Tuesday, February 2, 2010

American Burger Bar

Last week I come home from work and the beloved informs me that she needs a Surly (the beer, mind you- she's got me all the time). The good folks at Surly were kind enough to return her email and let us know where we could find their nectar on tap. So, off we went to the American Burger Bar, in downtown Saint Paul. The restaurant is tucked away on Wabasha, frisbee distance from the courthouse, and around the block from Sakura, which I'll come back to later. I had never been to any of the establishments that have lived and died at this location, so I was excited just to see the inside of the place.

The inside did not disappoint. This is a beautiful room, or rather collection of rooms. Dark wood, leather upholstery, a "library" with real books on the shelves, this is the kind of atmosphere no one pays enough attention to any more. Other than a freakishly cold bathroom, the setting was satisfying on all counts. We ordered our beer, perused the limited menu (limited menu for a Wild game? What on Earth for?), and settled on a couple of burger options and an appetizer to share. Our server was a little over-the-top, but friendly, and we were enjoying what was, so far, a perfectly cozy date.

Our appetizer arrived quickly and hot, a trio of meatballs (lamb, bison, and kobe beef), prettily presented, and each adorned with its own sauce. The sauces were interesting to look at, but didn't offer compelling flavors. The meatballs were good, but not great. They were also a little smaller than golf balls. Not a ton of food for the $11 price tag.

Next came the burgers. We were cautioned beforehand that these would be cooked to medium, so Miss J requested medium well. This medium burger business has long been an issue for me. I mean, it's hamburger. It might be really good hamburger, but still. Just cook it. Undercooking is not the only way to create a juicy burger. As it happened, we needn't have worried, since both burgers arrived well-done, dried out, and utterly unexciting. Mine featured cheddar cheese, and one of several bacon options. Miss J is a little more adventurous. Nothing extravagant, but there were vegetables involved. I didn't want to get too close. Accompaniments were another story. The skinny fries were excellent, and the house mayo very good. But it's the American BURGER bar. We kind of figured the burgers were the point.

After spending a leisurely hour or so over a couple of pints apiece, we decided against dessert, and asked for the check. This turned out to be the really disappointing part. Let's review. 1 small appetizer, 2 burgers, and 4 pints. And baby had the Surly. I was drinking Hamm's at $2 a pop. Total with tip? $60. That is not a typo. $60. I'm not at all averse to shelling out serious money for a meal, when it's clear what I'm paying for, and the substance is equal to the style. But that kind of money for a burger joint, even a purportedly high-class burger joint, is more than a little silly. At the aforementioned Sakura, we could have spent the same kind of cash, and stuffed ourselves without ever leaving the dumpling menu. That would have been a fantastic night.

No matter what you're selling, details are a big deal. American Burger is not paying enough attention to the right ones. Even the website doesn't work properly. I found three obvious mistakes on the front page, and I wasn't giving it a very thorough look.

Last week, after failing yet again to get a table at The Blue Door, we hit The Nook. We had easily twice the "Burger Experience" for half the price. If you're already downtown, and you want a romantic spot to have a drink, I can't recommend the American Burger Bar highly enough. It's gorgeous, and you'll love it. If you're hungry, spend your money wisely, and go somewhere else for dinner first.

1 comment:

  1. thanks for the heads up! I'm headed (hopefully) to The Anchor tomorrow night for dinner. And don't you DARE go to Sakura without me!