Hammer & Sickle!

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One of Rob’s co-workers told us that we needed to give Hammer & Sickle in Uptown Minneapolis a try… He lived in Poland for at least five years and said that the pierogies at Hammer & Sickle are more authentic than any he’d had in the Twin Cities, including Nye’s Polonaise Room (soon to close) and Moscow on the Hill.

We’d been to Nye’s several times and loved the pierogies there! We also love the steak and pierogies at The Lowry. We’ve never been to Moscow on the Hill. Why? Borscht doesn’t sound all that exciting to me. But when someone recommends something, I’m all about it!

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Finding Hammer & Sickle can be a challenge. We had the address, but saw no sign. The only thing that’ll tell you that you are in the right place is the hammer and sickle symbol on the on the door handle.

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According to the restaurant’s website:

Hammer & Sickle is Minneapolis’ vodka bar featuring Eastern European and Russian comfort food with an American twist. With over 70 different vodkas in our collection (including six house-made infusions) and a full wine and beer selection, there is a little something for everyone.

Neither of us are very keen on vodka. We prefer something with a little more flavor. But when in Rome, right?

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I went with a cocktail that was recommended: FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE:

007 would be proud of our cucumber twist to his classic Vesper Martini: Effen Cucumber Vodka and Hendrick’s Gin with dry vermouth make this drink licensed to kill.

If I remember correctly, Rob had a Manhattan. But he immediately switched to an Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout as soon as he saw that was on tap. Why shouldn’t they have that?! Fitting, no?

Despite my lack of appreciation for vodka, many of the cocktails sounded pretty good! Here are some that I’d consider next time:

Drago – for the horseradish vodka and caviar. {Have I mentioned I love horseradish?!}

Romaschka – I’ve never had honey vodka!

Russian Honey Bee – See above + cider!

Petite Ginger – I like ginger liqueur, but have not had ginger vodka.

Prickly PearSt. Germain elderflower liqueur – duh.

Stalin’s last words – ever since I’ve had Luxardo cherries

With all of those options, I just might have to buy myself a few drinks in advance to add myself to the board.

IMG_2566The chalkboard lists drinks that have been bought for friends. (Or you can buy them for yourself for a future visit.) I’ve seen what I like to a call a Pay-It-Forward Board like this a couple of other times. I love the concept!

And then… the pierogies. They are such a deal at $10 a plate! One plate is a meal in itself.

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These pierogies are nothing like I’ve ever had before! They are a bit more dense, sort of like dumplings, but not. And just look at that sear!

THE POLISH Potato, ground beef, kraut, served with creamy horseradish

THE POLISH – Potato, ground beef, kraut, served with creamy horseradish

These are the best pierogies I’ve ever had! While you can’t tell from these photos, the filling was generous. I loved the texture and got my horseradish fix, too.

And although I’m not a huge bacon fan, I loved Rob’s pierogi as well:

THE COMRADE Potato, cheese, topped with carmelized onion, bacon, sour cream

THE COMRADE – Potato, cheese, topped with carmelized onion, bacon, sour cream

You really can’t go wrong with that combo! I loved these two so much that I’d be hard pressed to try any other, but The Latin and The Easterner really caught my eye, too. Maybe I can get a group of five people to go. {There are five pieces per plate. See what I did there?!} We can order five of the six preparations and I can try one of each. Will you do that for me?

There is much more to the menu than the pierogies, but I’ve heard they are a highlight.

Do you like pierogies?

How do you prepare them?

Cheers~
Carrie

That Time I Tried All the Smoothies… {Part I}

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Over the past few weeks, I decided to get out of my smoothie rut and try something different. While I absolutely love my go-to smoothie for the taste, the nutrients and the ease of making it at 6am, it was time to take action on the several dozen smoothies I’d been pinning!

Hopefully, by trying all of these new ones out, I’ll get a feel for what smoothies I like best. Maybe I’ll find a new favorite. Better yet, after all of this practice, I should be able to just throw in whatever I have on hand. Right?

