If you were driving over the Wabasha St. Bridge around 8:15 p.m. Saturday, I must offer my apologies for that evening’s visuals.
You probably saw me lumbering up the bridge like a tree monster: eyes big and deep; hair blown about like branches in the wind; and a thick, uneven body. I was the guy with that shirt, the one with the cheeseburger on front and MAN’S BEST FRIEND underneath, the one with a trail of sauce dribble right down the chest of it. That was me.
Be thankful you couldn’t hear me breathe.
The Twin Cities Burger Battle had just ended, but it wasn’t supposed to be like this. My plus-one cancelled six hours beforehand, you see, and that left me to challenge 24 burger samples alone. I came close (18) but I paid the price afterward, with a pure walk of shame for 273,000 people to see.
I’m still not physically or mentally ready to think about cheeseburgers again. Nevertheless, we look back at some fighters from last weekend’s Burger Battle. We’ll start with my exact breaking point.
The St. Paul Grill
The St. Paul Grill is a past People’s Choice winner at the Burger Battle, yes, but look at everything else it has won during its lifetime. You can imagine, then, my disenchantment when I was handed a sample of their Pig’s Eye Patty burger at the end of the night. A young lady in a black and gold shimmery jacket gave it to me and said “It’s from the St. Paul Grill. You can’t say no.”
I know, right?
I accepted the little snack boat with the little quarter of burger inside of it, but I didn’t even see a cheeseburger at that point. I saw train lights in a tunnel through Wile E. Coyote’s eyes. I saw myself passed out in a tall patch of grass. I saw DOOM.
I carried this little piece of burger for a full lap ‘round the battleground, hoping to shake open even a bite’s worth of visceral space. It didn’t happen. I turned back toward the battleground’s exit and stealthily abandoned my little Pig’s Eye Patty.
The crew at Tin Cup’s was after your heart. They offered full burgers at the start, and served shots with them. I overheard one member of their crew offer someone a Tin Cup’s Burger Battle T-shirt in exchange for his People’s Choice vote. They had a pretty good burger, too: a salted pretzel bun balancing cheesy hashed browns, grilled onions, bacon and beef. It was called “Uffda.” It looked and tasted like “Uffda,” too, in a good way.
It takes time to capture a heart, though. Because of all this, the queue at Tin Cup’s was the wrong “Uffda.” For me, it was a two-beer line; for a gentleman behind me, a three-beer line. It was a long enough line to make friends in – even I managed to! – but I do wonder how many people skipped Tin Cup’s because of it.
The Wild Boar
Remember when I wrote about the Wild Boar’s Diablo Burger last week, and suggested you ask for extra “Snort” sauce to spice it up? Well, guess what? They served it at the Burger Battle with extra Snort, and it did for the Diablo Burger what that rug did for The Dude’s living room. The move paid off: The Wild Boar was voted third place in the People’s Choice category.
Ryan Wentz said the Boar team was going to step into more competitions and get their name out there. If the Diablo Burger is any indication, Wild Boar burgers will be a scary sight for contestants at future battles.
The Muddy Cow
I hadn’t even heard of The Muddy Cow before the Twin Cities Burger Battle, and here I am now Googling directions to the Coon Rapids location. You can thank their Flamin’ Bleu-Berry Burger for that.
On a day that brought countless variations of aioli on cheeseburgers, the blueberry habanero aioli on the Flamin’ Bleu-Berry was the most memorable. When I think of blueberries, I think of the humid afternoons I spent as a child picking them alongside Highway 23. I certainly had never put “blueberry” and “habanero” together. The Flamin’ Bleu-Berry brought out the best of them, without getting jammy or gimmicky. You ate this burger and thought, “Wow, these work together!”
The Coon Rapids food scene might not be ascendant quite yet, but one quarter of one Flamin’ Bleu was enough to make me say, “Hey, the Muddy Cow is up there.”
The Happy Gnome
When Happy Gnome general manager Emily Brink and I saw each other toward the end of the festival, we got drawn into a hug like magnet ends. We’re Dolphins fans in the same Minnesotan circle, you see, which is like two unicorns being on the same Lisa Frank notebook cover. And boy, did we have some Dolphins off-season takes!
If you’re not in the know, the Dolphins responded to last year’s 6-10 finish by gutting the roster of almost every noteworthy player. Emily’s take: How stupid, right? My take: Finally!
