We are squarely in the era of the $12-$15 burger in the Twin Cities. Parlour is $14, Revival is $13, so is Saint Dinette (all are totally worth it). So when I heard about an $8 burger, made from all-natural Minnesota beef and ground by the brilliant butchers at Lowry Hill Meats, I had to check it out—even if that meant walking up to the Minnesota State Capitol building on an extremely icy day and almost wiping out on the way in. This is how far I’m willing to go in the pursuit of food news. And burgers.
The State Capitol cafeteria was designed as a German Rathskeller. Architect Cass Gilbert included rathskellers in a couple of his other buildings: in German tradition you’d have a restaurant in the basement of a town hall. So it makes sense having a restaurant in the basement of the Minnesota State Capitol, considering Germans were the largest cultural group in Minnesota in 1905 when the Capitol opened. The room is amazing—lovingly restored to the original design with many of the original murals and sayings on the wall. But to be honest, the food has never been noteworthy.
Taher is the food service giant that runs the cafeteria: they also run food service at a ton of schools, companies, even at the FBI and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Shawn and Trent Taher are both sons of Taher CEO Bruce Taher, and they are both very active in the local food scene. Trent got Shawn a sausage-making class for his recent birthday at Lowry Hills Meats. They got talking with co-owner Erik Sather about meat grinds and sausages, and next thing they knew there was a partnership to bring some quality meat to the Capitol.
So: what about that burger? The beef comes from BP Natural Beef in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota (corn-fed but non-GMO, and it’s pasture-raised). The team at Lowry Hills Meats grinds the beef all from from trimmings from a single animal: so they get super consistent flavor and texture and it’s a little courser than some beef grinds. The bun comes from Bakers Field Flour and Bread and it’s a thing of beauty. Golden crust, perfect chew, hint of sweetness. Then there’s a big hunk of Cheddar cheese on the burger (the kitchen needs a little practice melting it properly), some pickles they make right at the Capitol, and that’s it. $8. Seriously. $8. It’s a third-pound burger, plenty big, and it’s truly delicious.
And they’re serving a Fork & Knife Sausage Philly sandwich too, using sliced-up, zippy and vibrant Toulouse sausage from Lowry Hill meats, with cheese curds from The Lone Grazer Creamery in Minneapolis. The Tahers told me the plan is to change out the burger and the sausage sandwich every couple of weeks and see what the politicians and lobbyists and visitors like. Next up: a patty melt I can’t wait to try.
Taher recently got ripped by a notable food critic for not having a Minnesota-centric menu in the cafeteria at the Capitol. So to say this is a quick fix is an understatement. Taher has a great team of chefs that help create menus and train the staff in their kitchens. At the Capitol, they recently hired Chef Lisa Hanson (she worked at Corner Table back in the Scott Pampuch days) and recently sold her excellent downtown Minneapolis spot, Restaurant Mona.
Anyone can dine at the Capitol rathskeller, it’s usually open from 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m. (closes at 2 p.m. on Fridays). The recent renovation of the State Capitol is stunning and worth a visit, but knowing there’s an amazing $8 burger at the end of your tour? That’s a development in politics that DFLers and Republicans can agree on!