242 7th Street West
St. Paul, Minnesota
(between Kellogg Boulevard & Grand Avenue)
This was a random stop for us, just a place along the route we took from the Minneapolis airport, heading to Wisconsin. Turned out to be a good choice. It's a good-sized place indoors, with a substantial bar area and several smaller rooms devoted to dining; but at this magnificent time of year, the gorgeous patio on the side and back of the building was the only area in demand.
It's a very attractive area, with colourful umbrellas decorated with various exotic beer logos (Burger Moe's has something like 60 brands on tap), plus the giddy explosion of flowers that defines this part of the country. But the most remarkable thing about Burger Moe's was the crowd of customers who appeared, all at once.
We were in our seats in the nearly-vacant patio about 3.30pm, perusing the menu of fried appetizers and burgers, when the waitress said, "You know about our special, don't you?" No, we said; we didn't. Turns out that, on Mondays, all their burgers are $5 from 4pm. They have a tremendous selection of burgers, too, well beyond your standard variety of cheeses and peppers. I was tempted by the coconut burger, but figured that, all things being equal, the best bet would be to partake of the Kobe. After all, how often can you get a half-pound Kobe beef hamburger for only five bucks?
To kill the half-hour we had to wait for the special to kick in, we ordered an appetizer of cheese curds to tide us over. These local favourites are the layer skimmed off the top as cheese is made in the thousands of dairies around Wisconsin and Minnesota. They squeak. The flavour is sort of like a light version of cheese, Cheddar in this case, and they are eaten plain or fried. At Burger Moe's (as at many places in the area) they're coated in a beer batter for frying, and come out light and puffy and slightly sweet, nothing like the odious fried cheese sticks ubiquitous at chain restaurants across the country.
On an impulse, I ordered a peanut-butter-and-jelly milkshake, which came at the same time as the cheese curds. Probably not something I would make a habit of ordering, but it had piqued my curiosity, now satisfied. It did genuinely taste like peanut butter and jelly; it was thick and rich and oh, so sweet: too sweet, in fact, and between that and the cheese curds, it's no surprise that I wasn't able to finish my burger.
The great characteristic of Kobe beef is its tenderness. But when you grind it up for burgers, you pretty much lose that feature; it's not much different from plain ol' American beef. But you can still tell the difference; Kobe beef is, even ground, a little more tender than what we are used to, and has a slightly better taste, and is a little juicier. I'm not sure I'd think it were worth the $10.50 price tag it normally carries on Burger Moe's menu, but for five bucks, it's a steal, a fact not lost on the clientèle around us.
Because, at precisely 4pm, it seems a sluice gate opened somewhere, and fifty-something folks, the men with grey beards and pony tails, the women with sandals and faded jeans, began streaming into the patio from the street. They filled almost all the tables on the very large patio, and every one that I overheard, disdaining a menu consultation, ordered a Kobe beef burger. The kitchen may as well have not offered any other sandwich, and don't I feel validated.
I'm sure a younger crowd comes out later in the evening, after the early-bird special is over and the grandparents have gone back into hiding, but they don't know what they're missing. Five bucks, for a great burger (and it's even better, left over), with a good order of fries (regular or sweet-potato), is a real deal. An excellent deal.