And so we begin with the first set…

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1) Chocolate Green Smoothie from Greatist

I made: 1/2 Recipe

Variation: I did not add the superfood greens nor the hemp powder simply because I did not have them. I completely forgot the ice because I don’t put ice in my normal smoothies. It came out just fine.

Thoughts: I almost always do a half of recipe because smoothies seem so high in calories and filling to me. I don’t know what I was thinking on this one! It didn’t make very much, nor was it high in calories either, even when I used 1% milk. This was nice and chocolate-y. Looking back, my variation of this smoothie is almost the same as my Magic Green Smoothie, subbing out the cocoa for the peanut butter. The peanut butter version adds protein and more staying power!

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2) Tropical Green Smoothie from Simply Recipes

I made: 1/2 Recipe

Variation: I used a frozen banana, my fresh-frozen spinach, canned pineapple with natural juice. I also didn’t add any water. It didn’t need it. This was runnier than other smoothies I’ve made.

Thoughts: The pineapple was a nice change of pace to usual smoothies. It made it taste more tropical! I made another one of these the next morning to use up some the rest of the can of pineapple.

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3) Best Three-Ingredient Avocado Smoothie from Omnivore’s Cookbook

I made: 1/2 Recipe

Variation: None.

Thoughts: This was my first avocado smoothie! I loved creaminess and also liked that it wasn’t too sweet. The color came out more yellow than the green I was expecting. So flippin’ easy.

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4) – Chocolate Banana Avocado “Milkshake” from Meaningful Eats

First off, I should mention that I had both of these smoothie recipes that seemed so similar:

I eventually decided to make the one without the Greek yogurt first.

I made: 1/2 Recipe which was about 439 calories.

Variation: I didn’t use ice. It was smooth and easy to drink.

Thoughts: There are lot of ingredients in this bad boy! Too many for me to keep track of early in the morning. This one is very chocolately! I liked the addition and the texture of the chia seeds. You may not.

While the avocado makes it a creamy smoothie (at least without the chia seeds), I think I’d rather stick to my nutrient dense spinach for a morning smoothie and save my avocado for a meal later in the day… or have my avocado smashed on whole wheat toast with a sprinkling of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes instead. ;-)

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5) – Chocolate Power Smoothie from Sweet and Savory Eats

I chose to do the smoothie with Chocolate-Avocado smoothie with the Greek yogurt the next day for an easy comparison. Despite the fact that those two recipes seemed very similar, the two smoothies couldn’t taste more different! Again, it was a lot of ingredients…

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I made: 1/2 Recipe

Variation: I only had that plain Greek Yogurt, so I added 1/8 tsp vanilla extract.

Thoughts: This one was very peanut buttery. I really love peanut butter, but I just didn’t like this combo at all. Isn’t that strange. It was my least favorite smoothie so far. I wouldn’t make it again. I still think it’s crazy that the recipe seemed so similar to the previous one. It just goes to show that a little tweak can make a big difference!

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That’s it for this week! I’m not going to inondate you with my smoothie experiences all at once. I’ll save the next batch for next week.

Which of these smoothies do you think you’d like best?

Let me know what you think if you try any!

Cheers~
Carrie

Doggies Get Fit!

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Sophie & Shamrock Saturday!

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April’s BarkBox is all about fitness…

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Shamrock went straight for those boxing gloves!

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I thought that Sophie and Sham might finally play tug with those, but it has yet to happen. At least they still play. All. The. Time. I love that they are playmates! We never would have known when we adopted Sham that they would become such buds.

Glamour Shots for Dogs?

Glamour Shots for Dogs?

But back to The Box

There was another toy in the box that didn’t get photographed. It’s a rubber squeaky toy, in the shape of a ball, but with feet and muscles! Ha. Sophie loved rolling around on it one night. She used to do this with a toy long ago that we called “binky.” It had little rubber spikes that she loved to roll on. We can’t find anything like it. Maybe this will be the replacement?

