Parlour Burger (MSP) – Not as Great as the Hype

img_0407Thrillist recently announced its Best Burgers in America, and Parlour, the pubby sibling to Borough restaurant, was the sole winner from Minneapolis. Those are strong words given some of the great burgers in the Twin Ciries, and being a burger devotee I was incredibly excited that I would enjoy another great Twin Cities’ burger. I am also a fan of Borough and if the kitchen could channel the talent of my previous visit into its burger, I was all-in.

img_0406Parlour is located below Borough on Washington. The space has an urban vibe, with eclectic seating that includes high back semi-wingback chairs, a few banquettes and a fabric-covered wall in the rear with more funky tables and chairs. There is also a long wood topped bar that seats twelve. At 6PM on a Tuesday evening, all the tables were occupied and there were only three vacant seats at the bar.

img_0409The menu is somewhat limited with several small plates and a fair number of desserts. The menu description of the burger was “ground sirloin, ribeye, brisket, American cheese” served with a few slices of pickles, fries are a separate order.  I asked for my burger medium-rare and an order of fries. As I waited I watched as burger after burger were delivered to over 75% of the waiting guests, this was a very good sign.

The burger and fries arrived quickly, the burger on a single salad plate and the large mound of fries on an oblong dinner plate. I first tasted a few fries and the level of salt made my head snap back, it was absolutely overwhelming. This was not a good start. I hoped the burger was better. I pulled a little piece of meat that was dangling over the bun and tasted. Like the fries the kitchen overwhelmed the meat with salt, I was hoping this was isolated to that little piece. I cut the burger in half and it was prepared well-done, not to my requested medium-rare. I asked the bartender and she said she input “medium-rare” and would I like a new burger. I agreed and the first burger and fries were removed from the table. A couple of minutes passed and a manager approached and asked about the burger. I told her it was delivered well-done and she explained all of them are because “of the amount of butter” in the patty. No worries, now that I know to expect it well-done. I asked if she could tell the kitchen to take it easy on the salt.

Burger #2 arrived and the mound of fries #2 were smaller and also served on a smaller plate, but still a good sized portion. I cut the burger in half and it was well-done, but glistened with juices. I pulled a little piece of the meat to taste and it had good flavor and the kitchen was more prudent with the salt. There were two patties, each topped with melted cheese. In total, I would estimate over a half pound of meat, it was a substantial burger. The cheese was perfectly melted and the bun was buttered and griddled, both on the interior and exterior. The grind was medium and there was good sear on the exterior. This had the makings of a great burger, just meat, cheese on a buttered and grilled bun. I took my first bite…

And then a few more bites before I decided I knew that I was in the minority. I thought it was a very good burger but not to the level as some of the great grass-fed meats in other places in Minneapolis. It was very juicy but was this from the meat or the addition of the butter, I do not know. I thought the cheese and the bun were outstanding, two of the best I have ever tasted. The cheese was rich, creamy, with great flavor. The bun was fantastic and even better with the additional buttery goodness and mild crunch from the grilling. I tasted a few of the fries and the kitchen was less aggressive on the salt, thankfully, but they were very substandard. They lacked the textural contrast of a crispy exterior paired with the soft interior, a one dimensional product.

As much as I entered Parlour with high expectations, the burger was very disappointing and the fries were very mediocre. Given the recent inclusion in Thrillist, the number of orders leaving the kitchen and the other meal I previously ate upstairs at Borough, I was expecting better.

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Revival (MSP) – Incredible Fried Chicken

bl_1Revival is located on the northeast corner of 43rd and Nicolet. When you enter the restaurant you are surrounded by vintage 1950s colors…oranges, browns and golds, with wallpaper adorned with large marigolds. The bar resides along the rear wall with a view of the pass from the kitchen with six metal backless stools. The remainder of the dining area includes tables with metal chairs and a long banquette under the front window that occupy the remainder of the dining area. Total seating is in the 40s, it is comfortable and the sound level allows for conversation.

