I very much wanted to try the foie-gras-topped burger at the forgettably named American Burger Bar, which recently opened near the Radisson in downtown St. Paul. Haute burgers, of course, are all the rage. As of this writing, three new burger destinations are about to open locally: Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Edina, Smashburger in St. Anthony, and, most intriguingly, Burger Jones, an upscale hamburger haven in south Minneapolis, brought to you by Parasole, the people behind Manny’s (among other restaurants). What’s with all the burgers? They’re what people want to eat at the price they want to pay right now. A popular line of thought runs that burgers are also a perfect vehicle for whatever a chef wants to do.
Not true. I know, because while at American Burger Bar I tried not only the ho-hum $18.95 foie-gras burger (it was fine, though the foie gras was lost in a pile of braised short ribs and onions) but also more memorably, the “Surf and Turf,” an $18.50 burger topped with a grilled crab claw in the shell, a shrimp (with tail on), asparagus, button mushrooms, and baby corn.
No lie! Oh, and bordelaise sauce.
After removing the crab claw from its shell, repositioning it on the burger, and taking a few bites, I can report that this was the worst burger I have ever had. It tasted like something that fell off your grill and onto your seaside lawn. (As bad as it was, however, I think I could make an even worse burger by carefully choosing from the restaurant’s “add a topping” list: sprouts, pineapple, black truffles, blue cheese. Again, I am not making this up.)
All of which is unfortunate, because there’s a truly good burger destination struggling to emerge at American Burger Bar. The restaurant’s version of an upscale Jucy Lucy, with Kobe beef and Wisconsin Cheddar, was delicious: butter-tender, rich, and simple. The cheese curds weren’t bad. And people really do want better burgers—just not ones with crab shells or baby corn.
American Burger Bar
354 N. Wabasha St., St. Paul,
Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Closed Sundays and Mondays.