And the treats:

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Per the usual, our dogs had no complaints about these treats. They were also happy that we received another barkworthy chew. This meant that now that one that momma had been saving would mean that each could have their own. :)

Thinking about signing your dog up for BarkBox? This month you can click my referral link to add a free box to your subscription. Choose your dog size and you are on your way!

Happy Saturday!

Cheers~
Carrie

A Couple of Gifts…

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Five years ago today,

Rob and I were married on Pensacola Beach.

Husband

We don’t usually give each other gifts, but enjoy a nice dinner out instead. However, this year, I just had to get him tickets to see this. Unfortunately, that show isn’t until October. So until then, you are just going to have to settle for Rob’s updated Top 10 Burger List.

Happy Anniversary to the man who makes me laugh every day…

even if I don’t want to!

Cheers~
Carrie

 

Thirsty Thursday: ENKI Brewing

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Happy Thirsty Thursday!

Boy, I’m hopping all over the Twin Cities this week!

This week’s MN Brewery edition takes us 25 miles west of Minneapolis to Victoria. Let me introduce ENKI Brewing!

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ENKI. You are probably wondering where that name came from. I did! And I spent a lot of frustrating, non-connective wi-fi time trying to figure it out. But there it is right on their website:

Most notably recognized as the Sumerian God of Running Water, ancient Sumerians believed that ENKI brought life-giving waters to the Fertile Crescent, enabling grains to grow and ultimately beer to flow. ENKI also represented creation and wisdom–both virtues important to the integrity of the craft of brewing beer, a practice as old as ENKI himself.

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Appropriate, no?

But ENKI Brewing has another mission:

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I don’t see anything wrong with that!

The people who live in Victoria and the vicinity are lucky to have a brewery in their midst, without having to trek all of they way to Minneapolis. For us, it was a bit of a hike. Such that, this happened:

We went on the wrong day to use our Groupon. {You can’t fill a growler on a Sunday! Doh!} We decided to just order the beers we wanted to try rather than go with the beers that would have been included in the Groupon flight. We gave our Groupon to a friend who lives in the area. Truth be told, I think we wouldn’t have liked the flight as much as the beers we tried!

ENKI’s taproom interior is pretty small. There are only a couple of seats at the bar. And only a handful of tables in the main room.

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There is additional seating in odd little corners throughout the building as well as on the patio when the weather is nice. Unlike other breweries, there is no food truck parked outside. But there is ENKI Express, a small menu offered in conjunction with the local restaurant Victoria House.

Yet ENKI does display two things that every local craft brewery should:

  1. A display of growlers from every other local craft brewery they’ve enjoyed,
  2. The current tap list.

(Though not necessarily in that order.)

We were so lucky to arrive on the day that we did. There was a very special beer on tap – the Mocha Porter. It was an experimental beer that they were testing out and they… NAILED IT!

The only problem was that it made every other beer taste subpar!

Well, in my opinion, anyway. Rob really enjoyed the Tailfeather IPA and the Warming Hut Brown Ale. After trying my friend Jen’s Mocha Porter {the specialty beer}, it was tough for me to go back to my Cacao Porter {the year round beer}. I knew that on any other given day I would have found the Cacao Porter to be sensational.

I tested this theory a few months later at a restaurant that had the ENKI Cacao Porter on tap. It was smooth and creamy with a hint of chocolate. I was pleased. But I didn’t have the Mocha Porter alongside it to taint me. :-)

Yes, ENKI Brewing was most definitely worth the trek. Stop by if your are in the area. Or consider taking following this SW Minne Tour!

Have you ever had a food or beverage that you know you liked but that didn’t taste as good because you just consumed something even better?

Cheers~
Carrie

 

 

A Little Creole & Cajun in MN!

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I would have never heard of BlueStone Steak & Seafood

if it weren’t for Living Social.

