DeRushaEats: How to Please The Masses Without Pandering?

Most of us agree that Applebee’s is in a general sense, not noteworthy food. And despite that one blog I wrote about my trip to TGI Friday’s, its food also is not worth the Twin Cities food audience’s attention.

But so, so many people eat at these places.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of pleasing the masses without pandering to the masses. What do I mean by that? Pleasing the masses involves first of all: great service. That’s what most people want: they want to be taken care of, treated well. Pleasing the masses involves approachable food, prepared well.

But pandering to the masses involves enormous portion sizes, crappy ingredients, and tired food concepts.

Who’s pleasing the masses without pandering? I’ve been to two new places that are right on that sweet spot. Burch and Union.

Burch is absolutely genius. It’s a steakhouse, with food designed to be shared (it even says “Mains To Share” right on the menu). There are three types of steak (grass-fed, Prime, Choice), with several different cuts of meat, served in small and larger sizes. I love a good steak. I never need a huge steak. To pay $25 for a smaller New York Strip I can share with my wife, and then have some of the inventive dumplings (don’t miss the veal & pork kinkhali with chili) and the delicious charred Brussels sprout salad (with pancetta and sherry) by spending just another $13 is awesome.

Photos: Dumpling, Brussels sprout salad, and cauliflower below.

cauliflowerBurch is a super-loud room (high ceilings in an old converted pharmacy isn’t a great combination), but the service even in its first week was spot-on. Warm, friendly, and attentive without being hovering. And the menu isn’t scary: it’s salads and steaks and sides like roasted cauliflower elevated just a notch (with anchovies and burrata!).

The same is true with my delicious recent lunch at Union. The menu was simple: a couple of salads, sandwiches, entrees, and desserts. The endive salad had pink lady apples, hazelnuts, and goat cheese ($10) and was perfect. The rainbow trout entrée blew my mind—grilled with crispy artichokes and ham—and was plated so beautifully.

Sometimes I get a little depressed about the choices people are making when they go out to eat—choosing chain restaurants instead of our many great locally owned restaurants. But often I think restaurateurs fail when they build restaurants for themselves rather than for the people. Burch and Union are giving me hope. We can open large-scale restaurants here that appeal to the masses, elevate the quality, and push people toward more exciting eating.

Both places pass my father-in-law test: Would I take my unadventurous relatives to eat there? Yes.

What’s on your list of places that please the masses without pandering to them?

Burch Steak and Pizza Bar
1933 Colfax Ave. S., Mpls.

Union Restaurant
731 Hennepin Ave, Mpls.