The burger: Fulton Brewing, home of one of the city’s first taprooms, has recently added a kitchen. A somewhat unconventional one, as it’s housed in a retrofitted 1968 Airstream trailer that pretty much defines “cool.” It’s parked outside the North Loop brewery, and its under the direction of executive chef Scott Pampuch, the local foods poobah and force behind the original incarnation of Corner Table.
The burger's particulars change on a daily basis, but its architecture remains constant.
“We don’t do the diner burger,” said Pampuch, referring to the smashed, thin-pattied model. Instead, he’s favoring what he calls the “back yard grill” burger, with a thick-ish, tender, loosely formed patty. “This is a taproom,” he said. “If I’m having a beer, I want to be reminded of sitting outside, by the grill, with a beer in my hand.”
With the weather making its inevitable pivot to winter, Pampuch has recently boosted his menu with heartier fare.
“Everyone says, ‘You’re trying to pair food with beer,’” he said. “But I’m just trying to make food that you want to eat with beer.”
That includes a sort-of burger in the form of a patty melt, one that places a Hall of Fame-level Minneapolis dish at its center: the meatloaf from the late and highly lamented Modern Cafe, one of several significant kitchens on Pampuch’s resume. This is no half-hearted culinary copycat; Pampuch insists that it’s the real thing.
“I made that meatloaf for so long that I don’t know that I could make another one,” he said with a laugh.
He’s certainly using top-flight ingredients. The beef hails from Peterson Craftsman Meats and it’s enriched with the Airstream kitchen’s excellent porchetta, which is ground and blended into the ground beef in a 1-to-4 ratio.
“That’s the only change from the Modern, which used bacon,” said Pampuch.
Rather than baking off the meatloaf, slicing it and then reheating it, Pampuch treats the notably rich beef-pork mix like any burger, portioning it into hefty 6-ounce balls and carefully formed into a patty (one that’s big enough to stretch to the bread’s edges, a key trait) just before it hits the charbroiler. Each patty is carefully nurtured to medium-rare, with a creamy, beyond-pink center.
“We’ve all had plenty of dry meatloaf sandwiches,” said Pampuch. “That’s why everything here is medium-rare.”
Shout-outs to the brewery abound. The bread is grilled in butter (lots and lots of butter) that’s blended with Jameson whiskey, a key ingredient in the brewery’s “War & Peace,” a dark-roast coffee stout. Butter-sauteed mushrooms get a finishing touch with that stout when it deglazes the pan.
By the way, that bread is the superb Baker’s Field pain de mie, a soft Pullman loaf that’s sliced thick and toasted to a dark, dark brown.
“Both Jameson and the pain de mie have this slight sweetness, and lightly toasting it would make that sweetness almost too sweet,” said Pampuch. “Right now, everyone wants to cook in a fire, it’s all about char. This is a good example of where char makes sense, because that extra bit of bitterness really balances those sweet flavors.”
Yep. Why Baker’s Field?
“Because Steve [Horton] is baking bread the right way,” said Pampuch. “I don’t know anyone here who is sourcing grain, grinding it, making their own flour and baking in a wood-fired oven. And I don’t know how you make better bread.”
Other wisely chosen condiments include “fry sauce” (an equal-parts combo of mayo and ketchup that Pampuch jazzes with a pinch of Old Bay seasoning) and a pair of Swiss cheese slices. A few crunchy, allspice-perfumed bread-and-butter pickles act as a much-needed cleansing agent against those powerhouse mushrooms and that decadent beef-pork meatloaf. There’s also a bit of welcome crunch that comes courtesy of red onions that are grilled but not to a softly caramelized state.
What a delightfully messy, waistline-busting and tasty-in-every-way idea, one that adds up to quite an almost-burger. Truly, it's not to be missed.
Price: $13. Pair the burger with "War & Peace," naturally.
Fries: Not included, but a must ($5). Pampuch cuts skin-on potatoes fairly thin, blanches them twice and dries them out overnight, concentrating those potato flavors, before turning to the fryer. The outsides are slightly wrinkled and can’t-eat-just-one crisp, yet the (skinny) interiors retain a sense of potato-ey plushness. They’re fabulous. Piling on an additional flavor dimension, Pampuch liberally tosses them in a salt that’s infused with the flavor of the floral- and citrus-scented hops (they’re dehydrated, compressed and finely ground) that the brewery uses for its West Coast IPA. What a great idea.
Where he burgers: “5-8 or Matt’s,” said Pampuch, an obvious fan of Minnesota’s contribution to the burger pantheon, the “Juicy Lucy” or “Jucy Lucy,” depending upon which place you’re patronizing, and which creation story you believe; was the cheese-stuffed burger invented at the 5-8, or Matt’s? “I don’t care who came up with it,” he said. “It’s great, and it’s a classic, from the source.”
Address book: 414 6th Av. N., Mpls., 612-333-3208. Taproom open 3 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 3 to 11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 Sunday.
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