Table Talk
See more of the story

The burger: The massive beer hall at Surly Brewing Co. has witnessed three burger variations since the doors opened in late 2014. Chef Ben Peine has now increased that number to four.

“We never want to rest on our laurels, and get too complacent,” he said. “Plus, there’s a bit of a selfish perspective, because I wanted to create a burger that I would look forward to eating.”

His solution? A double-patty version that pays homage to the barely adorned diner-style burger.

“The previous version was more akin to the Whopper,” said Peine. “This time, I wanted something super-simple. No overwhelming sauce, or too many vegetables. Let’s just showcase the meat and all the good char that comes along with that.”

Done. This is a burger with a richness so powerful that, after about four bites, I could feel myself slipping -- happily -- into a midday food coma. That caloric power radiates from the well-burnished beef patties. Each 3.2-ounce patty is composed of a fat-laden blend of chuck and clod that’s ground fresh, daily, by Peine’s beef supplier. The company also forms the beef into a patties, a necessary production step for a kitchen cranking out, yes, a thousand burgers a week.

“When we first opened, we were getting in bulk ground beef, and we had two people doing nothing but making patties, all day,” said Peine. “After a month of that, we started talking to our purveyor and they began doing the pattying for us. While I’m very dedicated to us doing nearly everything in-house -- and we take a lot of pride in that -- there are some shortcuts that we can take that don’t sacrifice quality and freshness.”

Staying true to that humble diner burger format, Peine keeps the embellishments to a minimum. A mild, creamy Dijonnaise (the mash-up where mayonnaise mutes Dijon mustard’s bite), acts as a much-needed lubricant.

“And it needed a fresh component, which is where the red onions come into play,” said Peine.

No kidding: this is a noticeably onion-ey burger, in a very good way. The (raw) onion's sharpness is countered by sweet dill pickles -- they're based on a time-tested formula that Peine borrowed from his mother -- and they contribute a crunchy contrast as well as an acidic palate cleanser that cuts through (well, almost) the beef’s braggadocio. Cheese is two slices of white American.

“I didn’t want the cheese to act as a focal point,” said Peine. “Not an aged Cheddar, or a Gruyere. It’s not about the taste, it’s about the creaminess. The flavor of the cheese shouldn’t overshadow the flavor of the beef. There’s nothing too fancy about a diner-style burger.”

The same goes for the bun, which Peine views “as a vehicle,” he said. “I don’t want a lot of flavor out of the bun, because the meat is the main ingredient. I like this simple, butter-washed bun because of its soft, fluffy texture, and it’s got the right meat-bun ratio, it doesn’t overpower. That’s important.”

Each bun gets a quick brush of clarified butter and is toasted (“When they’re nice and warm, so much the better,” said Peine) on what has to be the busiest flat top stove in the seven-county metro area. They’re baked at Grandma’s Bakery in White Bear Lake.

“We used to use St. Agnes, and when that went down, Klecko [Danny McGleno, St. Agnes’ baker] and his guys landed at Grandma’s.”

The menu suggests pairing this first-rate burger with the brewery’s Furious, its hops-forward, crowd-pleasing IPA.

“When we create a dish, we’re thinking, ‘How will it balance with beer?’” said Peine. “We’re not making food with beer, we’re making food that goes well with beer.”

Price: $14.

Fries: Included. It’s still the same gigantic handful of crisp, darkly golden fries that have always been served with Surly burgers. They’re liberally seasoned with what the kitchen has labeled its “Barbecue” spice, a blend of Aleppo peppers (a less-aggressive sibling to crushed red chile flakes that fill jars at pizzerias), bourbon barrel-aged paprika, granulated garlic and onion powder. The combination makes these fries ideally suited to beer.

Where he burgers: “If I have to be completely honest, my favorite is probably Culver’s,” said Peine. “That might sound stupid, for a chef to love a fast-food burger. But they do a really good job. I don’t eat a ton of them, because there aren’t a lot of Culver’s locations in the cities. But that’s my go-to burger.”

Address book: 520 Malcolm Av. SE., Mpls., 763-999-4040. Beer hall kitchen hours 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. No reservations.

Talk to me: Do you have a favorite burger? Share the details at rick.nelson@startribune.com.