Tucked behind the bar are three taps for beer (an additional two were not connected on the night I visited), and the menu offers an additional 17 beers in bottles and cans, wines by the glass, sweet tea, sparkling water, root beer and Mexican coke. The wine list is limited with a handful of whites ($28-$55), a few more reds ($30-$65) and half of the wine list comprised of sparkling wines ($30-$210).

©jeff “jfood” schlesinger

©jeff “jfood” schlesinger

I was glad I arrived early on a Tuesday evening since the place was already half full at 5:30 and by 6:00 all the table were occupied and there was only one bar seat unoccupied.  I chose a seat at the bar so I could watch the food and have a chat with the bartender.

The menu is diverse (on line version very accurate) with appetizers (priced from $5 to $15) ranging from a simple farm greens salad, to fried chicken livers, to pickled pig’s feet, to a pimento cheese and meat plate or choose two pieces of fried chicken. Entrees include a larger plate of fried chicken, (offered several spice levels from regular to poultrygeist covered in a sauce made from ghost peppers), pork chops, shrimp and grits, and pork shoulder or opt for a burger, or a pulled pork or grilled cheese sandwich

bl_3I ordered a 2-piece fried chicken plate for my appetizer and the Revival Burger with bacon for my second course with a side of hushpuppies. The server brought two sauces, a sweet potato sauce with habanero which was very spicy and a North Carolina vinegar sauce that was a little sweet and delivered much less heat than the habaner


The two courses were delivered simultaneously and I decided to first eat the fried chicken. There was a leg and a portion of the breast. This was one of the best fried chickens I have eaten in a long time. It had an overly crispy crust and was still very moist on the interior. I asked the bartender about the preparation and he told me the chicken is first seasoned, then marinated in buttermilk for eight hours before being slightly floured and fried. As I watched the pass during my meal I would guess that half of the orders were fried chicken, after eating it I completely understood

bl_4I next moved to the burger. It consisted of two thin patties on a buttered and griddled bun with two thick strips of bacon, melted American cheese, mayo and a few slices of B+B pickles. The first bite was a shock, it was incredibly salty, the meat was incredibly salty and the bacon added additional saltiness. The server approached to check in and I told him…he immediately removed the plate to have the kitchen prepare another, and we decided to skip the bacon on number 2. The second burger was a different, and much more positive experience. The meat reminded me of the burgers I made as a youth, a good beefy flavor with the grind still evident, the exterior was charred and crispy and the meat was still very juicy. The kitchen was generous, maybe too generous with the mayo and cheese, it was a little difficult to contain all of the creaminess in each bite and it overpowered the meat, I would have preferred a little less mayo and almost scraped some from the bun. The B+B pickles were delicious and these are always welcome on my burgers. The hushpuppies were a little bland and delivered a touch of sweetness

Overall I highly, highly recommend the fried chicken. The burger needs a little work to balance the saltiness of the bacon with the beefiness of the patty and the kitchen should better balance the amount of mayo. The bartender and the other staff were exceptionally customer friendly and that went a long way to convert what could have been a disappointing night to a positive experience.
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Prairie Dogs – Great Potential; Needs Time

prairie_1I really wanted to love this place. With two of my favorite dishes, burgers and dogs covered with creative toppings, I was hoping for a great couple of options. The website espoused local, fresh and natural ingredients, the combinations looked great and it was in a neighborhood which is beginning to boom with great food.

prairie_2I arrived at 600 on a midweek night and there were a couple of people at the bar and a few at tables. The interior is well done, relaxing with a great Marilyn Monroe poster adorning the rear wall and the entire left wall is covered with a chalk board menu. The owner (I think it was the owner) approached and I asked for the “Tree Fort Root Beer” on the menu. They did not have it and he suggested, and I ordered, the Boylan’s Birch Beer.

