Twin Cities burger lovers, meet the Stray Dog

As the Bulldog Northeast rebrands under new ownership, the local burger gets a new chapter.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

There was a time when the "gourmet" burger wasn’t really a thing in the Twin Cities. Up until 2006, burgers were basic corner bar fare. 

That year, the Bulldog Northeast introduced burgers featuring ultra-premium ingredients, house-ground meat, and a chef’s attention to technique – each one cooked in a cast-iron skillet. The early favorite became the "Junk Burger," with roasted garlic aioli, Fischer Farms bacon, tomato, onion, Bibb lettuce, and sautéed mushrooms.

The tiny kitchen struggled to keep up with demand – but after a change in leadership and focus, they leaned into their strengths, and became a burger destination.

"Burgers can be anything – with the exception of putting something inedible on them – there's such a multitude of options for this one canvas," said Bulldog Northeast's executive chef and soon-to-be-owner Kevin Kraus. 

"We're buying this bar."

After 11 years of grinding and flipping at least an estimated 50,000 patties at the restaurant, Kraus purchased the business from original owners Chris and Amy Rowland. The Bulldog Northeast will close on October 5, and reopen the following week as the Stray Dog. 

The Rowlands are off to new adventures, and since working at the Bulldog is the only job Kraus has held for 11 years, he couldn't fathom moving on. He called his brother and said, "We're buying this bar." (Kraus eventually purchased the business on his own.) The Stray Dog name further distances itself from the other three local Bulldogs (not owned by the Rowlands) in downtown Minneapolis, Uptown, and Lowertown over in St. Paul. Kraus wanted to send a clear message: he's his own dog. 

Kraus said he'll look back at his time at the Bulldog and pull together the most-successful ideas and keep those for the Stray Dog. A couple of those successes that will return include all-day breakfast, and a Polpettone, an over-the-top open-faced meatloaf sandwich. Also, he said, anyone that's been 86'd over the years gets a second chance.

"After all, I might need the business," he joked. 

From fine dining to burgers for the people

When the Bulldog Northeast originally opened, local celebrity chef Landon Schoenefeld (Haute Dish, Nighthawks) was at the helm. Then, as now, he had very specific ideas about treating standard American cookery like fine-dining fare. The burgers were cut, cured, and hand-ground in house, and cooked in a cast iron skillet. The tomatoes and lettuce were cut and hand-pulled to order. 

Eventually, it became untenable for the restaurant to both keep up with the kind of volume they wanted to do and maintain the fine-dining standard as applied to bar food. So the Bulldog evolved into a something-for-everyone burger destination. Kraus estimated the restaurant grosses around three times as much as fine-dining estabishments.

Kraus still gets to paint that burger canvas with a much more colorful brush than, say, what Heavy Table has coined the "Au Cheval Like Burger" – ubiquitous variations on the double-patty smash burger with American cheese on a white bun. Kraus called it boring, and refused to have one on his menu. 

"I'm standing my ground," he said. The closest thing they have at the Bulldog is the "American Burger," which is more like a giant Whopper.

Stray Dog will still be all about the burgers

What Kraus calls getting his creative yayas out, has turned into a game for diners at the table: "Do I dare order it?" He's put quince paste, funky Morbier cheese, or duck bacon on burgers. They've made buns out of cornbread, or put cherries in the buns. But they also upgraded the classics, like an old-fashioned bacon cheeseburger with Fischer Farms bacon and Wisconsin's Nordic Creamery cheese.

When the Stray Dog arrives, it'll still boast a dozen burgers, plus build-your-own options. You can still get that Junk Burger, though some of the fancy techniques have been stripped away – no more cast-iron skillet.

Bulldog Northeast burgers have not enjoyed the acclaim of the Parlour Burger, and Kraus is just fine with that. The expense of making those sorts of "it" burgers (often with copious butter in high-end meat like Wagyu, or served on brioche buns) he said, makes them injudicious for a restaurant attracting an amalgam of stadium-goers, suburban dwellers who flood into the city for the weekend, and joggers and bikers zipping by for a bite. 

The most successful idea will stay the same: the burger is never perfect – better, bigger, beefier stratospheres are always worth reaching for. Kraus even still occasionally eats a burger himself, though cops to liking dogs better.

Next Up

Zach Parise

Wild scratch Zach Parise for Wednesday's game vs. Vegas

Parise will be a healthy scratch for the second time in his 16-year career.

shawn myers 1

Charges: Windham hospital patient threatened to kill staff, spit on them

Shawn Myers is charged with felony terroristic threats.

kaplans tiktok

Minnesota grandparents go viral for 'distancing duo' songs on TikTok

Their most recent duet about getting their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has gotten more than 67,000 likes.

CHS Field

Start of St. Paul Saints season delayed to May

Major League Baseball says it's being 'prudent' in delaying the minor league season.

caribou beyond meat sandwich

Caribou Coffee is the latest to add plant-based meat to its menu

The plant-based protein market is exploding, expected to reach $74.2 billion in the next six years.

One-dollar bill, cash, money

Former MN bank CEO sentenced to 18 months in prison for falsifying records

Robert Hager was the CEO of Border State Bank in Northern Minnesota.

49920879552_ef6458affd_o2

As golf season approaches, book your round now at Dacotah Ridge GC

The stunning course is designed by world-renowned architect Rees Jones.

mark kosloski - chisago county jail

Former volleyball coach charged with sexually assaulting a player

Mark Kosloski was a coach at North Lakes Academy for six years, resigning in February for personal reasons.

Related

The best burgers in the Twin Cities, according to a critic

A burger critic looking for the best burger in America just ranked the best burgers in the Twin Cities.

The best burgers in the Twin Cities, according to a critic

A burger critic looking for the best burger in America just ranked the best burgers in the Twin Cities.

7 foods to grab at Twin Cities farmers markets now

Local produce does all the heavy lifting in the kitchen during harvest season.

The best Twin Cities convenience stores for late-night snacking

Here are 4 prime destinations for grab-and-go goodness at any hour.

5 Twin Cities restaurants for foodies to watch Super Bowl LII

These spots in Minneapolis and St. Paul have you covered for the big game.

5 Twin Cities neighborhood bars to watch Super Bowl LII

Get off the main drag in Minneapolis and St. Paul for the big game.

5 Twin Cities bars and restaurants for singles to watch Super Bowl LII

These are spots to chill on your own for the big game, or to make new friends.