Monday, May 28, 2012

Merlin's Rest

Merlin's Rest is a neighborhood pub in the Longfellow area of Minneapolis, located on East Lake Street at 36th Avenue (right across from the White Castle). While it is known for being a 'family friendly' establishment brimming with British Isles charm and a massive single-malt scotch selection, their food menu is pretty decent. Sure, they have fish and chips and bangers and mash, but I want to find out how well the British can put together that quintessentially American concoction, the cheeseburger.

The burgers at Merlin's Rest feature a 1/3-lb Thousand Hills beef patty seasoned and cooked to medium rare -- already sounds promising. They offer a choice of a variety of cheeses, but this time I went with good ol' American cheese -- perhaps in defiance of the establishment's geographical theme, but mostly because it melts really well. Some even go so far as to claim it's the best cheese for cheeseburgers. The burger is served atop a St. Agnes bun, which I later learned is a local bakery in St. Paul. They are served with lettuce, tomato, and a side of 'pub crisps' (potato chips to us Yanks). I ordered mine with 'chips' (french fries) instead, putting the total at $11.50.

The burger looked good when it first arrived. I was surprised to see that the bun, which apparently had been so special as to warrant a mention on the menu, was, in fact, a completely ordinary-looking white flour burger bun. The cheese was melted but good -- no surprise, given that it was American cheese -- and the lettuce was surprisingly a fairly big pile of boston or bibb leaves. The burger was cooked perfectly medium rare -- nice job, Redcoats.

The burger itself tasted great, because the meat was seasoned properly -- salt, black pepper, and maybe even some other stuff too. The big problem with this burger was the bun. Not only did it look like an ordinary white flour burger bun, it tasted and felt like one too. It actually was strongly reminiscent of a bun one might get with a fast food burger -- not really at the level of a $10+ burger. This bun had exactly the opposite problem of the bialy bun at Rye Deli -- it was just too soft and unsubstantial. I suspect that this bun was actually not from the St. Agnes bakery, because the products on their website look to be of much higher quality than what I received with my burger. The American cheese was good, but its combination with the low-rent bun made for a distinctly fast-food-burger-esque experience. It didn't help that overall the burger was a bit mushy, with the extremely soft bun, medium rare meat, and gooey cheese. The outer sear on the patty and a few leaves of lettuce can only do so much for texture contrast.

In the end, this burger was let down by its bun. If they can raise their game on this one point, they'll have a real winner.

Merlin's Rest Pub
3601 East Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55406
(612) 216-2419

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Rye Delicatessen

Today's cheeseburger is from another relative newcomer to the Minneapolis restaurant scene, Rye Delicatessen. Housed in the former Auriga location on Hennepin near Franklin in the Lowry Hill neighborhood, Rye's specialty is Montreal-style smoked meat. However, continuing my tradition of going to places with specialty items and then ignoring said items for cheeseburgers (see: Anchor, Lyndale Tap House), I decided to see if their burger was up to snuff.

The description for the burger was mostly promising: the beef they use is a blend of chuck and brisket, both flavorful, fatty cuts (and we all know that fat = delicious). Their "Well Built Burger" adds Widmer aged cheddar, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato, and homemade ketchup to the 1/2-lb patty, all set on a toasted bialy bun. The bun gave me pause -- a bialy is a fine piece of carbohydrate, but I was worried that the dense chewiness of that sort of bread product wouldn't work well in a burger. When I ordered the burger, I was given a choice of "rare, pink, or no pink" -- I chose pink, figuring that would be closest to my preferred medium doneness level. The burger is served with a side of their cole slaw (with a vinegar- rather than mayo-based dressing) and a pickle spear, which I declined, for $9.50. I also ordered a side of fries ($2 during their happy hour, $3.50 normally) because...french fries.
When the burger arrived, it made quite a dramatic entrance, speared through the top with a large steak knife. The patty was large and irregularly-shaped, clearly hand-pattied, with a good sear and a nicely melted cheese atop. The caramelized onions were piled on generously, along with a decently thick slice of tomato and some leaves of, sadly, iceberg lettuce. The bialy bun was covered on top with onion bits and poppy seeds, and was a fair bit smaller than the meat. Cutting it in half showed that the patty was overcooked, with barely a trace of pink to be seen.

With the first bite I knew my fears about the bun were completely valid. It was, in fact, too dense, requiring a lot of pressure to bite through and squeezing the contents of the burger out the back end. This combined with the relative sizes of the bun to meat resulted in a very messy eating experience. I wouldn't complain so much about this if the rest of the burger made it worthwhile -- but, frankly, it didn't wow me. The meat was slightly underseasoned and somewhat on the dry side (no surprise given the doneness level), and was so loosely pattied that chunks of burger fell off as I was eating. On the positive side, the caramelized onion really came through, and the toasted onion topping on the bialy added a nice bit of crunch And Rye's house-made plum tomato ketchup was also quite good -- a far sight better than the swill they called ketchup at Republic.

I think the choice of bun really brought this burger down a notch. If I do come back (and again decide not to order one of their 'signature' items), I would probably try the patty melt instead of the burger -- as it's served on grilled rye rather than a bialy.

Rye Delicatessen
1930 Hennepin Avenue

(612) 871-1200