prairie_4I looked through the menu and ordered the Bahn Mi Joy Dog and a BYO Burger with American cheese, crisp onion strings, and B&B pickles. He suggested that a small order of fries would be a great accompaniment.

prairie_3The Dog was all-beef in a natural casing and topped with char siu pork, chicken liver pate, pickled carrot, daikon, jalapeño peppers, and cilantro and a schmear of shoyu mayo. The dog was surprisingly mild in flavors with just a hint of saltiness. The pork was almost tasteless with a boiled meat flavor and texture. The liver was the highlight of the ingredients and delivered a good amount of flavor, the carrots and daikon were crunchy and also flavorful. I was hoping for a bright bold set of flavors in this combination and it just fell flat and was a bit disappointing

prairie_6The burger had great potential. The meat had great flavor and was cooked with a loose grind, but a little sparse at probably 4 ounces. The strips of bacon added just a hint of smokiness and saltiness and the American cheese was creamy and perfectly melted. The crispy onion rings delivered a touch of pungency and crunch and the B&B pickles were excellent. Unfortunately, the kitchen overcooked the burger to medium-well, eliminating all of the juiciness, and then over-salted the patty before placing it on the bun. A little more care may have made for a great burger.

The kitchen took both a similar and slightly different approach in the preparation of the fries. First they were under-cooked, and then they were over-salted. Not a good combination.

Overall I still love the concept and if they can get the correct balance of flavors and instruct the kitchen to prepare as ordered and as the product deserves this may become a really good burger and dog place, but they still have growing pains to address.

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Heyday (MSP) – Some Great Dishes

A colleague of mine was in town and we decided to visit Heyday. This was my second visit and once again it was a fantastic evening filled with great food and excellent service. Similar to my first visit, there were several spectacular presentations and a couple that fell flat.

The service from start to finish was perfect. It was early on a Monday evening and before we decided on the courses, we were engaged with the server, not only on Heyday’s menu, but other restaurants. She was full of knowledge, offered suggestions, was incredibly friendly and over the course of the meal was spot on in every aspect of the meal.

We decided to split a few dishes. For the “I” course we ordered the Chicken Liver Tart that is served with toasted shallot, onion jam, and pickled vegetables. When it arrived the server also brought a portion of the Chilled Blue Mussels since she recommended it and thought we would really like to try it. The Tart was one of the best renditions I have eaten. The mousse was deep in flavor and paired perfectly with the pickled vegetables and the buttery crust. The mussels were served under a “dome” of frozen yogurt, with pickled cucumber, and dill, and unfortunately I disagree with the server. I did not like this dish. The scant four mussels were the epitome of a needle in a haystack in this over-constructed presentation. The tanginess of the yogurt plus the frozen gel overwhelmed the mussels.

In “II” we ordered the Poached Bone-in Skate with black truffle, salsify, and hazelnut and Rabbit Royale grilled leg, ham, carrots. The skate was over the top fantastic, moist, flavorful and worked great with the various textures and flavors of all of the toppings. It is served “bone-in” and takes no effort in removing the meat, just scrape along the bone; it is well worth the minimal effort. The rabbit was not as expected, but was very good. The “leg” was actually the meat from the leg that was removed and re-constituted into two small cylinders; one was encased in smoked meat. The flavor was deep and rich, and worked well with the accompaniments.

The “III” selection brought two outstanding dishes to the table. The Duck Breast is served with endive, pumpkin, and granola and consisted of two small sections of meat. They were very different in texture. One of the pieces was incredibly chewy and tough and the other was delightfully tender. They were both perfectly cooked to maintain a deep richness and the accompanying vegetables and textures were wonderful. The hit of the evening was the Spiced Braised Lamb, served with almond-potato puree, and a grilled green onion. It is spiced, not spicy, and the lamb was fantastic, great flavor, moist, tender and the almond-potato puree was a perfect complement. The single green onion delivered a mild pickled flavor and a wonderful crunchiness.

