Belly Up to the Burger Bar

by | Jul 2018

Burger Bar

Photo: Tate Carlson

Father-son duo Len and Ben Pratt launched their second White Bear Lake restaurant concept this past spring.

It’s hard to ignore the crowd on Fourth Street in summer. The Cup and Cone line can be dozens-deep at times, with families in still-wet swimsuits, locals and out-of-towners alike patiently awaiting their scoops of the flavor of the day.

So when Len and Ben Pratt, owners of the nearby Ingredients Café, saw an opportunity to try out a new concept in the city-owned spot next to White Bear Bar, they jumped. Where Ingredients is upscale and sit-down, the Burger Bar, they thought, could be casual and quick. If Ingredients is conducive to a long post-yoga conversation over wine and appetizers or a multi-course anniversary meal, the new spot could cater to baseball teams or parents who want to sip a beer while their teens grab a malt. With an arbor and patio that dwarf the indoor seating, it’s as much an outdoor gathering space as a restaurant, as much high-tech as low-key, and it’s about serving a totally different clientele.

“We’re really going off the vibe that’s already there,” says Len, who’s been doing business in White Bear Lake for over 45 years. In that time, he’s noticed a bit of a divide in the town’s clientele and the types of businesses that do well nearby. “Millennials. They’re okay buying affordable homes on this side of town. They like experiences, and they want places to go that are walkable,” he says. While the east side, he notices, has higher-end houses with lake frontage, the west side of Highway 61 skews a bit more blue-collar. Casual, laid-back spots tend to do better there, and he hopes the Burger Bar and places like it will continue to grow business on that end of town. “We’re meeting an age-old need to gather, have fun, socially connect and hear what’s going on. But we’re going to do it in a slightly different way,” he says.

He and his son, Ben—the restaurateur behind day-to-day operations at Ingredients—are reimagining the small-ish space once home to Red Lantern Sushi, and Ursula’s and Carbone’s before that. They’re going for a straightforward, industrial look with fir plank tables made by a Wisconsin-based firm, a plain wood bar and floors in epoxy-coated natural concrete.

A diner-esque pass window keeps the bustling kitchen visible to guests, and the team has thought through every inch of the tiny kitchen to maximize space. “From sea to shining sea,” as Len describes it, the kitchen is well-designed and gleaming with new technologies. An Alto-Shaam system holds food at the perfect temperature without losing mass of meat. Like an industrial slow-cooker, Ben explains, it locks in moisture and tenderizes meat such as the signature roast beef. It cooks low and slow, he says.

Ben also did some serious research in the lead-up to the grand opening, looking into affordable kegged wines popular in California—and the fast-casual concepts gaining steam there. “The cost of bottling is just so high,” he says. “There are some pretty nice wines they’re kegging now. Fun ones.” Besides affordable but delicious foods, he’s bringing in local beers—think Big Wood and Fulton—plus easy-drinking Mexican and bigger domestic names. It’ll be on-tap, in bottles and cans.

“This is fast casual, but equally as much work goes into it,” Ben says.

“It’s really chef-driven fast food.”

“We’re going for a little different buyer,” says Len. “Energy begets energy, and places don’t become known as a hangout because of one business. We hope this brings something new and helps the west side here.”

A Taste of the Burger Bar

Durango Burger
There’s a distressed, cantina look going on at the Burger Bar, and the Durango Burger is a nod to south-of-
the-border cuisine. It’s a traditional burger patty piled high with bacon, chili con queso and a fried egg with crispy jalapeno strips that’s equal parts spicy and smoky.

The Build-your-own Burger
Got a picky kid? Want to go plain, imaginative or completely off-menu? The standard patty will be a proprietary black Angus blend made by Stock Yard Meat Packing in St. Paul. But a grass-fed option is just as customizable, with a bevy of cheeses, toppings and buns to mix and match for the perfect flavor.

The Cheeseburger
The Pratts have developed a standout cheeseburger incorporating house-made American cheese. Though simple, there’s attention paid to every ingredient.

“An awesome cheeseburger with a good bun? That’s America,” says Ben, who spent months scouring Twin Cities
bakeries in search of the perfect bun.

“And the cheese is something else.”

Garden Veggie Burger
Ben’s been perfecting the perfect veggie burger at Ingredients for years, developing a gluten-free option for the health—or environmentally conscious—or those who just want something a little different. “It’s the little sleeper nobody expected,” Ben says. “It has the mouthfeel of a burger. It’s seriously meaty.”

The Fry Boat
French fries top the list of kid-friendly favorites at Ingredients, and they’ll be a carryover—and probably a staple—at the Burger Bar. Options will be topped with sauces, zingy jardinière or beef as a stand-in for a full meal.


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