We agree on Head Coach Adam Gase. We agree that not drafting a quarterback and continuing their commitment to Ryan Tannehill is idiotic, and I think we agreed the Dolphins are going 2-14 this year.
The Happy Gnome continues to be Minnesota’s premier craft beer destination, even as big-box national chain restaurants like Yard House and HopCat and World of Beer muscle in with infinite tap lines and huge-screen TVs. The Happy Gnome Burger was a reflection of the restaurant itself: aged cheddar, Surly Bender-braised short rib, the day’s best pickles, and garlic aioli. There was a fair bit of nonsense served at the battle. The Happy Gnome had none of it.
While we’re talking about beer …
Summit Extra Pale Ale
Summit Brewing Company was one of the two breweries offering beer at the Burger Battle. In the interest of disclosure, I got my Burger Battle tickets from them. I drank a lot of Summit Extra Pale Ale, as I’m wont to do. EPA is what I order at the bar when I don’t want to think about what to order at the bar. Liquor store, same deal. Twin Cities Burger Battle, same deal. There’s no haze, no trendy ingredients, just a 32-year-old beer I’ve watched win silver or gold every year I’ve been to the Great American Beer Festival. I don’t need to explain Summit EPA to you, do I?
I tried Summit’s new white ale, Skip Rock, too. I’m not going to pretend like I analyzed this beer while I walked around a cold grassy field with my cheeks all squirreled out with burger samples, okay? Let’s be real. I liked it. Good taste, light, crushable and refreshing. This beer helped me stay strong in the Tin Cup’s forever line. I brought a Skip Rock for the guy who held my spot in line so I could grab one; he liked it, too. Skip Rock: good stuff.
Summit’s name has come up lately, as Minnesota’s largest beer distributor (and one of Summit’s distributors) is in a labor dispute with the union who represents their delivery drivers. You can be on the Teamsters’ side without swearing off Summit. Just get it in Wisconsin, or drink it right in the taproom.
The Suburban came all the way from Excelsior and went home with the Judge’s Choice trophy. It was rightly-awarded: I only thought one burger was better than the Suburban’s Chimi My Churri. If you gave them a shot, you were rewarded with a cauldron of mango chimichurri and chili sauce with bacon jutting out the sides. No bottom buns were challenged the way the bottom buns were of Chimi My Churris, but they held up!
Most burgers offered at the battle had similar versions of them you could find at other restaurants’ stands. There were no other versions of Chimi My Churri. It left you wanting seconds, but really needing a napkin.
It’s always better when the crew is having fun, and the Suburban partied like winners long before the judges made their decision. A cowbell was set next to their People’s Choice ballot box, and somebody banged on it every time The Suburban got a vote. I stepped in line right before voting came to a close. I was in line for over 10 minutes, and that cowbell was never quiet for more than a few seconds.
Let me be improper for a second and explain how greatness is measured when I’ve got a few beers in me. Greatness is acknowledged when I say it’s “F*ckin’ ridiculous!” but its level of greatness is measured in how long I hold the “uh” sound.
McKinney Roe’s battle burger, the Grand Brie, was “F***************ckin’ ridiculous!”
It was 50 percent brisket, 25-percent chuck, 25-percent short rib. If you didn’t have a Grand Brie, you’ll probably shrug those numbers off in apathy; but one bite revealed those random-looking numbers to be a magic formula. This burger bit apart the way a piece of cloth tears when dropped over a properly-sharpened samurai blade. My little slider was perfect: the grind, the temperature, the char, the juice, perfect.
The jalapenos didn’t make it hot; they just made it “Ooh.” McKinney Roe used Hawaiian buns, a backyard cheat code I’m surprised more restaurants don’t employ. If you didn’t get some of that thick Brie cheese fondue on your nose at least once, you’re a more civilized eater than I.
McKinney Roe was the defending champion; they got my People’s Choice vote, and were the judges’ second-place burger this year.
The Grand Brie is not on McKinney Roe’s everyday menu, and I’m actually thankful for that. I can be practical about this. I can plan a visit ahead of time. I can look at the menu and try their Chilean seabass, ribeye, or seared tuna – or one of the cheeseburgers they keep on the menu, when I can look at a cheeseburger again.
Minor clean-up edits were made shortly after this article’s publication.