How can you resist a dessert called “Fifty Shades of Hay”? This is as close as I will get to either the book or the movie. It was 50 shades of disappointment. A scoop of ice cream that included soaking hay in the cream (yes there is a bale of hay in the basement) is served with meringue, frozen grapefruit and an array of crumbled items. The dark colored meringue was the best part. If you take a spoonful of the various items along with a little scoop of the ice cream it is not bad, but this is an overly complex textural dessert versus a flavorful dessert. It indicates the kitchen is versed in various techniques, but it fell flat as a great ending to a great meal.

Sometimes the technique is justified when the end product is exceptional. For many dishes it worked perfectly, but for others it did not. I cannot wait to return to Heyday and sample some of the chefs’ other creative cuisine.

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Libertine (MSP) – Great Potential

photo 1 (1)Libertine is the newest addition to the MSP landscape by master Chef Tim McKee. In his latest contribution in Uptown, Chef McKee created a restaurant serving an inventive and diverse menu. Begin your evening from a selection of appetizers ranging from Tuna Poke Tacos to Crispy Pig’s Ear followed by various cuts of beef, lamb, chicken, pork or fish accompanied by creative side dishes. Add to the delicious cuisine a hip and eclectic atmosphere and you have another go-to restaurant.

The front room includes an enormous rectangular bar with close to 25 seats on each side. Surrounding the bar are numerous community tables, each offering seating for up to six guests, plus booths along the quiet, inside wall. In the back room are smaller 4-tops hugging the windows plus booths, each capable of handling 4 diners. A few round tables separate the two rooms. Overall the setting is relaxed and a wonderful setting to dine in.

The server was forthcoming with her favorites and I chose the “Crispy Pig’s Ears” for my appetizer, plus the “Bacon Chop” and a side of “Kale” for my entrée.

The pig’s ear was served with a fried egg, ancho pepper slices, accompanied with a dipping sauce. The menu states lime is included but there was none on my plate nor did I discern any citrusy back notes in the dish. The pig’s ear was sliced into bite sized pieces, breaded and deep fried. I was concerned that the small segments would be tough, but the kitchen cooked them perfectly, soft, tender and when dipped in the spicy-sweet sauce was delicious. When combined with a slice of the spicy ancho pepper and complemented with the creaminess of the oozing egg, this was an incredibly memorable dish.

BL ChopThe bacon chop was a Fred Flintstone sized pork chop served with a single onion ring. The server stated that this would be the best pork chop I would ever taste and on certain bites she was absolutely correct. Most of the chop was outstanding. It was moist, flavorful, and perfectly cooked. A few bites were not in the same league, the kitchen lost its focus with the final salting, way too much and it caused my head to snap back with the saltiness. The menu also states “lightly smoked” but manage your expectations…it is more a brined and grilled preparation.

The Kale was served with a Manchego cream and garlic. I would best describe this as Kale Mac & Cheese without the Mac. The kale was engulfed in the creamy cheese sauce and was delicious as the bitterness of the kale was balanced by the creaminess of the melted cheese. This was a rich dish that needs to be shared.

The server was excellent but the kitchen failed miserably on timing. The server told me that the meal arrives as prepared. The pig’s ear arrived first. After two bites the kale was brought by the runner and two minutes later he was holding my bacon chop. So there I sat with 90% of my appetizer uneaten, and my entrée occupying the remainder of the table. I asked the server to return the entrée and side to the kitchen and let me enjoy the food versus throwing everything simultaneously into the table. She was quick to comply and the manager wandered over to apologize. They turned a negative into a positive so kudos to both of them.

Overall I loved the space and the appetizer. The entrée could have been fantastic had the kitchen seasoned the chop properly and it failed miserably on the timing of the food leaving the kitchen. Libertine has tremendous potential and needs a little time to iron out the kinks, deliver the items as described on the menu and serve the food in a manner that allows the guests to enjoy the culinary creations.

