The burger: To my everlasting regret, I have been stupidly unaware of the existence of the Shantytown Bar & Grill. That is, until Burger Friday reader Kim Whalen of Lakeville recommended it. Thanks, Kim.
“It’s Bloomington’s little secret,” said co-owner Peter Taykalo. “It’s such a small place that, if you drive by and blink, you’ll miss it.”
No kidding. The location, on a sleepy street a few blocks south of I-494, pretty much defines unlikely, straddling the boundary between a characterless industrial area and a quiet residential neighborhood.
Nothing about the modest building's exterior indicates that it's the purveyor of a classic – the argument could be made for standard-setting – dive bar burger, sold at a barely-more-than-Five Guys price.
(Along with no-frills burgers and cheeseburgers, the kitchen pulls together a half-dozen more elaborate versions. The No. 1 seller? The “Shanty,” which piles on Cheddar and Swiss cheeses, guacamole and applewood-smoked bacon.)
The third-pound, free-form patties (“It’s angus, always fresh, never frozen,” said Taykalo) are seared on a well-worn flattop grill until the beef skirts past a no-nonsense medium, allowing tasty bits of sizzled char to form on the outer edges.
The bun – a soft-yet-sturdy specimen that's baked at the nearby Denny’s 5th Avenue Bakery – gets brushed in butter before getting a dark, crispy toast on the grill. Cheese? It’s salty, gooey American, although Cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella and pepper Jack are available. The sole garnish is a standard-issue pickle spear.
That’s it, just the three basic, well-handled burger food groups: beef, cheese and buttered-up bun. No pretense, no complications. Exactly what a dive bar burger should be.
Price: $6.25 for a basic burger, $6.50 for a cheeseburger (pictured, above), $7.25 for a bacon-cheeseburger and up to $8.50 for a specialty burger.
Fries: Make the $1.50 investment and substitute fries for potato chips. They’re a prepackaged product, in that familiar long, somewhat skinny shape, the ones that recall the McDonald’s fries of my 1970s adolescence. They beat chips, by a mile. One quibble: not enough salt.
The back story: The Shantytown’s roots reach back more than 70 years. By the time Peter and Laura Taykalo purchased the business in 1999, it had spent several decades as a 3.2 beer-and-burger joint, and it had definitely seen better days. The couple upgraded the bar to a full liquor license, and gave the building a top-to-bottom overhaul. “We had to,” said Peter Taykalo. “The place was close to being condemned.”
Where he burgers: Peter Taykalo said that he’s a burger fan, but there’s a hitch. “I work six days a week, so I don’t venture out much,” he said. For another opinion, I turned to Whalen, a 15-year Shantytown fan (“I love the feeling that I’m in a relaxed, rural bar in the middle of nowhere,” she said), and asked if she had other favorites. One is the Blue Door Pub, with a caveat. “Their burgers are a bit….not dive bar?” she said. “They feel classy, which, when you’re feeling ‘pub,’ just doesn’t work. We have been looking for a dive closer to us with good burgers and that comfortable pub feel. The closest we’ve found is Red Fox Tavern. We’ve only have visited a few times but they seem like a contender.”
Address book: 8512 Pillsbury Av. S., Bloomington, 952-881-7223. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org.