Last week in 507, we had the big reveal of the Four Stars of burgers, but frankly ran out of room for all the capsule reviews. As noted, the winners were led by the Old Western Saloon at the Hay Creek Valley Campground, on Minnesota Highway 58 south of Red Wing.
Here’s more on the four:
In the Stary-Verka VFW Post 5727
25 E. First St., Zumbrota
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
This is awkward, because I didn’t get a look inside Gunner’s — they were closed for an anniversary party Saturday night, and I didn’t want to crash it — but you can order their chow on the VFW side, and it’s worth the extra effort to get it. (Actually, the only extra effort was from the cook, Matt, who had to do some running around while we chatted with the bartender, whose name was also Matt and who’s a Cordon Bleu graduate himself.)
Gunner’s, which has been open for just more than a year, says it has “bar food with a delicious twist,” and one example is the 1/3-pounder with provolone, lettuce and slices of roma tomatoes, topped with a dollop of tangy blackberry plum barbecue sauce ($7.99) — one of the more creative combinations I’ve tried. For the hungrier G.I. Joe, there’s the Big Mouth — two burgers, with a whole garden in between, including jalapenos if you want them, for $10.95.
1530 Old W. Main St., Red Wing
Hours: The kitchen is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily; the bar stays open until 2 a.m. Monday to Saturday, midnight on Sunday.
Kelly’s has been around for a while, but it’s going through a growth spurt and a remodeling that has definitely put it on my personal map. Along with the new Red Wing Brewery brewpub, which is nearby, and the Players Sports Grille, and with older standbys such as the Bierstube and the Bayside Tap & Steakhouse, Old West Main is becoming an Eat Street type of destination.
Kelly’s has the natural advantage of overlooking Bay Point Park and the river — if you lean out far enough from the deck, you can see the Eisenhower Bridge and Barn Bluff. The deck also offers ringside seats to the trains that pass not far below.
Despite all that, Chef Jason’s Pork Belly Burger ($8.95) is the star of the show. If you’ve never had pork belly, never fear — it’s bacon, only better, and at Kelly’s it’s hard-fried, with chunks atop a hearty burger with smoked gouda and caramelized onions, served on a glossy, crusty pretzel bun.
31655 Highway 58 Blvd., about six miles south of Red Wing
651-388-3998 or 888-388-3998
Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday; 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
There’s plenty of good beef to choose from at the Hay Creek saloon, but it seems like a shame not to have buffalo when it’s available. I’m always amazed how rarely you find buffalo, whether steaks or burgers, on menus when it’s delicious, good for you and raised on farms in the area. The bacon and cheese buffalo burger ($6.50 for a quarter-pounder, $8.50 for a half-pounder) is lean but not dry, with a nice char-grilled crust, thin and crispy bacon and a bun from Hanisch Bakery in Red Wing that tastes fresh from the oven.
2280 Superior Drive N.W., Rochester
Breakfast: 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m. to noon Sunday. Lunch: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Dinner: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Roosters is one of the few local, independent restaurants in Rochester that opens when the rooster crows, or thereabouts — it’s open at 7, and I’m told by a reliable source that it’s an excellent place to enjoy your weekend newspaper early Sunday morning while keeping an eye on ESPN. I haven’t tested that theory yet, but I can tell you they have excellent burgers, as well as a half-dozen pool tables with very firm rails and plenty of chalk.
My weakness is the Farm Yard Burger ($8.95), a hand-pattied half-pounder topped with a fried egg, bacon and cheddar cheese. Some egg-topped burgers can get a little overpowering and messy, but Rooster’s gets it just right, with just the right amount of applewood-smoked bacon and cheese to keep everything in balance. Among the eight other options, the Mushroom Swiss ($8.45) and the Black and Bleu ($8.95), which blends cajun cooking with blue cheese, are standouts.
Agree or disagree? That’s what Four Stars is all about. Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add your comments to the record next week.
What’s next for Four Stars? I’ll look for four restaurants that boast the best broasted chicken in the area. I rounded up four of them in June 2011 — the Party Cove Bar & Grill (now Uncle John’s) near Lake Zumbro, Tilly’s Bar & Grill in Oronoco, Fat Willy’s in Rochester and Pizza Cellar in Blooming Prairie — but it’s time to hunt and peck for a few more.
I had a big helping of excellent, juicy broasted chicken last week at Beetle’s, a happy hour favorite along Second Street Southwest in Rochester. That was opening night for the Thursdays on First parties downtown; it was raining at about 6 p.m. and Beetle’s was absolutely packed. Owner “Beetle” Kothenbeutel says they’re packed whenever the weather turns foul on Thursday nights during summer.