BLOOMINGTON - The first thing I noticed at Meat Heads was the pile of boxes of potatoes stacked by a postmodern counter heavy on stainless steel.
The second thing I noticed was one of the employee's T-shirts read, "Certified carnivore."
Meat Heads Burgers & Fries, 305 N. Veterans Parkway, Bloomington, is a fast-casual burger place that is trying to get just a few things just right. The menu starts at hamburger. The rest of the sandwich menu is a foot-long hot dog and a grilled cheese, collectively labeled on the menu as Nottaburger. There are regular fries and Cajun fries. There are lots of accoutrements for the burgers, including bacon, cheese, a full line of standard complements and signature sauces.
That's it. A menu that could fit on the back of an envelope.
The potato boxes remind you that great care has been given to create french fries that start, in the restaurant, as spuds. If you don't catch it right away, you do when you try your fries. They taste like potatoes, as opposed to the heavily processed stringy things we have come to know as fries.
The burgers are thin patties created by someone molding freshly ground certified Angus, with no filler, and cooking it on a flat-top griddle. The taste and shape evoke Steak 'n Shake steakburgers.
You pay more than fast food and get a better product. You order at the counter and wait for your food. No tipping obligation. Drinks are dispensed at a refill-at-will dispenser next to a condiment/sauce table in the dining area.
All the employees have shirts with some sort of meat wordplay, adding to the fun of the place.
Tom Jednorowicz is managing partner, and while his name is manageable, most people shorten it to Tom Jed. He was at the counter watching over operations when I stopped in with a buddy on a Saturday. The hands-on manager, operating partner Kurt Petterle, was working the room, hearing compliments but also, he told me later, delving into consumer attitudes - especially curious about dislikes.
I was convinced that Petterle wanted blunt truth when he stopped at our table. I told him I love having fries that actually taste like potatoes, but there were far too many in the order. I hated to throw them out, but fries don't keep for warm-ups.
Point already taken, he said. He's also hearing from people who want bigger burgers. He and Jednorowicz plan to up the burger size and decrease the fries size.
A chain creation?
Jednorowicz knows the town's dining habits from years spent leading an expansion push as development officer for Potbelly Sandwich Works. That company went from a handful to more than 100 restaurants, two of them in the Twin Cities, during his time there.
He's looking for the next restaurant chain concept, and he may have found it with Meat Heads. But not so fast, he said.
"We haven't proven anything other than we can open the doors of a restaurant," he said.
Tom Jed said Meat Heads could develop, but that he's also willing - if customers show him he's wrong about the concept - to end it here. So far, it looks promising. It's too soon to look elsewhere and way too early to entertain franchise inquiries that Meat Heads already is receiving, Jednorowicz said.
Meat Heads Burgers & Fries
305 N. Veterans Parkway, Bloomington
(Part of The Shops at Veterans Parkway between Eastland Drive and Washington Street.)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Call-ahead orders and takeout available.
More on food
The burger is $4; it's $3 for the 'Lil Meat Head. If desired, add 50 cents for bacon and 50 cents for cheese. The signature sauces cost another half dollar and come on the burger or on the side. There is something expected, like bacon ranch, and surprising flavors, like cucumber wasabi. The others are barbecue, bleu cheese, honey mustard and horseradish dijon.
MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express. No checks.
Jednorowicz said a key to a place like Meat Heads is its location. The company picked a spot with a confluence of restaurants. Noodles & Company and Chipotle Mexican Grill are in the same strip. Potbelly is around the corner. Others are nearby.