The burger: One of the challenges of making a fast-food burger is getting it to add up to something halfway decent while maintaining a mass-market price. At Bread & Pickle, mission accomplished, and then some.
For starters, the patty actually tastes like beef, a near-miracle in fast-food circles. That’s because owner Kim Bartmann treats customers at her popular, summer-only Lake Harriet establishment no differently than the diners she caters to at her restaurants: Barbette, Red Stag Supperclub, Pat’s Tap (where chef Charlie Schwandt's Bacon Burger is a must-eat for any serious burger lover) and Bryant-Lake Bowl.
The burger’s good taste is because the kitchen starts with lean, flavorful meat from Limousin cattle raised on pastures on a family farm near Osceola, Wis. It’s not a particularly juicy burger – and the kitchen isn’t folding in pork belly, frying in bacon fat or any of the other sleight-of-hand options used by other grass-fed beef burger-makers -- but the quality comes through in each bite (and it’s also reflected in the not-McDonald’s prices; a plain burger starts at $5.50, which elevates it to Smashburger territory). Size-wise, the patty definitely falls in the somewhat-skinny category, but it fills itself out to the bun's edges. It’s also not an aggressively seasoned burger; frankly, a little salt would yield a big improvement.
Still, B&P calls its pinnacle burger experience “The Works,” and it’s a suitable title for a tried-and-true formula that piles on chopped iceberg lettuce, a juicy and tantalizingly ruby-red tomato slice, crunchy dill pickle chips, strings of sweet grilled onions and a “special sauce” that bears a passing resemblance to Thousand Island dressing. So far, so good, right? It gets better.
Again, true to Bartmann form, she doesn’t bring the party down with one of those bland, Wonder Bread-ish buns that have dulled the taste buds – and expectations – of generations of Wendy’s and Burger King customers. No, Bartmann and her crew toasts up a milky, nutty-brown beauty from the New French Bakery, which, through a network of clients like Bread & Pickle, has single-handedly improved the sad state of hamburger bun for thousands (if not tens of thousands) of Twin Cities burger lovers.
One final note: To put B&P in the fast food category is a trifle misleading (not to mention slightly insulting), because the paper-wrapped burgers don’t fly off the grill a la McDonald’s; my order took 5 1/2 minutes to materialize, but it was totally worth the wait.
Price: $5.50 for plain; $7.50 for the works, shown above. Additional up-charges include $1.25 for a slice of tangy Cheddar, $1.25 for smoky bacon and $3 for a Big Mac-style second patty.
Fries: An additional $3 and $5, and they do the trick, but consider a side of the terrific potato salad ($3.25 and $5.25) instead. Better yet, splurge (calorie-wise, anyway) on the first-rate cheese curds ($7).
Can’t be beat: Is there a more enchanting (and family-friendly) outdoor dining venue in Minneapolis? Think about it: Lake breezes, water-dappled sunshine, sailboats, primo people-watching, whimsical architecture, connections to walk and bike trails, even a picnic pavilion. The proximity to the Lake Harriet Bandshell doesn’t hurt; ditto the nearby Harriet-Como Streetcar.
Bartmann piles on the extras, too. All self-respecting lakeside food stands servet ice cream, and B&P’s cones come courtesy of two top-notch Twin Cities producers, Sonny’s and Izzy’s (or for those who prefer their frozen sweets on a stick, there’s a trio of JonnyPops, those fabulous fruit-packed, locally made frozen treats).
The not-too-tart, not-too-sweet lemonade is packed with lemon pulp; no fake-tasting fountain mix here. A new-in-2013 feature is a small but swell selection of beers and wines, including a decent Spanish cava that mixes like a charm with B&P’s refreshing hibiscus punch. Oh, and the counter staff is noticeably friendly, even by Minnesota's higher-than-average standards.
Address book: 4135 W. Lake Harriet Pkwy., Mpls.
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