off to the chef. Bravo.

On my second visit I was able to try a special burger offered on the New Year’s Eve menu: The Oscar– a Pat LeFrieda burger topped with blue lump crab, asparagus spears, and a creamy Bearnaise sauce.

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This burger was over the top. Again, the beef was cooked to perfection. The blue lump crab had a fantastic freshness. The asparagus was cooked to a crunchy al dente. And the Bearnaise sauce tied it all together with a buttery kick to the mouth. The Oscar is like eating a surf ‘n turf (steak and seafood) meal all in one masterpiece of a burger.

I am floored by the talent in the kitchen. I have been to many burger places that claim they have the best burgers, or that they will cook the burger however you like it. But, the Red Cow certainly delivers on this promise. The kitchen staff knows what’s up.

If you have the chance, don’t miss out on one of the newest and greatest burger joints Minneapolis has to offer.

Also- if you get a chance, sign up for their e-club. For the price of a few emails, they will send you a free $10 gift certificate as well as a voucher for a free burger (any burger!) on your birthday.

Visit The Red Cow at:
http://redcowmn.com/
3624 West 50th Street,
Minneapolis, Minnesota
(612) 767-4411.
Red Cow on Urbanspoon

Tasty Burger- Harvard Square -Cambridge, MA

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Harvard. The epitome of excellence all summed up in one name. This bustling college campus is known for its collegiate greatness. And located only a few steps away, in Harvard Square, is another establishment striving for greatness: Tasty Burger.

Tasty Burger doesn’t bury the lede when it comes to their product. Customers can only assume that they will have a tasty burger experience by the name alone. Does Tasty Burger live up to its name?

I headed to Tasty Burger for lunch on a Tuesday afternoon. After exploring the city of Boston, and taking the train out to the Samuel Adams Brewery for a tour, I was starving. As I came out of the subway station, I had only one place in mind. I had walked past it a few times on my trip and was eager to try it. The bright red colors of the sign, the white open kitchen space, and the transparent floor to ceiling windows all set the stage for what looked like an amazing burger joint.

The first things I noticed when I walked through the door were the smell and the sound. Hot seared beef was sizzling loud enough to fill the restaurant with that wonderful noise. The smell of the meat and the hot fries filled the air. I ordered a bacon cheese burger, fries, and a Coke and took a seat. The food was ready after about 10 minutes.

The burger came wrapped in paper and the fries in a fry box all on a plastic red tray. So far so good. I unwrapped the burger and saw the melted cheese still bubbling on the hot beef. Yum. The bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion all stood tall. The bun was soft and toasted.

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Bite one: Buttery. The beef and the bun. My mouth was filled with a smooth buttery taste and feel. The beef was expertly seared to a medium-well. Nice crust, perfect texture, and the exact amount of red that I like in my burger. Everything about this burger satisfied my needs.

Tasty Burger has delivered on its promise of its namesake.

The fries were hot and crispy. I added ketchup this time just to change things up. No complaints.

This place is perfect for a quick lunch, or a late night snack to sober up. And college students rejoice: its not that expensive! With an enormous menu of burgers, dogs, chicken, fries, and shakes, Tasty Burger doesn’t disappoint. Order at the counter, or head downstairs for a few beers and table service. If you are in Boston take advantage of their 3 locations. You won’t regret it!
Tasty Burger on Urbanspoon
Tasty Burger
40 Jfk St
Cambridge, MA 02138