How good is Victory 44’s Perfect Burger? It was good enough to storm through Minneapolis/St. Paul’s Burger Bracket this year and shove its way into the League of Champions, charging forth with the type of force that scares nations. It compelled local foodnik Andrew Zimmern to call it one of the best in the country.
Before eating at Victory 44, I ran a disarranged humor website called The Kinked Slinky. One meal in Victory did more than excite my palate. The meal you’re looking at right now is what precipitated my chasing of the Twin Cities’ best food. Certainly you call tell what’s happened from there.
The Minnesota Skinny itself stands as proof.
The Basics: Find the website here. Make sure you’ve got a napkin handy; the onset of salivation’s a swift one. With links only to the menu and contact information, you’ll find no fluff on this website. Head chef Erick Harcey could go on for days about his decorations, but I’ll just give you this profile. Harcey has another restaurant, Parka. Find their website here.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This was written before my food reviews had any format. As such, everything to this point and much of the ending was re-written on December 31, 2013.
Fast-forward Rewind to a Friday night in January. My wife and I arrived in the Victory neighborhood of northwest Minneapolis – where the residents’ car subwoofers are exceptional, I might add – and stomped our shoes clean on the Victory 44 welcome mat.
A small bar met us inside the front door, poking out from an exposed kitchen space. The skinny hardwood planks on the floor reminded me of a cheap apartment and the portrait of a pig’s ass on the opposite wall reminded me of that time Rush Limbaugh was ratted out for heroin use. Suburbans and bass tremors were swapped inside for unicorn-bangs and Galifianakis beards.
In my head during the 20-minute wait for a table: “Does this mean the food is great, like The Blue Door; or like Matt’s Bar, mediocre but skating by on reputation? I wonder ...”
Meanwhile, in my wife’s head: “This sucks. I hate this. I wanna sit down.”
We were seated in the next room, between a glass pig filled with corks and a portrait of a pig’s tail. Eschewing the hand-held menu, Victory lists their wares on chalkboards throughout the restaurant. I didn’t get a good look at them, as my imprint was already on The Perfect Burger, but I now understand this isn’t really “a burger place.” In fact, the Perfect is the only one on the menu.
The wait for the food was less than the wait for our table. The waitress was happy, but not the cheesy happy you put on to get tips (gratuity is split between the whole team). She looked genuinely excited to give us these burgers.
“Have you ever had The Perfect Burger?” she asked. We hadn’t. “It’s 80 percent lean ground beef and 20 percent pork belly …” She went on to describe the cheeseburger and fries, spotlighting their features like she had just served us an Audi. It was a verbal appetizer – it actually had me thinking, “HAS she just served me an Audi?”
The fries, cooked in bacon sauce and topped with Parmesan powder, were my immediate targets. Before this night, there wasn’t a place I could definitively point at and say, “The best French fries I’ve ever had were here.” But now there is, and that’s that.
Once every fry between The Perfect Burger and I were cleared out, my space became quiet and the air gained weight. This was the loaded moment, like when Doc Holiday and Johnny Ringo dueled in Tombstone. I hoisted the burger and fixed my gaze upon it. My finger twitched. The bun of the burger compressed. I blinked. It leaked grease. I reeled it in.
Somewhere amid the cheddar cheese and spiced patty was laid a love spell. I had no words. There were no words, just a rapt sigh and slumped shoulders. There would be no half left to take home. It would be days before I could articulate what made The Perfect Burger so special. The short answer: Everything. I won’t even bother pointing out features individually. EVERYTHING on this burger was executed precisely. Write your own criteria and put the top score on all of them. That’s a Perfect Burger.
This didn’t end when the plates were taken away. We were offered dessert and we bit. A different waiter came with our dessert and gave another point-by-point highlight of the dish. Look at this thing – it’s a pile of crap. But it’s the most gorgeous, delectable pile of crap I’ve ever set eyes upon. Just look at it.
It put the top bun on a dining experience that isn’t to be missed, whatever of cost (in our case, about $80 after drinks and tip). The Perfect Burger is set up by its precise wait staff, right-types-of-everything beer list, and sneaky chic. Imagine the polished servers at Fogo de Chao serving you a cheeseburger and wearing a T-shirt with “Praise the Lard” written across the back. It’s kind of like that, and the burgers are excellent.
Only one burger in the Twin Cities – The Vincent Burger – beats this patty-for-patty, but Victory has a decisive edge over all comers when you stack the entire dining experiences against each other. Harcey and his team are classy without being stuffy. They’re homey without being overly campy. Make the trip, suffer the tab, eat a meal that might change your life.
You can’t say it’s never happened.