Here at Four Stars, it’s Be Kind to Cows Week.
I’m a meat eater. I like meat as much as the next guy, but we all know there are issues related to a good burger. There’s the fairly devastating impact on the animal, for starters, which is a nagging ethical challenge for some of us. Then there’s the environmentally inefficient process of raising millions of cattle so we can enjoy steaks and sandwiches, and for some, there are diet issues.
So this week, before I go on another Angus-eating binge, I’ll tell you about four excellent vegetarian burgers in the Rochester area. There aren’t a lot to choose from, but I’ve found a few that meet the criteria for the Four Stars of Veggie Burgers.
One is contrarily at Cowboy Jack’s, the outlaw, Western-themed bar and grill on South Broadway by the Wyndham Garden hotel at 16th Street. Their logo is a longhorn steer skull with two gory meat cleavers below, and the place aspires to a tin roof-and-sawdust, honky-tonk attitude, yet they have an excellent black bean burger, more like what you’d get in a fern bar.
I happen to think the black bean is one of nature’s perfect foods — I eat them straight out of the can when I get home from work — and Cowboy Jack’s burger is a celebration of black beans. It’s a hearty patty made with beans, onions, corn, celery and more, all held together with flour and egg, with cilantro, cumin and other spices. It’s well-grilled and served hot on a good bun California-style, and with a big, fresh house salad, it’s a healthy way to spend $9.
If you had to give up beef, this would be one of the consolations.
There’s more to say about Cowboy Jack’s, which in addition to outstanding 100-percent beef burgers also has some comfort food I’ll write about later this summer. Mainly, it’s a fun and funky place with a fire pit, beanbag toss, booths outside and a bar that’s open to the patio. Inside, the wagon wheel chandeliers, high-top tables and gunny-sack napkins are part of the charm.
The motto on the menu is “Whisky Drunk and Hell Bound,” but it’s more family-friendly than that.
Kelly’s Taphouse Bar & Grill is another lively place, overlooking the railroad tracks, Bay Point Park and the Mississippi riverfront in Red Wing. Kelly’s was in the Four Stars winner’s circle last May for their mouth-watering Pork Belly Burger. They also have three veggie burgers, which is more than any place in the area that I’m aware of. The black bean version ($7.99), like the one at Jack’s, is grilled hard so it has the meatiness and bite of a real burger, spiced up with chipotle sauce and served on a glossy pretzel bun.
Before you do anything else at Kelly’s, assuming you’re not a vegetarian, ask if they have any burnt ends, the bits and pieces left over from their house-smoked beef brisket. They’re on the appetizer menu for $9.99 but they go fast — they’re always gone when I’m there, so let me know if you’re lucky enough to get some.
At the Loop Bar & Restaurant in Rochester, their veggie burger ($11) is built with the trendiest grain around, quinoa, blended with zucchini, portabella mushrooms and herbs. Top it with pepperjack cheese and it’s a distinctive combination.
It’s probably no coincidence that two of the best veggie burgers in town are at restaurants (the Loop and Cowboy Jack’s) that have their roots in the Twin Cities.
Not surprisingly, they have an awesome Three-Grain Burger at the People’s Food Co-op, just down the street from the Loop, and it’s also the cheapest at $4.99, though it’s served cafeteria style. The three grains are quinoa (no surprise), brown rice and bulgur wheat, with roasted corn, mushrooms and roasted red peppers, and it’s served on a seven-grain bun, so you can count it as a 10-grain sandwich — any more grains than that and you’ll have problems. They often have a pecan-based veggie burger, too.
If you’re tempted to turn vegetarian, there’s no better place to try it than at the Co-op’s deli, hot bar and salad bar, where you can load your plate and pay by the pound. (They do have options for meat-eaters, by the way.)
As for me, I’ll be back in the saddle in search of the perfect bone-in ribeye next week.
FOUR STARS OF VEGGIE BURGERS
Cowboy Jack’s Saloon
1625 Broadway Ave. S, Rochester
Kelly’s Taphouse Bar & Grill
1530 Old West Main St., Red Wing
The Loop Bar and Restaurant
318 First Ave. S.W., Rochester
People’s Food Co-op
519 First Ave. S.W., Rochester