Is Burch the Steakhouse of the Future?
A leaner and greener concept comes to Lowry Hill
Meat-eaters’ dreams of steak dinners are rich with the deep mahoganies and glistening garnets of fire-kissed flesh. They settle into a plump, leather booth, carve into a colossal cut, and gnaw it downto the bone. Our best-known carnivore caves play to this hedonistic streak: the all-you-can-eat, skewer-borne frenzy of Fogo de Chão; the bullish machismo of Manny’s. But the new Burch Steak and Pizza Bar doesn’t look or act like the traditional fantasy. Instead, it caters to those who prefer to nibble their meat along with those who want to be bludgeoned by it.
This spring, the restaurant replaced the former Burch Pharmacy, which anchored the corner of Franklin and Hennepin avenues in Minneapolis for nearly 80 years. The shop had long since stalled in a bygone era, maintaining a nostalgia for its early days when druggists mixed medicines and alongside soda-fountain beverages. The new owners—the trio behind the wildly popular Bar La Grassa: chef Isaac Becker; his wife, Nancy St. Pierre; and Ryan Burnet—flushed out the shop’s five-and-dime kitsch of teddy bears, fake flowers, and seasonal décor. The glass façade of the new elegantly spare street-level dining room now displays fashionable diners as window dressing.
During his single years, Becker lived within walking distance of the pharmacy and would often admire the building’s pretty old brick when he stopped in to pick up toothpaste or shampoo. The idea of opening a restaurant in the space “seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says. After Becker, St. Pierre, and Burnet toured the real estate, they walked across the street to Sebastian Joe’s and discussed potential dining concepts. Burnet mentioned that his friends all loved the steaks at La Grassa, Becker recalls. “I said, ‘Perfect. Done.’” A steakhouse it would be.
The first time I went to Burch, I was a little overwhelmed by the steak menu, reading the list—“New York 7oz/14oz, 21/42; Ribeye 16oz, 40”—as if it were some sort of code to crack. But with a few more visits under my (loosened) belt, I’ve taken to approaching its steaks like a wine tasting. Burch’s steak menu offers most cuts in small or large portions, a strategy Becker and St. Pierre employ at La Grassa and their first restaurant, 112 Eatery. The flexibility allows for sampling, sharing, and smaller appetites—not to mention more modest checks—and it’s part of the reason the place is as packed on Tuesdays as Saturdays. Burch also offers each cut in three categories: naturally raised beef from Niman Ranch in either choice or prime grade (prime has more marbling), along with 100-percent grass-fed beef from Grass Run Farms. Using the wine-tasting analogy, it’s a bit like choosing a wine by its grape varietal, growing region, and pour size.
I enthusiastically launched into the role of Steak Scientist, controlling for one variable and modifying the other. I began by ordering two New York strips: one grass-fed, the other prime. Both arrived expertly cooked—the exterior an even, dark crust, the interior a deep crimson pink—yet with subtle differences in flavor and texture. Grass-fed beef tends to be leaner, but this steak seemed just as juicy—I actually preferred it to the more buttery-flavored prime. As with wine, preference doesn’t have to correlate with price. If you, too, prefer the less-expensive steak, don’t feel like a rube—consider yourself lucky to have an extra $9 to put toward dessert or another glass of wine.
The great thing about Burch is its range: you feel just as classy if you spend 25 bucks versus 100. The prime tenderloin is rich and lush—the cashmere sweater of steaks. But the chewier, coarser-textured hanger steak—the chunky, cable-knit pullover, if you will—is also quite good considering it’s a quarter of the price.
But the best thing about Burch is that you can enjoy a terrific meal even if you don’t eat beef. “We often have entire parties that don’t order steak at all,” Becker says. The cellar-like basement is a cave for cocktails—the Burch Penicillin is strong medicine, smoky yet refreshing—and wood-oven-cooked pizza. The pies have the same bubbly, char-flecked crust as the best local Neapolitan ones—Becker made pizzas at D’Amico back in the early days of his career—but with more adventurous toppings. The Aragosta, decadently topped with lobster-claw meat, tastes like Italy by way of Southeast Asia, pairing the seafood with the fresh sweetness of mint, the funk of taleggio cheese, and a fiery chili kick. (Though it wasn’t the case when the restaurant first opened, diners can now order pizza and steak in both the upstairs and downstairs dining areas.)
Building on his creative cooking at 112 Eatery and La Grassa, Becker’s menu at Burch is full of surprises. There’s a brief raw menu (the cured foie gras is a rich, spreadable luxury) alongside a dumpling list (the bone marrow–enriched matzo balls in five-spice beef broth may be the former pharmacy’s best medicine yet). In one meal, a diner can travel the globe: rabbit bridie (Scotland’s version of the pasty), Italian risotto, and a skewer of lamb meatballs served with a delicate, spicy, cabbage-carrot slaw.
Well-considered details make Burch feel intimate. Meals begin with excellent house-made rye-beet bread and pretzel rolls to supplement New French Bakery baguettes. And Burch’s display table of cakes and tarts reminds diners not to forget dessert. The array of elegant cake stands and tiered trays evokes both sophistication and Old World charm. The tiny handmade sweets—macaroons, chocolate truffles, and such—cost no more than a gumball. “That’s the best 25 cents ever spent right there,” a diner exclaimed, after popping one into his mouth.
The team has some work ahead of it in making sure all its servers are equally well trained. (Before I spend $15 on a cocktail, I’d like to know what it tastes like, or at least what’s in it.) And one more concern: can anything be done about the arctic draft blowing through the basement? One evening, I saw three people eating in their coats.
Burch has done an impressive job updating the steakhouse concept. Dinner here still feels like an indulgence, but without the genre’s usual chest-thumping attitude. You can just as easily follow your porterhouse with a slice of coconut cake and a latté as a dram of Scotch.
Rachel Hutton is a senior editor at Minnesota Monthly.
THE PERFECT DISH
Burch’s chef/owner Isaac Becker serves Dungeness crab with sea beans, an ingredient that tends to make itself scarce in these parts but is quite popular in London, as Becker discovered on a recent visit. Sea beans are greenery that grow on beaches or in marshy areas. The briny flavor of the greens complements the crab’s ocean sweetness.
Isaac Becker, Nancy St. Pierre, and Ryan Burnet—the team behind Bar La Grassa—modernize the steakhouse.
Ideal Meal: Something from the raw list, something from the dumpling list, and at least two somethings from the steak list, for starters. Tip: The pizzas are great for takeout. Hours: Mon.–Thurs, 5 p.m.–1 a.m.; Fri.–Sat., 5 p.m.–2 a.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.–12 a.m. Prices: Starters $5–$15; entrées $11–$60 Address: 1933 Colfax Ave. S., Mpls., 612-843-1515, burchrestaurant.com