The last couple three times I've driven out of St. Cloud, MN on Country Road 75 toward Interstate 94 and on up to Fargo, I've passed an interesting looking restaurant in the small town of St. Joseph, MN just to the west of St. Cloud - American Burger Bar. On a recent trip to the area, I decided that I'd stop in this time to the place to try - what else? A burger!
American Burger Bar is actually part of a three-restaurant operation that is under a corporate umbrella owned by partners Brad Ireland and Eric Sandrock. Ireland Sandrock Systems, Inc. also owned McRudy's Pub and RumRunners Comedy Club in St. Cloud until they got into a situation with the city earlier this year when officials didn't want to renew McRudy's alcohol permit. They also owned American Joe Coffee Shop before it was folded into one of their American Burger Bar locations. But before all that happened, Ireland and Sandrock were the franchise owners in the Embers restaurant chain located around Minnesota. At its height, Sandrock and Ireland owned seven Embers locations. The last Embers - Barbara Jean's Embers American Cafe in Milaca, MN, north and east of St. Cloud - closed earlier this year.
Sandrock's and Ireland's first foray into a dedicated burger joint was a place called American Burger Emporium in the east side Twin Cities suburb of Woodbury, MN. The place opened in 2008 and the concept went over extremely well. Looking to expand, Ireland and Sandrock teamed up with chef Rino Baglio to open the first American Burger Bar in St. Paul in early 2009. They took over a spot that housed the former Matty B's supper club. The supper club was owned by former Minnesota Viking football player Matt Birk, who is a St. Paul native.
Sandrock and Ireland, along with Baglio, came up with a concept of gourmet burgers including Kobe beef burgers and burgers made from bison and Certified Black Angus beef. The place featured "build-your-own" burgers, as well as house specialities as the Juicy Klucy - a take-off on the cheese-stuffed burgers that are big in the Twin Cities, only this one is made with Kobe beef.
After working with Baglio for a little over a year, Sandrock and Ireland parted ways with the chef. Sandrock and Ireland said the split was amicable, but Baglio said he was terminated. Either way, Sandrock and Ireland forged ahead with the American Burger Bar concept. They opened their second location in St. Joseph, MN over Labor Day weekend of 2010. The large stand-alone structure was made out of stone and formally housed a restaurant fittingly named The Stonehouse. The St. Joseph location opens at 8 a.m. and also serves breakfast. In the spring of 2011, a third location for American Burger Bar opened on Hennepin Ave. in downtown Minneapolis. Later that year, they closed the American Burger Emporium in Woodbury to focus on their American Burger Bar concept.
The St. Joseph location for American Burger Bar is located just before the entrance ramp to Interstate 94 at the corner of Country Road 75 and 115th Ave./Collegeville Road. (see map) The College of Saint Benedict and St. John's University are located just down the road from the restaurant. It was around 1:30 when I got in to the place. Interestingly, the place was void of customers with the exception of a lone figure sitting at the bar. I was sort of standing there looking over the well-lit, yet empty dining room when a lady by the name of Chandra came out to greet me. She said, "We're a little slow today with the rain, so you pretty much have the place to yourself." I asked if I could sit at the bar and she said that would be great.
The bar area was very nice with dark wood paneling, inlaid stone walls and a very nice rectangular bar. I took a seat and she asked me if there was anything that I'd like to drink. I noticed that they had the Bell's Two Hearted Pale Ale on tap and I asked for one of those. She said, "We just got that in for the first time yesterday. I haven't tried it yet." I told her that she would probably be selling lots of it.
Looking over the menu she gave me, I decided to just make my own burger. I was going to get the basic Black Angus burger and then add on to that for an upcharge. They had six different types of cheese to choose from, as well as a number of toppings such as spinach, jalapenos, grilled peppers, caramelized onions and grilled pineapple. They also had premium toppings such as black truffles, peppered bacon, grilled crab slaw, and homemade chili. I decided upon a Black Angus burger patty - medium - topped with sauteed mushrooms, jalapeno bacon with pepperjack cheese. I had my choice of bun types and I got the onion bun. For a side, I had my choice of American Burger Bar's skinny fries, or I could upgrade to tater tots, truffle fries, sweet potato fries or onion rings. None of them sounded good to me - I was just there for the burger. Chandra suggested a salad - yeah, I'll take a salad. I ordered it with their Catalina dressing.
The salad was all right, nothing really special. The greens were fresh. The Catalina dressing was good, but not the best I've had in a restaurant.
Chandra brought the burger out and it looked very promising. Two slabs of jalapeno bacon were on top of the burger patty that was covered by the pepperjack cheese. A nice amount of sauteed mushrooms were included on the burger. Red onion slices and dill pickles came with the burger.
But I was disappointed in the onion bun. It looked good, but I found it to be a little dried out. It didn't have the spongy texture that you'd expect with a fresh baked bun.
The burger, too, was somewhat disappointing. The beef was unspectacular for Black Angus beef, it was pretty neutral in taste and it was a tad overcooked for a medium burger. The jalapeno bacon was spicy and helped zip up the taste of the burger. The sauteed mushrooms were a good addition, but with the spicyness of the bacon I couldn't really taste the pepperjack cheese. I'd have to give the burger a "C" if I were grading it. It wasn't bad, but I guess I expected so much more from a place with the name American Burger Bar.
With the toppings and a couple beers, the bill came to over $20 bucks. I didn't think the burger was all that great for the price. Chandra did a great job in taking care of me, however, and I thought the place - especially the bar area - was very nice. I may go to one of the other American Burger Bar locations in the Twin Cities to see how well they stack up next to the one in St. Joseph. But I'll have to say that I went in with a lot of hope, but came out with some disappointment with American Burger Bar.