The burger: Someone (OK, it was probably me) once said that those in search of a great burger should consider seeking out a well-managed steakhouse. That theory certainly pays off when it comes to the Capital Grille in downtown Minneapolis.
One reason why it’s a good idea for burger fans to go the steakhouse route is that the trimmings from all those T-bones, tenderloins and filets usually land in the grinder, then pattied into burgers.
While that's not the case at this upscale chain, it's not a downside, either. Instead, the Capital Grille tapped Pat LaFrieda, the butcher to the stars (or at least much of the East Coast’s sirloinoscenti), to create an exclusive-to-the-restaurant burger blend.
It’s a brisket-chuck-short rib mix. The percentages of each remain a state secret, but this much is verifiable: it’s fantastic. The beef sings with the same deep, mineral-ey quality that steak lovers expect from their favorite cuts. It has just enough marbled fattiness to keep each bite ultra-juicy, and the covers-the-bun patty is weighty enough to mirror the menu’s thickest chop.
Another benefit to burger-ing it up at a steakhouse is that doing right by beef is second nature. The patty’s seasoning clearly landed in that happy place where it tiptoed right up to the over-salted line without stepping over it. It was cooked, temperature-wise, precisely to order.
The burger’s approach to cheese is another full-on embrace of the tendency toward excess that hangs in the steakhouse air. When devising this burger, corporate executive chef Michael LaDuke decided to pile on the Havarti, to spectacular effect. It’ll make a Havarti believer out of the most devoted American and Swiss cheeseburger fans.
“We felt Havarti achieved the right amount of creamy, dairy notes for the burger, while providing an outstanding texture when melted under our broiler,” he said.
The remaining flourishes hit the spot, and then some. The A-plus bun earns some of its stripes through an enthusiastic approach to buttering and toasting. The tomato slice did not come off as the cottony winter facsimile that’s frequently the ugly story on other, lesser burgers served during this time of year. Kudos also to the crunchy pickles, their bright vinegar bite a bracing counterpoint to the ultra-rich ground beef and cheese.
Price: $18. I know, eighteen bucks? For a burger? It’s a lot. Still, this Gold Card figure should not come as a surprise; you’re dining in a high-end steakhouse, remember? The good news is that this special-occasion price is an honest reflection of special-occasion goodness. In that same You-Get-What-You-Pay-For vein, service was first-rate. And look around. The Grille’s wood-paneled setting has always been (to me anyway), the visual equivalent of a sky-high billable hour at a white-shoe law firm.
Fries: Included, and meh. The addition of Parmesan and truffle oil is propably intended to impart some degree of steakhouse luxuriousness, but these thick-cut, skin-on fries would be so much better without them. When it comes to fries, less is so much more, right? Sticking with plain-old coarse salt would be a huge improvement.
Fun facts: Capital Grille began in Providence, R.I. in 1990; the downtown Minneapolis location opened in November 1997. The company, which has been a division of Darden (the restaurant behemoth behind the Olive Garden and Red Lobster) since 2007, operates 52 locations in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Burgers are playing a key role in its next expansion. It's called the Capital Burger, and it's opening this spring in Washington, D.C.
Cold weather tip: For those uninterested in facing below-zero temps, the street-level restaurant is accessible via skyway. Just find your way to the first-floor lobby of the State Theatre, then look for the restaurant’s modest entrance, it’s on the 8th Street side of the building.
Address book: 801 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-692-9000. Open 4 to 9 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
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