“Steak, Seafood with a Creole Cajun flair”

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Um, yes please!

While you’ll find plenty of BBQ joints, Thai restaurants and Indian fare all over the Twin Cities; you don’t find many Creole or Cajun style restaurants. You may find a random blackened item on a menu or two, but that is about it. Another missing cuisine here in Minnesota? Hawaiian. But that’s for another post…

So when we found out about this restaurant South of the River, we stopped in one night before heading to our friends’ place for a little poker.

You’ll find BlueStone in a newer commercial development right off of Highway 55 and Dodd Road. I don’t know how anyone would know about this area if you weren’t driving past it every day. Getting in and out of the development and driving around to the building to find the entrance is a little tricky, too. But trust me, you’ll get there!

We’ve been there a handful of times now.

Upon entering BlueStone, I was a bit disappointed by the interior. It was not very interesting at all. Although it’s a newer building, the space kind of reminded me of a chain restaurant. But there were a few saving graces: the nice patio outdoors, the bar and the colorful fish swimming in the tank near the restrooms.

On our first visit, we pulled up to the bar, per our usual. There is a small, but decent tap selection. The service was superb! Our bartenders were attentive, worked well together and were quick to offer suggestions. One of which was:

Sparkling White Sangria - House Made Sangria Topped with Sparkling Wine - $9

Sparkling White Sangria – house made sangria topped with sparkling wine – $9

We both swooned over this well-concocted Sangria. However, on our second visit, I ordered another and it wasn’t good at all. If it were my first time ordering it, I would have never ordered it again. I’m not sure why it was not the drink I remembered! :( Luckily, during Happy Hour, most drinks (draft beer, bottled beer, rail drinks, house wine and specialty cocktails) are $1.50 off.

I bet you can guess who ordered this:

blue stone burger - meh

Blue Stone Burger – lettuce tomato, onion, lemon aioli with rosemary garlic fries – $9.95

Rob was pretty ho-hum about this burger. Still, he knew that there were so many other items on the menu that we both wanted to try! And despite that menu, I had to order a “special” because it sounded so good and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to order it on my next visit:

shrimp and grits special! Now on regular menu - blackened shrimp & grits - creamy white cheddar grits/collard greens - $23.95

Blackened Shrimp & Grits – creamy white cheddar grits/collard greens – $23.95

The great news? This dish has now made its way to the regular menu! It really was terrific. Although, this was before our trip to New Orleans, where we had the best cheesy grits of our lives.

Per the BlueStone website:

BlueStone Steak & Seafood specializes in American classics as well as authentic Louisiana Cajun & Creole cooking.  We offer many enticing dishes that will keep you coming back.

Such is the truth. I look at the menu and always have a difficult time deciding! Upon return, Rob tried another approach. This time, he ordered off the Happy Hour menu:

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He chose the Smoked Cheddar & Bacon Sliders with a side of Hashbrowns:

Rob was again a little ho-hum about the sliders… Had he not learned his lesson!? But the hashbrowns made up for everything. They were crunchy, yet creamy and cheesy in the middle. They promptly made our “best of” list. However, they are no where to be seen on the menu now. Did they do away with that potato perfection?! We must remember to ask.

There is a section of the BlueStone’s menu that intrigues me so: Rice Bowls:

  • Pork Rice Bowl – sweet bourbon BBQ glazed pork shoulder, trinity, red beans, fried egg, bacon pepper relish and andouille cream $13.95
  • Beef Brisket Rice Bowl – portabella mushroom, asparagus, caramelized onion, roasted roma tomato, fried egg, horseradish cream $14.95
  • Veggie Rice Bowl – portabella mushroom, asparagus, broccoli, roasted roma tomato, red pepper slaw, fried egg, basil cream $10.95  {Add Shrimp or Salmon $5.00}

I wanted to try every single one! With some help from our attentive bartender, I finally made a choice.

