Let’s tackle this in reverse order. There’s a good reason that, like many other locals, I love Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl (DMG), seen at right disguised as a poorly disguised food critic. The fact that she’s palpably awesome notwithstanding, genuinely talented food writers are disturbingly uncommon. DMG is to food writing as Lebron James is to basketball. She can single-handedly turn a mediocre team into championship contenders by merely walking into the locker room.
Like travel writing, the food writing industry is overrun with hacks, fakes, shysters, dipshits and the clinically insane. Lazy metaphors, heartbreaking clichés, serial mediocrity and editorially sanctioned overuse of the word ‘swathed’ plague food writing. So that DMG has not only cultivated the skill to consistently produce expert and refreshing text, but has also orchestrated the editorial freedom to write the way she does is a vanishingly rare and precious thing in her industry. As such, I’ve often doted on her words as if they were written by Buddha himself and was secretly heartbroken when she married William Jefferson Grumdahl, Esquire, local cowbell player, chalk artist, heir to the great Grumdahl Thumb Tack empire in Farmington and well-fed, lucky bastard.
Then came the July 2008 issue of Minnesota Monthly and the “Definitive, Ultimate, Be-All, End-All, List of the Greatest Burgers in Minnesota.” I was out of the country at the time and due to even more travel and dangerous amounts of time spent alone and feverishly writing in my condo since then, I only just got my hands on this copy last week.
To be perfectly frank, I was initially disappointed and suspicious of the list when I saw that the Jucy Lucys at Matt’s Bar had been rated Number One. I’m going to edge out onto an unpopular limb here and voice my opinion that the burgers served at Matt’s are the most over-hyped, underwhelming, physically dangerous and all around nasty non-fast food burgers I’ve ever had. I’ve eaten them twice. The first time I scalded myself so bad that I couldn’t taste the burger, or anything else for the next 48 hours. The second time I became physically ill later that day. I don’t believe that the burger caused the physical illness, but the two events happened in such quick succession that I now have association trauma with regard to Matt’s burgers.
More than anything I was struck both times as to how unattractive and ho-hum they were after all the psychotic, reverent, babbling build-up I’d endured. As such, I’m convinced that the whole Matt’s Jucy Lucy phenomenon is due to the blind, mindless acquiescence of countless rubes and the practical joke stylings of a few knowing conspirators, including it pains me to point out, our own DMG.
That said, I read the remainder of the article anyway and was more than a little taken with a few of the runners-up. In particular, the Signature Cheeseburger with Truffle Fries served at the Capital Grille. Despite Minnesota Monthly’s apparently serious “Burger Inherent Awesomeness Quotient™” (a messy equation that includes non-taste factors, like ambiance and ‘ultra-Minnesotanness’ of the venue) burying this bit of burger perfection in the #7 position, DMG called it ‘stupendous’ and ‘thunderously beefy’. I can’t help it – I get excited when any foodstuff is affixed with a Force of Nature superlative.
Gaining momentum, DMG launched into one of her signature, exuberant cascades of delirious metaphors (“lush as a berry,” “profound as an exceptional Barolo”). I’m thinking, no way is it that good. And being the consummate writer that she is, DMG followed immediately with “Could it seriously be that good? Yes.” Oooeeeoooeee!
As always, I was easily won over by DMG’s playful and eerily intuitive copy and duly trekked through the Skyway two days later to the Capital Grille’s dinning room for lunch. Sadly, the witness that accompanied me doesn’t eat beef or truffle products, so the pressure was on for me, the travel writer whose primary expertise is in the culinary wasteland of Romania, to make a credible and thoughtful judgment. I came to the following conclusion: stupendous and thunderously beefy (travel and food writing is also overrun with plagiarizers).
Seriously, this cheeseburger was precisely what I imagine my first burger, after months in a non-burger-appreciative-part-of-the-world, should look like. Thick, juicy and ready for major magazine photography. Moreover, by merely looking at this burger, even a Food Dummy like myself can tell that there are no unnatural, mystery, non-food-foodstuffs in there. And get a load of DMG’s description: “The grass-fed beef is from Thousand Hills Cattle Company in southern Minnesota, ground-up with a certain amount of bacon from Fischer Farms in Waseca. The meat is mixed with Walla Walla or Vidalia onions, grilled, and served on a housemade brioche bun”. Even without the words “Dear Penthouse Forum”, that’s about all I need read to kick off a spontaneous, redistribution of blood.
But that’s not all. In between bites of this handheld, edible piece of foreplay, you supplement the already depraved release of endorphins with “French fries, graced with truffle-oil and gran padano cheese.” That I had no idea what gran padano cheese was before that moment didn’t lessen the impact of those words and the final product was no less stimulating.
Cumulatively, I’ve lived and traveled in Italy for nearly a year. I’m ashamed to admit during that time I became a little spoiled over the availability and affordability of things like shallots and truffle products. Having been back in Minnesota for well over a year now, and bringing in the kind of subsistence income that travel writers earn (if they’re lucky), I now regret not eating an entire bowl of shallots, fresh vegetables, mozzarella and prosciutto swathed in truffle oil every single, privileged, Buddha-blessed damn day I was there. Now the mere whiff of truffles causes a dopamine spike that stuns my brainstem. You can literally hear the ‘beeeeuuuoooo’ as all my brain functions cease like a failed power coupling on the Starship Enterprise.
My natural impulse was to take the wax paper that held my truffle fries and rub it all over my face and hair and then not bathe for a week so as to enjoy the maximum effect of the fumes, but my level-headed companion pointed out that people around us might construe this behavior as “screwball”. My counter-offer of simply secreting the paper in my pants pocket was frowned upon as well. This is why I usually eat alone.
Needless to say, it was the best burger-based meal I’ve had in years and probably in the top three of all time. In fact I went back for seconds not even 48 hours later. It’s only been 24 hours since then and I’m already shopping for medication that will stem the tide of these cravings. As long as the pills cost less than $14 a serving (before tax and tip), I come out ahead.
And Dara, I realize that you probably have 57 devout friends that accompany you on your various restaurant visits, and I further admit to knowing precious little about food in general, but I think after reading the above you’ll agree that I have a singular physical response to food that transcends so-called ‘expertise’ and therefore makes me eminently qualified as an illiterate food taster guy that you need at your table for observation purposes alone. Call me.
Also, do you have a sister?
The Capital Grille
801 Hennepin Ave