My name is Ben Mulhern, and I love to eat.
I am one of those fortunate souls who can eat just about anything and not gain a whole lot of weight in the process. I recently spent two months in living and teaching in Tanzania, where nearly everything is served with rice and nearly everything is curried in some fashion. I thought that I would return to the United States slimmer and with a healthier outlook. I actually ended up gaining about 5 pounds. “But why?” I thought to myself. I ran nearly every day, I ate fruit–I even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro!
It turns out that Tanzanian Coca-Cola is full of pure TPC sugar. And when you average drinking two Tanzanian Coca-Colas a day, you consume a fair amount of sugar. It also turns out that when you eat at the school dining hall, you are allowed to eat as much as you want. And when the thing you eat you much as you want of features rice, you consume a fair amount of starch.
I digress. This column will not be about my travels to Africa, nor will it be about mega-healthy eating trends. Yes, I have eaten healthier since my return, and I respect those who choose to do so. If I happen to cross paths with a healthy dish along the way, I am sure I will find ways to regard it fondly. But this column is strictly going to be about food in Minneapolis that tastes good.
Welcome to the first edition of This Way to Delicious.
I will begin by doing that cliched thing where I discuss the definition of a word and then apply it to my situation.
The word “gourmet” (French in origin) is defined as “involving or purporting to involve high-quality or exotic ingredients and skilled preparation.” I also learned by reading that gourmet can be used as a noun, meaning a person can themselves be a gourmet, in this case a “connoisseur of fine food and drink.”
Given this information, does it make me a gourmet? I confess that I have not eaten at all of Minneapolis’s most renowned restaurants, but as I get further involved with this column, I hope to try cuisine at many new places and check out all kinds of new trends in gourmet cookery.
As I continue to write about food, you may find your definition of gourmet differs from mine. The thing is, what constitutes fine food and drink can be very subjective. Will I be writing about the unveiling of the new boneless wings at Taco John’s or comparing the “angus” beef cuts used at Burger King and McDonald’s? Of course not. But I wanted to be sure to provide the subjectivity disclaimer, simply because I do not have the money or the desire to sit down for a meal at Manny’s Steakhouse or Oceanaire Seafood Room every weekend (That said, both are delicious and the Oceanaire website features some nice contemporary jazz music, if you are into that sort of thing).
Today’s column will feature three mid-range, affordable burger varietals at restaurants in or near to the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis where I worked for the past six years.
*The first such meal is the Turkey Burger and Sweet Potato Fries at the Longfellow Grill. This award-winning burger is handmade at the restaurant and comes with pepper jack cheese, lettuce and a unique aioli (essentially a high-class mayonnaise) with 3 P’s-poblano peppers, pesto and peanut. As you can guess, what sets this burger apart is how flavorful it is. Beyond the aioli, the patty itself manages to keep in its juicyness and taste, one of the reasons more and more people are finding to switch to ground turkey in their everyday cooking. The stigma of the too-thin turkey patty is not applicable here, as the burger is quite substantial. For a little bit more, you can upgrade your side to sweet potato fries, and this is a choice you’d be foolish not to make. The sweet potato fries are one of LFG’s many strengths; they are thick, crisp and perfectly seasoned. The fries come with a side of chipotle pesto aioli, which is tasty in moderation and of course they taste great even with ketchup.
*The Chatterbox Pub has become a bit of an institution in the Twin Cities, specializing in a quirky atmosphere and somewhat homey mid-range fare. For a little money, you and your friends/family can rent a Nintendo system and games the likes of Super Mario Brothers, Excitebike, Donkey Kong and other classics to play while you wait to be served. If you’re not in the mood, there are a variety of classic board games as well. The place itself has the comfortable kitsch of your Grandmother’s basement. There are many worthwhile meals and sandwiches here, but the one I often go for is the Chatterbox Pub Burger. Served on your choice of ciabatta bread or focaccia, it is topped with what sounds like a rather strange combination: swiss cheese, bacon, green olives and a parmesan curry mustard. Trust me when I say–the combination works. It is not often that two things as savory as bacon and saltiest-of-the-salty green olives are put together, and the mustard takes a little getting used to, but it is pretty fantastic once you do. The burger comes with seasoned fries or roasted red pepper mashed potatoes, and both are formidable options. I suggest going with focaccia as the drier, crustier ciabatta can take away some of the flavor, and also getting an extra side of the mustard to ensure maximum taste.
*Finally, Buster’s on 28th is a gastropub tucked away on 28th Avenue and 42nd Street, just West of Hiawatha Avenue. Brent Frei of Nation Restaurant news had this to say regarding what makes a gastropub:
“All gastropubs in the United States share certain characteristics. All serve alcohol, as well as at least a decent variety of beers and wines. All offer ambitious fare, even when described in uninspired ways, such as “shepherd’s pie.” All commit to a comfortable atmosphere…and all profess to have a really good burger.”
Buster’s on 28th fits within the criteria and then some. The beer list is one of the best in the Twin Cities, the staff are friendly and the vibe is easygoing. All of the food I have tried at Buster’s is outstanding, but my personal favorite is the Steak Sandwich. Anyone who is a fan of Minneapolis mainstay Caffrey’s Blue Cow sandwich will adore this one even more; it’s basically the upscale version. It’s enormous, for one, and it is topped with carmelized onions, bacon and a thick layer of blue cheese sauce. The final topping-potato chips-gives it a nice crunchiness. The sauce is worthy of any blue cheese aficionado’s palate and the steak is cut into perfect slices. You may not be able to finish it, but in case you do and are still interested in the prospect of eating, it comes with fries, fruit or salad.
Now that I made you sufficently hungry, go try these sandwiches! Well, maybe not all of them in one day.
This Way to Delicious will return in the next few days. I will take you behind the scenes of gourmet cuisine with Jeremy Pettus, head chef at Cosmos Restaurant at the Graves 601 Hotel in Downtown Minneapolis. Until then, I command you to enjoy some good food!
If you have enjoyed reading this article and would like more from This Way to Delicious, click the link at the top of the article to subscribe.
Longfellow Grill: 2990 West River Pkwy, Minneapolis. Corner of Lake St. and West River Pkwy. 612-721-2711. Opens at 7:00 am daily and closes at 10:00 pm M-Th, 11:00 pm Fri. and Sat., and 9:00 pm on Sundays. www.longfellowgrill.com
Chatterbox Pub: 2229 East 35th Street, Minneapolis. 612-728-9871. 4501 France Ave S., Minneapolis. 612-920-3221. 800 Cleveland Ave, St. Paul. 651-699-1154. Open 11 am until 1 am and 8 am until 1 am, Sat-Sun. www.chatterbox.net
Busters on 28th: 4204 28th Ave S., Minneapolis. 612-729-0911. Open 11:00 am until 1:00 am M-F, 10:00 am until 1:00 am Sat-Sun. busterson28th.com.