It was around this time last year, a dark and confusing period came to an end. Vincent A Restaurant had closed at the end of 2015, taking with it the Twin Cities’ arch-cheeseburger. For nearly 90 days, the Vincent Burger’s fanatics wandered. Back and forth over the river, they wandered. In and out of the hotspots, hip streets, suburbs and exurbs, they wandered.
Hope sprung when word spread that Vincent A Restaurant’s proprietor, Iron Frenchman Vincent Francoual, was taking on a menu consulting role at CARA Irish Pubs. Before long, it was confirmed: the Vincent Burger’s return was imminent.
At this time last year, the wandering stopped. Everything became clear. A new destination: St. Louis Park, and Cooper Irish Pub.
The Vincent Burger didn’t have to reclaim its crown. It had been there waiting the whole time.
The Basics: Cooper Pub sits in the Shoppes at West End, across the street from a Cub Foods, on the other end of the block from Punch Bowl Social – a place I’d had high hopes for, but it sadly seems to have let Toby Keith’s ghost in and embraced the “bro bar” distinction. Also on that block is a beer keg sarcophagus with “Yard House” written out front; and a Wedding Day Diamonds, for some reason.
Cooper Pub is one of four Irish Pubs that make up the CARA quartet (Kieran’s Pub, The Local, and The Liffey being the others). Their loyalty program is next level: not only do you get 10 percent cash back on your card with each purchase at any location, you get a free appetizer right from the get-go and credits randomly get zapped onto your card. On your birthday, you get $25. Presently, members earn a free pint per friend referred (so, yeah, tell ’em Frank Haataja sent you!).
DMG’s report on the Francoual/CARA union can be found here, but here’s the gist: the Iron Frenchman sought a new challenge, one that would allow him to spend more time with his family. CARA wanted to put the oomph back in pub food. Voila!
A grand picture greets diners upon entry to Cooper. It’s more than inviting; it’s encouraging. The first steps inside say “You don’t want to miss out on this!” It looks massive, but it’s broken up such that it feels intimate. Just watch your kneecaps when you scoot up to the bar. Thick, wooden curves protrude from under the bar counter. They hurt.
I’m biased in favor of their service, but it’s an earned bias. I’d scheduled an interview over lunch one day and asked to sit in a waaaaay back section, a zip code away from the crowd. My waitress said yes without so much as breaking her smile. On another night, the hosts kept a section open for myself and four Dagger Dolls. My server was observant, and kept us topped off without invading the broadcast. I know I’m a pain in the ass, but you wouldn’t tell by watching the service staff.
Now, about that Vincent Burger.
It’s at its least photogenic when fully assembled. That’s because the Vincent Burger looks more like a filet mignon than it does a hamburger patty. That’s because it’s the filet mignon of hamburger patties.
RELATED: I wrote about the Vincent Burger for the first time four years ago, back when I didn’t really know how to write about food (though you could argue I still don’t).
This one came without a single blemish. The bun looked was like a sunrise. The tomato and onions sat neatly within the top bun, the lettuce wasn’t excessive, and sauce evenly spread. The Vincent Burger is meant to be consumed as presented. If you leave the tomato off, I’ll be disappointed; if you dunk it in steak sauce, I’ll f*cking fight you.
And for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, don’t cut it in half!
Give it a good squish, then take one medium-sized bite to get started. Take two more bites, one on either side of the first. Then, take a humongous bite in the center. Get that whole core on the fourth bite. Get that meaty goodness at its apex, that gooey cheese blob, and the cool snap from the toppings. That bite … got a pen? Quote me: the middle of the Vincent Burger is the Twin Cities’ best individual bite of food.
It’s an impeccable marriage of a classic build and the razzle dazzle of a Juicy Lucy. There’s a warmth – not heat, warmth. That fourth bite, during my first Vincent Burger at Cooper Pub, is the best bite of food I’ve had since the second rib of that Oklahoma Joe’s rib rack three years ago in Kansas City. It’s true.
The Vincent Burger isn’t $8 at happy hour like it was back at Vincent A, but ballers on budgets will be just fine. Cooper’s happy hour lineup features sliders, Reuben rolls, and pretzels that can be enjoyed for a fiver. The $4.99 bracket is 100-percent Frank-approved, and get this: the happy hour begins at 2 p.m. and runs until 6:30 p.m. Geez, you’d think they actually WANTED people to make it there for it.
Other standouts on the menu include a $9 Bloody Mary at brunch that can easily be a meal by itself; the Ploughman’s Platter, which provides enough food for a contest; and a fish and chips with a pristine cut of cod and precisely-done breading. It looks like it was fished from a painting, and the taste brings on a state of reflection. I get that it’s an Irish pub, and the fish and chips had damn well better be good, but it might surprise you how few really walk that walk. Not an issue at Cooper.
Any time I have $15.50, though, the Vincent Burger is in play. Dollar for dollar, minute for minute, nothing within 100 miles compares. In the words of Jay Z, it’s a one of one/that means none before it, none to come.
You may be seated.