Chef Tim Favre is relying upon burning oak in his kitchen at Matchstick, the restaurant inside the new Hotel Crosby in downtown Stillwater, and using the method to create a doozy of a burger. The effect is not unlike utilizing a backyard Weber Kettle: the beef's flavor is enhanced by the smoke, and the intense heat emanating from those glowing embers invests the patty’s surfaces with a slightly crispy char.
Home cooks who end up with dry, overcooked hockey pucks could take a lesson from Favre, who really does it right. One secret is extra-fatty meat. The beef is in an-house grind, a ritual performed daily. The formula is based on measuring three relatively equal parts: lean Black Angus chuck plus trim from well-marbled sources: short ribs and Wagyu steaks.
While some of the grind’s texture-enhancing fat seeps out and falls into the fire (in a cast-iron pan or a flat-top grill, the patty would cook in, and retain some of, its own juices) there is a benefit to dripping fat: the spatters spark flavor-enhancing smoke.
The premium meat, loosely formed into thick, irregularly shaped patties, is seasoned with just salt and pepper, and cooked to a precise medium. Just before it’s served, the patty is transferred to the flat-top grill, where Favre adds the cheese. It’s a slightly funky (in a great way) four-year-old Cheddar, from Widmer’s Cheese Cellars, Wisconsin’s premium Cheddar producer. Favre takes a spare approach to this prized product, a welcome change from the current smothering-the-patty-in-cheese trend.
“I didn’t want to have a burger that’s oozing with cheese,” he said. “It’s easy to hide a burger under a half-pound of American cheese, and throw pickles on it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, I love that kind of burger (see “Where he burgers,” below). But that’s not what I wanted to do.”
Other garnishes, all served on the side, include leaf lettuce, raw red onion and a tomato slice that gets zapped with a hint of smoke, a sharp way to deal with the inevitable winter tomato blahs. No pickles. The bun is the New French Bakery’s potato bun, with a gleaming egg wash crown.
“You want a soft bun, but you also want a bun that holds up well,” said Favre. He brushes a bit of butter on the inside of the buns before they’re toasted. “Toasting is critical,” he said. “It forms that slight crust on the bread, and that’s what holds up the fat of the patty.”
Right now, Favre is serving the burger at lunch; it’s not on the dinner menu. Those in the know can request it, and if there’s ground beef in the kitchen (a limited amount is created each day), Favre and his crew will make it happen.
“Maybe we’ll put it on the bar menu,” he said. Here’s hoping.
Fries: Included. “They’re an afterthought, honestly,” said Favre with a laugh. “We had our hands full, opening this place. We’re buying them. One of the great new trends is oil-blanched fries that are really good. I’m not opposed to doing a frozen fry, because if you’re doing them in-house, and you mess up the process, then the fries aren’t good.” Yes, they are: thick-cut, skin-on and golden, with a fluffy interior and a pleasantly crisped-up exterior.
Where he burgers: “Parlour,” said Favre. “It’s classic Americana. It’s a burger that's just oozing with cheese, that’s one of the reasons why it’s so good. And it’s the crispness that they get on the beef, paired with the pickles that they do really, really well.”
Address book: 232 N. Main St., Stillwater, 651-571-0111. Opens at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. Sunday.
Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at firstname.lastname@example.org. Burger Friday returns Feb. 1.