Veggie Rice Bowl - portabella mushroom, asparagus, broccoli, roasted roma tomato, red pepper slaw, fried egg, basil cream (I added salmon for $5, but they forgot it.)

Veggie Rice Bowl – portabella mushroom, asparagus, broccoli, roasted roma tomato, red pepper slaw, fried egg, basil cream – $10.95

I added blackened salmon to this bowl, but it was forgotten. So it is not pictured. They did bring it out eventually and it was cooked perfectly. I loved everything about this bowl! The only problem was that it was sooooo much rice. It’s hard to portion that and not eat too much of it. I loved this bowl so much that it’s going to be hard to try the others.

On another visit, my friend Stacy and I went for brunch. This wasn’t even a week after we returned from New Orleans. So naturally, we had to order the French Quarter Beignets!

French Quarter Beignets with chicory sauce, salted caramel sauce & powdered sugar - $5.95

French Quarter Beignets with chicory sauce, salted caramel sauce & powdered sugar – $5.95

$5.95 is quite a deal for the number of “beignets” offered. The only problem? These are not beignets. They are donut holes with powdered sugar. Highly disappointed!

Brunch is offered both Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 2pm. Both the breakfast and lunch menus are available.

I ordered from the breakfast menu:

jambalaya on Scrambled eggs - served over baby red potatoes - $9.95

Jambalaya on Scrambled Eggs – served over baby red potatoes – $9.95

This is exactly what it sounds like, and to be honest, a little boring. It was waaaaayyy too much food.

Stacy ordered off the lunch menu:

Cajun buttered shrimp po' boy - w/rosemary garlic fries (or sweet potato chips) - lettuce, tomato onion, garlic aioli - $13.95 (full)

Cajun Buttered Shrimp Po’ Boy – lettuce, tomato, onion, garlic aioli served with rosemary garlic fries – $13.95

While I can’t remember a time a shrimp po ‘boy didn’t come with fried shrimp, this does make it a bit healthier. Stacy loved this sandwich!

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Our most recent visit was last Friday.

It was a completely different experience.

When we walked in, it felt like there was no one there! However, it was a beautiful day and the patio was open. A number of people were sitting outside enjoying any glimpse of sun they could.

Service was horrible. Perhaps they were way under-staffed. Our normal bartenders weren’t there. The guy behind the bar was perhaps new; so I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, he seemed unable to focus on more than one thing at a time. He also was not very attentive. He didn’t seem aware when someone from the patio came inside up to the bar to order a drink. {Yes, there was a server out there and yes, that was happening.} He also wasn’t aware when any of the five people sitting at the bar needed a beverage refresher or were ready to order.

Later, another bartender arrived. So this got better. But neither of them seemed very happy to be there. It was all very odd.

I ordered a Sazerac to start – my first since New Orleans! I was saddened to find that our bartender had to look up the drink. It turned out okay, if only  a bit sharp. Rob ordered a Dark Horse Crooked Tree IPA. It came out all cloudy and nasty. I thought it tasted funny. Rob decided to drink it anyway, despite the fact that I saw another guy order one earlier and it came out looking just fine out of the other tap.

For dinner, Rob chose:

Blackened Filet Mignon (6 oz) with Chimichurri Sauce  6 oz - $23.95

Blackened Filet Mignon (6 oz) with Chimichurri Sauce 6 oz – $23.95

Now that I look back at the menu online, all steaks are to include a “house salad and one fixin’.” Rob was not offered nor did he receive a salad. I’m sure he wouldn’t care about that, though. Obviously, he went with the asparagus for his side.

I was really surprised he ordered the filet, just one day after I had ordered my favorite filet at Sul Lago while celebrating our anniversary. There is no way that the two could compare! However, Rob was pleased. He liked the fact that this is one place where he could order his steak blackened. He also devoured that chimichurri sauce!

