A natural divide separating the borders of two neighboring states, the St. Croix River has provided Minnesotans and Wisconsinites with commerce, transportation and sustenance since the first American Indians settled on its shores. And what better way to honor the legacy and history of food on the St. Croix than to premiere our new magazine and new Restaurants section with the topic of burgers. After all, few other meals promote congregation around a sizzling grill, embody the values of customization and endless combinations of flavor, and are distinctly, unequivocally American. Enjoy!
A trip to Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop is like stepping off the streets of modern-day Stillwater and back in time by a good half-century. Leo’s décor and dining atmosphere pay homage to a place where a chocolate soda brought as much joy as anything on the best days of summer. While the 1950s are a bygone era, the malts that made a dime worth so much more than 10 cents are as sweet as ever. And what malt would be complete without the perfect burger? “We make fantastic burgers, yes … burgers and malts [are] a match made in heaven,” assistant manager Jess Hibberd says. Her favorite offering is the Muchos Leo’s ($7.95), packed to perfection with diced onions, jalapeño peppers and bubbling melted pepper jack cheese, served with a side of chipotle mayo. 131 Main St. S., Stillwater; 651.351.3943.
Italian-American cuisine is a specialty of the Postmark Grille, and it should come as no surprise that a burger packed with as much flavor and character as this should be called “the godfather.” The Evenson family runs the Postmark Grille from its aptly named location in a refurbished post office with a dedication to their craft and a pride for the family business. The godfather burger is covered with melted provolone cheese and homemade pizza sauce, creating a combination “pizza-burger” that will knock your socks off ($8.89). Garnished with sweet basil and served on ciabatta bread, this burger delivers the flavor. 255 Locust St., Hudson; 715.377.4699.
With its outstanding view of the Hudson Pier, this restaurant doesn’t lack atmosphere. Couple the amazing scenery with a pair of extra-hot burgers: The habanero peach variety ($12) incorporates one of the hottest peppers in the world, topped with melted pepper jack cheese. Smooth guacamole and a sweet peach sauce cut the heat nicely. Looking for a heartier meal? Try the firehouse chili burger ($12). This patty is topped with homemade firehouse chili, plenty of gooey cheddar cheese and a tangy lime sour cream to cool your jets. 500 First St., Hudson; 715.386.5504.
Fueled by the promise of a quick fortune in a growing town, early Stillwater residents relied on a number of small establishments to feed northern pioneers seeking their fortunes. The need to feed remains, so cue the Freight House’s elk burger ($13), packed with protein and naturally lower in fat than its beef counterpart. This lean burger comes with the classics: cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions and a burger sauce. If you want to head down the opposite track from the low-fat option, sample the Big Pig Burger ($13), a Freight House favorite with fried ham and bacon, lettuce, tomato and onions, all topped with a special burger sauce. 305 S. Water St., Stillwater; 651.439.5718.
Phil’s Tara Hideaway
For those who have never been to Phil’s Tara Hideaway, picture a building in the style of a log cabin, set upon an historic site a stone’s throw from the St. Croix River. This location creates a feeling of escape to a weekend cabin where the only choice you have to make is between French fries or Athenian potatoes alongside your burger. We believe the Tara burger is one of the best in the backwoods, stacked with layers of bacon and house-made pickles ($10). Covered with a blanket of white cheddar and barbecue sauce, the flavor combination could be described as criminal. Don’t believe us? Just channel the energies of Al Capone and John Dillinger, legendary gangsters and patrons of the original establishment where Phil’s now resides. 15021 60th St. N., Stillwater; 651.439.9850.
At the Stone Tap, there’s just one burger on the menu ($14), but it’s a burger you definitely should try. This meaty combo of house-ground sirloin, short rib and brisket features 10 ounces of double-stacked meat topped with American cheese, so open wide. Wash it down with a cold one from Stone Tap’s 24 beer selections, including craft offerings from Bells, Deschutes and New Glarus breweries, among others. 517 2nd St., Hudson; 715.808.8343.
Silver Bison Burger
Paying homage to the original range inhabitants, the silver bison burger ($10.45) is a nice diversion from a standard beef patty. The bison are raised locally in Baldwin. This patty is drizzled with barbecue sauce and topped with lettuce, tomato and sweet red onion. Looking for a burger with more kick? The Casino el Camino ($9.95) has the spice of the south. Louisiana hot sauce is combined with cayenne pepper to put this one in the running for hottest burger in Wisconsin. 413 Second St., Hudson; 715.386.4123.