Saturday, February 27, 2010


This week's burger is from Smashburger. Smashburger is a smallish national franchise with locations in 12 states and plans for locations in 5 more. They claim to focus on high-quality ingredients and have different menus for different regions (which, as far as I can tell, amounts to one region-specific burger and perhaps a different hot dog and/or salad variety). There are a few locations in the Twin Cities; the one closest to me is in Golden Valley. Their big claim to fame is what also gives them their name -- they smash the meat down onto the griddle while it's cooking. Normally I'm not a huge fan of this because it squeezes out the juices. However, I can see that if it's done at the very beginning of the cooking process, you'll have minimum fluid loss (because the fat is still solid), you'll have a little extra seared surface area, and the meat will cook more quickly since it's flatter. That's the theory, as far as I can tell anyway. Does it work?

Smashburger offers burgers in both 1/3- and 1/2-lb varieties, both made with 100% Angus beef. I've previously noted that I think 1/3-lb is the ideal burger size for me, so that's what I went with. I opted to build my own rather than go with one of their pre-optioned burgers, and ordered mine adorned with Swiss cheese, grilled onions, tomato, leaf lettuce, ketchup, and mayo on their standard egg bun for $4.99. I also ordered a side of their rosemary, garlic, and olive-oil-seasoned Smashfries and a fountain soda for a total of $8.47 (plus tax). They told me the burger would be delivered to my table in 6 minutes -- precise. I like that.
I didn't actually time it, but it definitely didn't take longer than 6 minutes. When the burger came out, I noticed that they had accidentally substituted red onion for my tomato slice. No biggie, since the tomato probably wouldn't have been that flavorful anyway at this time of year. I noticed that they put the grilled onions underneath the melted cheese slice -- this way, the cheese serves to hold the notoriously slippery grilled onions in place.

The cross-section view revealed a flat (as expected) patty that was cooked well-done (also as expected). Not particulary abundant in juice. I was a little concerned that the smashing process would result in a burger that was going to fall apart on me but that didn't turn out to be the case. The bun was thick and matched the diameter of the meat perfectly.

On the flavor front, this burger is actually pretty good. The seasoning they use in the meat adds nice flavor, although I would say it's probably a little oversalted for my taste. The meat was a little on the dry side but not incredibly so, and the acoutrements and condiments kept the burger from being dry overall. The bun was light and toasted with butter, and it had a nice sweetness that balanced well with the meat. The biggest issue with this burger is the thickness of the patty, or, rather, the lack thereof. Basically, the thin patty screws up the meat-to-everything-else ratio in each bite, especially given that the bun was so thick. It's possible that the 1/2-lb version has a better ratio here, if they keep the diameter constant so only the thickness increases.

Overall, though, this is a pretty good cheeseburger. If I'm in the mood for a $5 cheeseburger and don't mind driving 10 minutes, or if I'm out on 394 anyway, I'll definitely keep this burger under consideration.

(763) 252-1491
(plus other metro locations)

Until next time...happy cheeseburger.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Common Roots

The cheeseburger of the week is from Common Roots Cafe at Lyndale and 26th. Common Roots opened a few years ago and has become very popular for both the quality of and their commitment to using as much environmentally-friendly and/or locally-produced food as possible.

On paper, this is a quality burger; the specs listed on the menu are Thousand Hills grass-fed beef, cheddar cheese, and a sourdough bun. When I ordered, they asked me how I wanted it cooked -- always a good sign that a place has confidence in their meat. I ordered mine medium and sat down at a table to read The New Yorker while I waited.

(Apologies for the low-quality was fairly dark and I had to turn the ISO setting on my camera up to avoid having to use the flash.)

When it arrived, the first thing I was struck by was the smell -- it was this glorious, rich, beefy smell that other burgers just don't have -- I'm assuming this is a result of the grass-fed beef. I actually spent a while just appreciating the aroma. It looked to be about 1/3-lb, which to me is the perfect size for a burger. The burger was served with a slice of tomato, some mixed greens, and what I at first thought was mayo but turned out to be a powerful garlic aioli. And, hallelujah, no pickle!

Cutting it in half revealed that it was indeed cooked to medium as requested. A few areas were done a little more than others, but that's ok by me. It was plenty juicy without having the plate pooled with delicious beef nectar. Then I took a bite and was assaulted by a nearly overpowering amount of salt in the meat. Now, don't get me wrong. I love salt. I am a salt fiend. And this burger was overseasoned to my taste -- I actually had to force myself to finish it. It's so sad because everything else about this burger was so promising. The real standout here, besides the intoxicating smell, was the bun. It had a distinct-but-not-overpowering sourdough taste and a pleasant amount of chewiness without being so tough as to make eating the burger difficult (imagine trying to eat a burger on a baguette or the like -- it just isn't a good idea). The garlic aioli was a nice surprise as, besides loving salt, I love garlic too. The tomato was low on flavor, but it is the dead of winter in Minnesota so accommodations can be made.

In the end, I wanted to love this cheeseburger. It had all the elements for success but was brought down by the overseasoned meat. Sad.

Common Roots Cafe
2558 South Lyndale Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55405
(612) 871-2360

Until the next post...happy cheeseburgers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why cheeseburgers?

Some may ask, "Why devote a blog to solely cheeseburgers?" Why leave other food options on the table, as it were? If you're one of those people, here's why:

First and foremost, cheeseburgers are delicious. It's hard to go wrong with grilled beef and cheese, and having a convenient bun for utensil-free eating is always appreciated.

