Hangin’ with Klecko: The Perfect Veggie Burger
When I think of veggie burgers and my past, I am reminded of Thomas Wolfe’s quote: “You can never go home.”
You see, that simply isn’t true. I return home often, and when I do my mom feeds me veggie burgers, and hers are the best, but they do come at a price.
Before I even sit down to the dinner table mom begins translating conversations that she perceives to be taking place between her cats.
And when all is quiet on the feline front, I am issued highlights of her Audubon Society meetings. As much as I love my mother, sometimes it’s just easier to go to a restaurant to get my favorite comfort food.
Torrance Beavers and Thomas LaFelche inside Brunson’s Pub.
For years I went to Ward 6. The veggie burger was great, but when the restaurant closed down, I made social media inquiries, and many of the respondents suggested I head down the street to Brunson’s Pub, because they had the best veggie burger in town.
After receiving the good news, I called Brunson’s and told owner Thomas LaFleche about my quest and he invited me over. After arriving and bellying up to the bar, LaFleche brought chef Torrance Beavers over and the conversation began.
Klecko: “That kitchen of yours is about the size of a thimble, but the place is packed and everyone seems to be eating.”
Tom: “Yeah, you only get so much space and we wanted our space to make money. Torrance has done a nice job in what some might consider a limited space.”
Klecko: “I’ve always believed less is more, but let’s get to it and start off with the money question. Why is Brunson’s veggie burger the best?”
Torrance: “First off, there’s really only two options with a veggie burger, fresh or frozen pucks. You’d be amazed how many places actually sell pucks.”
Tom: “Both of us have worked in some of those kitchens, they weren’t good.”
Torrance: “I think the biggest problem with most places that sell fresh veggie burgers is that they handle them as if they were tacos. Most of the condiments are the same. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted a sandwich that could qualify as gluten-free or vegan. It was important to me that this burger was versatile. I wanted it to be hearty enough for meat eaters, while remaining light with fresh ingredients.”
Klecko: “How did you do that?”
Torrance: “First off, we’re using black-eye peas as our staple. I’m guessing nobody else in the city is doing that, but there’s subtle things we’ve done, too, like using quinoa flour.”
Tom: “We also decided to go with goat cheese and began to think that worked, so we ran several batches through the test kitchen and started to become inspired.”
Torrance: “In addition to taste, the goat cheese contributes to a wet burger. One of the biggest complaints veggies burgers get are that they are too dry. If you want your customers to be satisfied, that burger needs to slide down the gullet.”
Tom: “Once we realized that, we put on some finishing touches, like adding mixed greens and roasted pecans.”
Torrance: “All of which are served on a whole wheat bun.”
Klecko: “How long have you guys been here now, a year and a half, and how has your business been affected by Ward 6 shutting down?”
Tom: “Actually, we are coming close to our second anniversary. In regard to Ward 6, first off, we really felt bad when we heard the news. They were good to us. When their space was full, they’d encourage their overflow business to come down here. Short term, our numbers went up, but long term I think you’d agree, it’s in everybody’s best interest for Payne Avenue to grow.”
Klecko: “I did a piece several years back with Erich Christ at the Black Forest Inn. He told me when they opened over 50 years ago on East Street, times were hard because there was only a couple of restaurants, but once a few others were built everybody started making money.
“By the way, I suppose I should ask, do you guys have a signature item?”
Tom: “Actually, if I had to pick one, I’d probably say our ham-and-cheese sandwich. When we put it on the menu, it was a throw on, but the St. Paul paper wrote about it twice.”
Torrance: “Yeah, but numbers don’t lie. We sell more BLTs than anything. It’s not a run of the mill BLT We use braised bacon.”
Klecko: “If you guys shut down and had to work in another restaurant, where would you go?
Torrance: “No, we’re not even gonna go there. Next question.”
Tom (laughing): “Yeah, we don’t want to be difficult, but this is everything to both of us. I’d rather put in 80 hours a week here, than 40 hours a week anywhere else.”
Klecko: “Where do you like to eat when you’re not at Brunson’s?”
Torrance: “I don’t like to waste my money. That’s why I go to Tongue In Cheek. I respect the hell out of Leonard [Anderson].”
Tom: “My wife likes when I take her to Masu Sushi, but I also like to go to Mucci’s Italian. Anytime you go to one of Tim Niver’s spots you know you’re going to get more than great food, you’re going to get fantastic service.”
Torrance (smiling): “And cocktails.”
Klecko: “I’ve been asking a lot of chefs if they’re having trouble staffing. Most are saying they are. How about you guys?”
Torrance: “It’s a cook’s world right now, and many of them are going to bigger concepts with bigger budgets, but we’ve been fortunate. Many of our staff have been with us since the opening.”
At this point my veggie burger is brought out and I must confess: I was stunned. It was nothing short of beautiful.
Klecko: “OK, guys, I’m gonna want to dig into this, but before I do, what’s next for Brunson’s Pub?”
Tom: “We’re not the new guys anymore. Now our next job is to figure out how to stay relevant and then communicate that with our neighborhood.”
Klecko: “Any thoughts on how you are going to do that?”
Tom: “We’re talking about doing some events with other restaurants. We’re very lucky to have Caydence Records and Coffee as a neighbor. After discussions with them I think we realize the secret to our businesses success is by contributing to making Payne Avenue a fantastic place to be.”
As my veggie burger continued staring me down, I decided this would be the perfect place to end the interview and sent my friends back to work.
When I took the first bite, I thought, “delicious.”
After the second, the only word I could think of was “genius.”
Without a doubt Brunson’s Pub’s veggie burger is more than a destination meal.
In fact, it’s even better than my mom’s.
But we can keep that between us.
Until next time.
Dan “Klecko” McGleno can be reached at email@example.com or 651-329-4321.