We’re getting down to the wire in my relentless pursuit of Four Stars-quality burgers to write about in early June, and among my discoveries last week: The grass-fed beef at Zzest, the extraordinary market, deli and cafe just south of Apache Mall.
Seriously, there’s no place like Zzest in the Rochester area. The range and quality of cheeses and charcuterie, the aisles of globe-roaming spices, oils and packaged foods for home cooking that you didn’t know you needed, and then the cafe, with its constantly changing menu, open kitchen, the patio overlooking the Zumbro — again, there’s no place like it.
Nor will you find Grass Run Farms burger on any local menu. It comes from happy, grass-chewing cattle in Wisconsin, it’s char-grilled just as you like it and topped with an always-changeable type of cheese. The day I was there last week, it was a thin slice of Keen’s English cheddar cheese, but Tuesday, it was gorgonzola. It’s packed in a hearty bun that lightly grilled with browned butter, and it comes with a dish of roasted garlic aioli on the side. Just to make sure your taste buds are awake, it’s also topped with grilled and pickled onions, which give the burger a really unique sweetness — just right, with the pickled tang. If you simply need ketchup, they’ll give you a dish of Sir Kensington’s gourmet ketchup, which is the essence of pure sun-dried tomatoes.
The Zzest burger is $12 with one of its artful pasta salads, though you may want to add the red and gold roasted beet salad instead, which I find irresistible, mixed up with Moody Blue cheese from Monroe, Wis. Monroe happens to be the home of another fine Wisconsin product, but I’ll leave that to you to figure out.
Zzest — and it’s pronounced “zest,” with no need for the zip of an extra Z — is at 1190 16th St. S.W. and the phone is 507-424-0080. They’re open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, with dinner starting at 5 p.m. The market is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
So we’re narrowing down the options for the quartet of top burgers that will win Four Stars honors in the June 5 issue of 507. I’ve already tipped my hand that Kelly’s Bar & Grill in Red Wing will be in the winner’s circle, and the other spots on my dance card are just about filled up.
Still, there’s time to let me know your favorite. Next week, I’ll share a few reader comments on their favorites, and then it’ll be showtime, the first Thursday in June.
Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org, or give me a call at 507-285-7742. You can also follow the new Four Stars blog at Postbulletin.com.
FOUR STARS FLASHBACK
111 S. Broadway (Shops at University Square), Rochester
Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, noon to 3 p.m. Sunday
Jeff Eastman’s Salad Brothers has a winning formula and a great location, at the crossroads of the skyways in University Square. Basically, they were Panera before Panera came along and took the concept corporate: great soups and salads, deli-quality sandwiches, an awesome open-face hot turkey sandwich on the right day, and other fast, hot options. Their chicken and wild rice soup is a good one, chock-full of rice and creamy with an appetizing golden color. Not available every day, but worth calling ahead for, though you won’t be disappointed in any other soup on the list. (September 2009)
54446 244th St., Austin
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5:30-10 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday
In the hometown of Hormel, the Old Mill has the best pork chop or loin around — an 8-ounce, center cut pork loin, from George A., of course, wrapped with smoked bacon (also Hormel) and flat-grilled in clarified butter with cracked peppercorns. It’s a generously thick cut, almost 2 inches, like a beef filet, and miraculously juicy, topped with fresh herbs.
The Mill had a Windsor chop on the menu for years but tried the new peppercorn approach earlier this year, and owner Dave Forland says it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Priced right at $17.95, with salad, bread and side dishes.
Any meal at the Old Mill should start with Spam dunkers ($7.95), deep-fried fingerlings of Spam with a chipotle sauce to dunk them in. I’ve wanted to do a Four Stars column on Spam dishes forever, but there just aren’t enough menu options around. Forland originated this Spam delicacy about a decade ago and it remains one of the best ways to enjoy it.
With Hormel planning a new Spam museum, hopefully they’ll keep dunkers in mind as one of the product’s best ambassadors. (October 2013)
502 N. Main St., Mantorville
Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday.
I would have bet my father-in-law’s farm that the Hubbell House has a good, nicely presented and reasonably priced shrimp cocktail, and they do. Firm, almost crispy shrimp, with good flavor — not all restaurant shrimp actually retains a lot of flavor — are hung from the rim of a sherbet-style dish, with leaf lettuce, lemon and a distinctive, almost pungent sauce, and it’s just $8.99. If owner Don Pappas welcomes you at the front door, and it seems like he’s usually there, congratulate him on winning the restaurant of the year award a few years ago from the Minnesota Restaurant Association — well-deserved recognition for an area dining landmark. (December 2012)