Second, cheeseburgers are standardized. Order a cheeseburger and you're basically going to get things that are, in broad strokes, quite similar in terms of ingredients and construction. The scientist in me (that's...uh, all of me) looks at this and notices that they would be ideal for comparing between different establishments and still have a somewhat level playing field (obviously though, it may not makes sense to compare a $5 burger to a $15 burger).

Third, cheeseburgers are ubiquitous. Almost every non-ethnic restaurant has a cheeseburger on the menu, and quite often even the ethnic ones do. There are lots of cheeseburgers to choose from, meaning this blog will have fodder for a good long time.

Fourth, I view the combinations of 1-3 to imply that cheeseburgers are a proxy. If a place can't do a cheeseburger well, do you really trust them to make other things well? This correlation is probably imperfect, but I think there's more than a morsel of truth in there.

Last, cheeseburgers are focused. Let's face it, there are plenty of other food blogs, from regional reviews to cooking to whatever else you can think of. But I think I've found a niche.

So, until next time...happy cheeseburgers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Tony's Diner

This is a terrible cheeseburger. I'm a little embarrassed that I've actually had them multiple times.

Tony's Diner is at the corner of 4th St. SE and 15th Ave SE in Dinkytown, near the University of Minnesota's East Bank campus. They used to be called The Steakknife and would occasionally have live music at night, but I think that's gone by the wayside with the name change.

Bottom line: avoid this cheeseburger at all costs. Sure, it only costs $5.95 for a ~1/3lb cheeseburger with a side of fries, but that doesn't make up for the acrid, bitter, charred exterior and dry interior. The cheese is a forlorn-looking slice of american cheese food, and the burger comes served with tomato, onion, pickle slices (shudder) and a few small scraps of lettuce rather than a large piece that covers the entire burger. Seriously, who does that? And serving it with the pickle slices on top of all the other fixings just contaminates the rest of the vegetation with vile pickle juice. If I remember correctly, the bun wasn't very good either, but the last time I went was a few weeks ago, and after multiple bad burgers I decided I was never going back -- not even to take pictures or get more up-to-date impressions for the blog.

You can get a better-tasting burger at a fast-food joint. DO NOT WANT.

Until next post...happy cheeseburgers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Uptown Diner

Welcome to the first post of the Twin Cities Cheeseburger blog. Besides being a cheeseburger review, this post will also lay out the structure of the posts and what will or will not be included in reviews so as to give a taste (hah!) of posts to come (yes, as a general rule, bad puns are included in 'things to come').

To wit: I will only be reviewing cheeseburgers. Patty melts are included, and hamburgers without cheese will be grudgingly included if at the particular establishment no burger-with-cheese variety is available. I will not review steak sandwiches, nor will I review any other sort of sandwich. I will not review side dishes such as french fries or tater tots or chips (those would be different blogs, naturally). I will not review beverages. I will not make a note of service unless it's somehow notable, either exceptionally good or excruciatingly bad. Also, I hate pickles. This blog is about cheeseburgers: Let's stay focused, people!

My first cheeseburger review is from an old standby: the Uptown Diner, on Hennepin Ave. and 26th St. Now, I typically go to the Uptown Diner for breakfast-type things (in particular, their crab cakes benedict is my kryptonite), but I decided to use their cheeseburger as my reference point -- not because it's a standout but because it's fairly average.

First, the stats: It starts with a half pound patty. I ordered mine as a "California burger", meaning it comes with lettuce, tomato, (red) onion, and mayo as well as a heaping pile of waffle fries or hash browns (I opted for fries), cole slaw, and a pickle spear (shudder). Adding cheddar cheese put the total at $8.95.

When the burger was set down in front of me, the first thing I noticed was the cheese: They had thrown a pile of shredded cheddar on top instead of a slice. This wasn't particularly a bad thing, but it did mean the cheese layer wasn't evenly distributed. After I cut into it, I noticed that the cheese wasn't fully melted either. The section cut also revealed that the burger was, as expected, cooked well-done (they say "grilled to perfection" in the menu, and in this case I'd imagine "to perfection" means "to kill any trace of e. coli that might exist").

Taste-wise, the burger was as I had remembered it: underseasoned but overall a solid burger. I'm not sure if they make their patties on site or have them delivered frozen by some giant food services conglomerate like Aramark or Sysco (I'd bet its the latter). The burger itself tasted like...well, ground beef. I like to see the meat seasoned with some salt and pepper before the patty is formed, because putting salt and pepper on the patty after the fact doesn't have the same effect. Because it was cooked well-done and I think the meat started out fairly lean, there wasn't much juice dripping out (though it wasn't noticeably dry either), meaning the structural integrity of the bun wasn't compromised by dripping blood and molten fat. Speaking of the bun, it's a decent sesame affair that is hearty enough to withstand handling but not so dense that it gets in the way of biting into the burger. It had been grilled lightly on the flattop as well.

Overall, this is a solid burger. It's not going to make you redefine what a burger should be; it's just pretty much what you'd expect from a diner burger.

Uptown Diner
2548 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55405

Until the next post...happy cheeseburger.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Blog -- all about cheeseburgers!

Well, hello there. Are you in the Minnesota Twin Cities metro area? I am. Do you like cheeseburgers? I do. Do you like reading about cheeseburgers? I do. I also think I can write something interesting about them. Granted, it's not as good as eating them, but maybe I can save you some grief by helping you find the best ones in area and help you avoid the duds.

My goal is to review about one cheeseburger a week. We'll see how that works out.

Until the next post...happy cheeseburger!