The mission: create healthier, more sustainable burgers.
The weapon: mushrooms.
The James Beard Foundation last year launched the Blender Burger Project(TM), and restaurants are jumping on board by adding one “blended” burger to their menus. A blended burger is just as it sounds: chopped mushrooms make up 25 percent of the patty.
Eleven Minnesota restos are taking part this year, including all three Red Cow locations. Eurest Dining, a concessions-centric outfit based out of Eagan, is also involved.
Also among the “Mushroom 11” is the Rock Elm Tavern, a still-newish Plymouth spot that has already risen to become one of the culinary banner-bearers in town. They finished third in people’s choice voting at last month’s Twin Cities Burger Battle, and your humble author can be seen often at happy hour with a face full of inferno wing sauce.
By being one of the first among us to fungus, they’ve put themselves on the forefront of an important movement in food. Of course, there are risks with this sort of thing: if the burger tastes great and the movement gains traction, they’re geniuses; if it tastes bad, we all go home wondering WTF were they thinking.
Here’s what I know: Rock Elm Tavern did it right. Their Barrel-Aged Mushroom Burger gave me everything I desire when I step up to the top bun, and left nothing behind.
HOW CAN I WORK IN THESE CONDITIONS?
Don’t cry for me: I’m delegating my workload here at the Skinny, and giving myself a raise at the end of the month (I pay myself in beers, though).
Seriously, though, the patio space here taps every bit of potential an outdoor setting could have in that strip mall just off the highway. The trees at the edges and cushy chairs in the middle make it look paradisaical, so of course you want to go in there … but the fencing and the fancy furniture give it an exclusive look, so you really want to go in there.
The Rock Elm’s tap roster is solid, but I just had water (something to do with the bazillion beers I’ve got at home still after Memorial Day) and dialed up the blended burger. It was two trust falls at once: not only is this a foreign concept to your everyday diner, it’s also a $14 burger.
My server, Shauntell, made sure I was topped off and talked up from sit-down to get-out. She might’ve been onto my work, what with my laptop out and camera snapping pictures of everything. If that’s true, that just means she was observant and responsive — two more excellent qualities. Speaking of, Shauntell didn’t approach me once while my mouth was full. I wish more servers would watch for that. She also called me “young man” repeatedly, which is a compliment to both of us.
The burger arrived.
It’s more than just beef and mushrooms, obviously. It’s made with barrel-aged whiskey shoyu, fried kale (quit rolling your eyes!) and lemongrass aioli. I could have never expected the sum of these parts.
Not only was it delicious, it was deceptive. The mushrooms affected the texture, but barely; that char you want on the outside of the patty was perfectly intact; and the beef tiptoed right on the medium/rare line. The mushroom infusion didn’t dampen the burger a bit.
What’s more, the kale and shoyu teamed up to make ketchup completely unnecessary. I’d have traded some of my kale for more aioli, but the combination achieved. If this is sacrilege, it’s some damn good-tasting sacrilege.
If you don’t want to dive right into that, fine. Hit Rock Elm during happy hour, get a $4 pint, wolf down some inferno wings, wreck a napkin wiping your hands, miss a spot on your face, and be happy that way.
There’s a place in the future for blended burgers, I think. I enjoyed it just as I do the classics; and, while I’m not ready to let go of the classics just yet, this remastering at least lets us know the movement’s drivers are in the right lane.
It should be an interesting trip.
Oh hey: if you come here and have this burger, you can vote for them right here. A pretty sweet prize awaits the winning restaurant, and it takes five seconds to vote roughly.