Burger joints are a dime a dozen in the Twin Cities -- it seems like every neighborhood has at least one place that specializes in patty, bun and fixings.
Is it possible to stand out in that crowded field?
With Red Cow, owner Luke Shimp has shown that it is.
The restaurant's second location, in the old Costello's on Selby Avenue in St. Paul's Cathedral Hill neighborhood, is a slick, stylish spot that neighbors seem to have embraced quickly. The first Red Cow is near 50th and France in Minneapolis.
The creative, varied burgers are good here.
Our hands-down favorite was a simple Mushroom-Swiss ($10.50). A juicy beef patty was topped by mushrooms braised in red wine until popping with flavor and joined by a garlicky mayo and just enough cheese. We upgraded from regular to truffle fries for an extra $1.50, and the pairing was perfect. The deep-golden, hand-cut fries are kissed with just enough truffle oil to make them addicting, and they're even better when dipped in an accompanying chive sour cream.
Most burger joints focus on beef but offer a frozen veggie burger option and a token, dry-as-a-hockey-puck turkey burger thrown in for the health nuts.
But at Red Cow, the Turkey Burger ($11) was as juicy as any of the beef burgers, and it was creatively topped with a cilantro-lime aioli, crunchy radishes, slightly bitter arugula and crushed pistachios for extra texture. It's a great burger, and we recommend pairing it with the hand-cut sweet potato fries ($1 extra), which were the best we've had. Honestly, we usually don't like fried sweet potatoes, but we will order these -- fried until just crispy enough and dusted with seasoned salt -- again and again.
The Ahi Tuna Burger ($14), topped with candied ramen and wasabi mayo, was a great mixture of sweet, salty and nose-clearing spice. When ordered with the restaurant's fantastic, fresh coleslaw, it tasted like a healthy, satisfying meal.
Bison meat, with its rich, velvety texture, was wisely topped with goat cheese, caramelized onions and figs in the decadent Bison Burger ($12). If we had one complaint about this burger, it would be that it was a touch on the sweet side.
Not all the straight-beef alternatives are healthy. The 60/40 Burger ($11.50) includes 40 percent bacon in the grind, which makes the patty smoky, salty, juicy and irresistible. It's gilded with more candied bacon, mustard and cheddar.
They're not all good, either -- we wanted to like the Elk Wellington ($12.50), but found the meat gamey and dry and the puff pastry disappointingly pasty.
Don't bother with the most expensive burger on the menu, either. The Manhattan 2.0 ($16) buried Pat LaFreida beef under a heavy onslaught of bacon confit, Gruyere, arugula and a dried cherry-red wine reduction. That beef is delicious, and it seems a crime to hide it under such strong flavors.
Our other complaint about Red Cow is the noise level -- decibel readings reached 90 at times, which made it hard to hear dining companions, especially across the roomy tables. The music volume seemed to fluctuate between just right and too loud, and the hard surfaces did nothing to absorb the noise.
Happy hour is sure to be a busy time here, as some of the restaurant's best starters are offered at $6 apiece from 3 to 6 p.m. every day.
Both poutines ($9.50 after happy hour) -- one with braised beef and beer cheddar, and one with blue cheese, apple and bacon -- are great drinking food.
The ahi crisps ($11 after happy hour) are fresh and tasty little bites of seared tuna with creamy avocado and a tart ponzu.
Starters that aren't on the happy-hour menu are worth a mention, too.
Thinly sliced, fried-until-brown potato chips and a French onion dip ($5.50) are snack food nirvana, and the cheese curds ($9) rival our favorites at the State Fair.
Desserts are on the traditional side, but there's nothing wrong with a Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie Sundae ($7) to share at the end of a meal, especially when the cookie has just the right salt level and the ice cream is rich and creamy.
The restaurant is open for breakfast on weekends and lunch and dinner all week long. We haven't had a chance to try breakfast yet, but it looks promising with such items as a breakfast potpie and a flight of imaginative pancake flavors.
Red Cow: 393 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651--789--0545; redcowmn.com
Jess Fleming can be reached at 651-228-5435. Follow her at twitter.com/jessflem.