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Matt’s Bar (MSP) – Best Jucy Lucy in MSP

photo 1

Whenever I want to introduce a colleague to one of the quintessential culinary icons in the Twin Cities, I bring them to Matt’s to savor, what I believe is the best version of the Jucy Lucy. After work, we ventured up 77, grabbed a spot on the street, entered Matt’s and waited for our table. On a Thursday night it was not a long wait, maybe 20 minutes and while we waited we watched as burger after burger was placed on the small flat-top and grilled to perfection.

Once seated, Matt’s is a pretty easy place to order. The only question is how many burgers, with or without onions, and how large an order of fries. We both ordered two JL’s and a half order of fries.

The wait for the burgers was longer than the table and once delivered, individually wrapped in paper, the server recited the ritual of being careful about exploding cheese. I advised waiting for a few more minutes, enjoy a few fries and a few more sips of soda. When the time was upon us, I slowly raised the JL to my lips and slow, very slowly bit into the cheese-lava filled burger.

Not too sure if it was too soon, I held my breath as the cheese oozed out and came in contact with the inside of my mouth and my lips. I timed it perfectly, not too hot for scalding but still hot enough to appreciate the madness of the construction. I exhaled and enjoyed the meat, the less than scalding American cheese, the fried onions, pickle and bun. Nothing on this burger was gourmet, nothing qualified as farm to table, but this was a down and dirty inverted cheeseburger with great flavors, great textures, and a heritage that pre-dates this burger lover.

As I finished #1 and moved to #2, I asked my colleague what he thought. He smiled, continued eating…eventually finishing both burgers, the entire order of fries and two diet cokes. Yet another colleague was officially indoctrinated into the Jucy Lucy Club.

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Bar La Grassa – Some Spectacular Dishes

I always recommend Bar La Grassa to colleagues who live in the Twin Cities. When some foodie customers asked me to join them at one of my favorites, of course I accepted. With three people in attendance it was the perfect opportunity to do a sharing of the cuisine that has garnered such great press.

For our first round of dishes we ordered the “ARANCINI with DUCK CONFIT and TALEGGIO” $10), the “SOFT EGGS and LOBSTER ($18), and the “GORRGONZOLA PICANTE with PEPERONATA ($9).”

The soft egg and lobster Is a brilliant combination. The eggs are cooked to a creamy decadence and then the lobster adds great flavor and just a touch of textural contrast. The slightly grilled toast added the crunchiness to the dish. Priced at $18, this is not an inexpensive starter course, but well worth a splurge. The Arancini was perfectly cooked, crispy on the exterior and soft and creamy on the inside. There was a scant amount of confit but the Taleggio was creamy and a great contrast to the Arancini. I would have enjoyed the dish with more confit. The slight pungency of the Gorrgonzola (sic) worked perfectly with the spicy Peperonata. The toasted slice of bread contributed just a touch of flavor and crunchiness.

I suggested each of my colleague choose a small pasta order and I would fill in with another two. For the entrée course we ordered the “FUSILLI COL BUCO with LAMB MEATBALLS” ($10), the “CALAMARATA with RAW TUNA” ($20), an order of “CAVATELLI with BRAISED RABBIT” ($9), and the “GNOCCHI with CAULIFLOWER and ORANGE” $10).

The gnocchi is one of my favorite combinations anywhere. The bite sized gnocchi were brightened with the mild orangey-citrus background and then the small pieces of sautéed cauliflower added the textural contrast. The fusilli is not your mom’s spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were soft and rich in flavor, perfectly paired with the sweet and bright tomato sauce. The cavatelli was a little short of the deep flavors that I was anticipating from braised rabbit, veering to a subtleness of the rabbit versus the gamey approach. The addition of the grated cheese on the table is needed in this dish to bring out the flavors. I was not a fan of the calamarata. The dish delivered a good level of spiciness but I was not fond of the textural combination of the raw tuna with the pasta.

Overall I loved the dishes at BLG, with several of them absolutely spectacular.

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