Since we were dining at BlueStone Steak & Seafood, it only made sense for me to order some seafood while Rob got the steak. I considered another Rice Bowl, but in the end went for an appetizer and a side:

I was pleased with my Creole Shrimp Scampi, although I wasn’t sure it was “creole” in any way. Those grilled baguettes were so tasty that it was too difficult to eat just one! The asparagus was nicely grilled! However, I prefer thin spears better. I have to remember that steakhouses prefer everything to be bigger. Though, I don’t think the ends were snapped off of these, making them even more woody-tasting.

If that had been our first visit to BlueStone, it probably would have been our last.

But because we had exceptional experiences the first few times and there are so many things on the menu we want to try, we will be back!

What experiences have you had while dining out that have been inconsistent? 

Have they kept you from returning?

Cheers~
Carrie

Parlour

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I can’t believe it took at least two years for us to make it to Parlour! After my visit to Borough with some friends in January of 2013, I vowed to get back so that Rob and I could try the burger. If you are confused, let me explain:

Parlour is Borough’s downstairs bar…

offering a small menu of bar snacks.

Lately, we’ve seen that burger that I once eyed at Borough as one of the Twin Cities’ best on several lists. However, while we’ve seen both Borough and Parlour listed with this best burger, it’s now only listed on Parlour’s menu online.

Still, it was only by chance that we made it to Parlour. We just happened to be in Minneapolis’ warehouse district on a beautiful – yes beautiful! – April evening last Saturday. Rob mapped Parlour from our location. It was only a 15-minute walk. Did I mention the weather was beautiful?

There was no reason not to go for a walk…

When I saw the sign for Borough in the distance, I thought we would be entering there, from which we’d take the stairs to the basement. But before we approached the entrance, I saw some stairs leading down from the outside. I instinctively took them.

The Parlour was packed! We did a walk-through and there were absolutely no spots to be had. On our walk back to the door, I saw two empty seats at the bar; but a man was standing in front of them. I took a chance..

“Are these seats taken?”

He kindly motioned for us to sit. He was just standing with the group seated next to us. Score!

Parlour is a craft cocktail bar. So we just had to give one a try.

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I am still such a novice when it comes to craft cocktails. I can rarely even imagine what any will taste like because I often don’t know or understand all of the ingredients. Sometimes I’ll ask the bartender for a recommendation. This time, I just took a shot in the dark!

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Pistol Pedro – green tea infused correlejo blanco, pistachio syrup, birch extract – $12

“What’s correlejo blanco?” Rob asked when I pointed to my choice.

“I’m not sure, but I’m assuming tequila.” It only made sense.

It was a cocktail that tasted like no other. It was a bit boozy, but I could taste the subtle pistachio flavor!

Rob’s drink was entirely different:

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Age Before Beauty – silver rum, 5-year rum, falernum, grapefruit, lime, jamaican bitters – $12

You really can be whisked away to different parts of the world with different cocktails! This one: The Tropics.

Then came the fries:

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hand-cut fries – $5

I love hand cut fries and these were satisfying. Rob enjoyed them more than I did, though. I thought that they needed a little aioli or something.

And then THE burger:

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burger – ground sirloin, ribeye, brisket, american cheese – $13

That photo will never do this burger justice. The burger wasn’t as big as I had remembered; but it was plenty of food for us to split it with the fries! Can you believe that this burger is made of all of those delectable cuts of meat?!

Everything was perfect about this simple double-patty burger:

  • The meat had that nice little seared crust on it that I love.
  • The cheese was melty, ooey, gooey and everything you’d want a cheeseburger to have. The thing is, after you eat this burger, you realize most don’t.
  • The bun was nicely buttered and toasted not only on the top and bottom buns, but also the outside of the bottom bun!

In retrospect, there was absolutely no sauce on this burger that either of us recall. But it didn’t need it. The burger was perfect as is – no sauce and no toppings. Simple. Perfect.

There is a reason this burger is on so many top Twin Cities burger lists. It definitely made Rob’s, although he hasn’t updated that one in the last year.

What about a burger makes it stand out as a top one for you?

Cheers~
Carrie