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Review: Junction 

Sampling a St. Claude Avenue option for beers, burgers and frozen Irish coffee

click to enlarge The Kansas City Southern burger is topped with barbecue sauce.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

The Kansas City Southern burger is topped with barbecue sauce.

Junction, a beer and burger spot that opened last winter in Bywater, sits steps away from the train tracks along Press Street, a subtle link to the restaurant's underlying railroad theme. Sleek lines, an art deco bar and wooden booths line the walls of the narrow space, giving the feel of being inside a railroad car. The burgers are named after the American railways and tracks that cross the country.

  In a prelude pop-up incarnation, the burgers were offered out of the kitchen at Molly's at the Market, which was meant to be a trial before Lloyd Miller and Jim and Alana Monaghan of Molly's and 13 Monaghan opened the restaurant. But Junction never really became a restaurant; it is first and foremost a bar — and has an impressive selection of craft beers on tap.

  The pub fare menu features a small selection of amped-up burgers, fries and wings. Service is friendly, but Junction is often short-staffed. On a recent visit, there was a lone bartender tending to bar customers and patrons in the dining area, which made for spotty experience. That can be forgotten easily once food arrives, although there are some lapses in its consistency.

  The bar menu states that burgers will be delivered medium unless diners specify otherwise, but on a recent visit three burgers arrived in varying states of doneness, ranging from medium rare to a light pink medium to a very well-done, slightly tough version. Burgers cooked medium rare or medium deliver: The caramelized char on the outside gives way to 6 ounces of juicy, lean meat that asks for little more than a thin slice of cheese and a bun.

  The bar's railroad theme takes geographic hops across the map, nodding to the flavors and cooking styles of the American Midwest, Northeast and South, among others. Creative toppings and rubs dress the grass-fed beef burgers, which are served on sweet brioche rolls from Dong Phuong Bakery.

  The New Mexico Rail Runner packs the heat and flavors of the Southwest: Roasted green chilies crown a thick patty topped with cheddar cheese and a searing aioli that leaves your lips tingling.

  The Central Vermont pushes the sweet-and-savory envelope and succeeds. Topped with oozing white cheddar, a thick slice of charred apple and applewood-smoked bacon, the medley is coated in thick, syrupy maple crema, giving the burger a breakfast-like appeal.

  One of the heartiest and best options, the Kansas City Southern, is inspired by the molasses-heavy smoked meats representative of the Midwestern city. A brown sugar and cayenne rub lends sweet, soft heat to the burger, which is topped with thick slices of cheddar, tender onions rendered sweet and soft on the griddle, sauteed mushrooms and thick, dark barbecue sauce.

  The black bean burger offers vegetarians a respite from the otherwise beef-centric menu and is topped with Monterey Jack cheese, avocado, sprouts and bright house-made salsa.

  A couple of salads, wings and a fried vegetable basket round out the menu, but the fried pickles kick it up a notch and should not be missed. The deliciously salty orbs are heavily battered in cornmeal, fried crisp and served with cool dill tartar sauce. Fries also meet the mark and are of the hand-cut variety: Skins intact, the thick sticks are fried dark brown and salted judiciously.

  The burgers are big enough to soak up the majority of an evening's alcohol intake, including any one of the bar's 40 craft beers on tap, the varieties of which are organized by geographic origin and include several excellent pale ales from the Northwest.

  Dessert is noticeably an afterthought, and the menu includes only one item: lemon cake topped with whipped cream and spiced pecans. It's better to cap the meal with a frozen Irish coffee, the French Quarter favorite colloquially known as an Irish daiquiri and a staple at the other Monaghan bars. Creamy, boozy — like an alcoholic milkshake — the potent slushy is a good reason to cross the tracks.

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