While Minnesota has a lot of unique spins on traditional American food, the Twin Cities is perhaps best known for the creation of the “Juicy Lucy,” a thick half-pound of beef stuffed with cheese and wedged in a bun. The burger is usually just those three ingredients: meat, cheese and bun. It is possible to add traditional condiments to the burger, such as pickles, onions or even a fried egg, but seldom is a sauce put on the burger. The point of the Juicy Lucy is to appreciate the combination of the cheap American cheese, the good quality meat, and the freshly toasted buns.
There are two bars that claim to have invented the Juicy Lucy – Matt’s Bar and Grill and the 5-8 Club, both conveniently located on Cedar Ave. in Minneapolis. I am more inclined to believe that Matt’s Bar and Grill invented the “Lucy” due to the fact that they have an origin story and the 5-8 Club does not. However, I will not focus on the origins and instead leave this quest for a history major.
Over my four years at Macalester, I have tried to eat at all of the major Juicy Lucy locations, which include the 5-8 Club and Matt’s Bar and Grill, located in Minneapolis, as well as the Nook and Blue Door Pub, both located in St. Paul. Since its birth, the Juicy Lucy has been a Twin Cities staple, available throughout the metropolitan area, and even internationally recognized. But which city does it better? Ultimately, who makes the best Juicy Lucy?
I’m going to start off the reviews with Matt’s Bar and Grill. From the outside, Matt’s looks like a gritty old bar, with a Budweiser sign hanging over the door and a neon flashing Coors Light sign shining out the window. However, the moment you open the door, the ambiance abruptly shifts. As soon as one enters the restaurant they find themself at the end of a long and busy line that goes right to the exit, and every time someone opens the door, without fail, the chef screams “shut the door!” Inside, Matt’s is surrounded by gaudy yellow wallpaper, fortunately covered up with family photos, awards, t-shirts and more. As for the burger itself, I was happy with it, but I don’t think it was the best. The meat was of incredible quality (I assume freshly ground), but the cheese was not as gooey and abundant as I’ve experienced with other Juicy Lucys. After waiting in line, waiting a while for the burger, and then waiting for the cheese to cool down before biting into the Juicy Lucy, the burger didn’t quite meet the hype. Ultimately, the restaurant was memorable for the experience, not the food. From the cushion chairs to the old cash registers, it seemed like not much had changed since it opened in 1956.
When you look up what the best Juicy Lucy in town is, the Blue Door Pub will undoubtedly show up. It has been on television shows such as Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” and has multiple locations throughout the Twin Cities. While Blue Door Pub does not claim to have invented the Juicy Lucy (the restaurant opened in 2008), they claim to have created the “Blucy.” The Blucy is a standard Juicy Lucy mixed with garlic and garnished with pickles. But what makes it special is the incorporation of bleu cheese rather than blocks of cheddar or American cheese. The restaurant claims that the Blucy “has served as a catalyst to bring other like-minded burger aficionados together.” Unlike some of the other Juicy Lucy restaurants, I appreciate the fact that Blue Door incorporates “fanicier” cheeses into their burgers, such as bleu cheese, muenster cheese and ghost pepper cheese.
I also admire the fact that Blue Door has a good variety of beer, wings and appetizers. The appetizers include spins on Minnesota classics such as “totchos” (tater tot nachos), flaming-hot cheese curds and deep-fried green beans. For the burger itself, I have tried almost all of the possible combinations (thanks to my adventurous and generous friends), and I am thoroughly unimpressed. The restaurant is fun to be in, with a dark but comforting ambiance, but the burger does not reflect those qualities. Although the restaurant prides itself on using fresh-ground Angus beef patties, I find the beef too dry, and the cheese isn’t “juicy” enough to balance out that dryness. The restaurant gets international attention, and it’s in Macalester’s backyard, but I don’t think it qualifies as the top Juicy Lucy.
Next comes the Nook. Every time I’ve walked in, the host is straightforward; they don’t try to be funny, or happy, or welcoming. Even though it might be a little too direct for a lot of people, it’s part of the charm that makes me enjoy the Nook so much — they don’t mess around. On the top floor, there is a juke box surrounded by some green cushion booths, but the real fun is downstairs. Once you go down a narrow staircase, you are welcomed by the sound of crashing bowling pins, and for just one second, you forget about eating a Juicy Lucy and are intrigued to drink a beer and go bowling. However, once you remind yourself why you’re at the Nook, you enter the bottom half of the restaurant, past the bowling alleys, and see every single inch of the restaurant covered with one-dollar bills. I already want to tip them, and this is before I have even eaten.
In my opinion, the Nook holds the title for the best Juicy Lucy. First of all, they offer two of my favorite burger condiments: caramelized onions and a fried egg. The meat has the perfect amount of juiciness, but what really takes the cake is the cheese. While Guy Fieri visited Blue Door, every time I go to the Nook I recreate Fieri’s reaction, which is simply shock. You take your first bite, cheese oozes out of the meat (notably much more than the others) and stays warm enough for you to dip your burger or fries back into the cheese. By the end of your dining experience, the whole plate will be licked clean because you just can’t get enough.
Finally I visited the 5-8 Club, a South Minneapolis joint that also claims to have discovered Lucy. Nestled in a bird’s nest of entrance and exit ramps at the intersection of Cedar Avenue and Highway 62, the restaurant was founded in 1928 as a speakeasy. It predates most of the roads, businesses and houses that surround it. Its irregular stone exterior and outdated maroon awning boldly reflect the club’s desire to reject any trend that came after the Nixon presidency. Inside, the decor is a potpourri of ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s decor. Mickey Mantle, Elvis, John Wayne, and a variety of muscle cars and hot rods watched over our worn, wooden booth. The clientele spanned a wide age range, perhaps reflecting our 3:00 p.m. arrival – early enough for the young to eat lunch, late enough for the old to eat dinner.
The 5-8 Club’s Lucy came with fries in a basket lined with the green checkerboard tissue paper (identical to The Nook). The first bite was generally unremarkable, as it often is with Juicy Lucys. However, as I took my second bite, American “cheese” oozed out of the Lucy right on cue. Pickle slices provided a bit of sweetness, without the sogginess of lettuce, and seasoned the burger nicely alongside the requisite fried onions. The bun retained its integrity well, and every ingredient stayed perfectly balanced throughout the experience. It had considerably less cheese than the Lucy at The Nook, but the burger managed to provide just enough in each bite. The fries were thin and crispy, similar in appearance and texture to those at McDonald’s. They were tasty but bowed humbly and appropriately in the presence of the Juicy Lucy. I can’t say that the experience blew me away – it did not – but that wasn’t the goal. It achieved a bizarre nostalgia for a variety of time periods in which I’ve never lived, and sent me home feeling full and satisfied.
Overall, there are a lot of Juicy Lucys in the Twin Cities, and it’s truly hard to choose the best Juicy Lucy. This adventure has had many obstacles. I am aware that I couldn’t review all of the restaurants. I also know many Macalester students will be irritated that I did not include our beloved Groveland Tap in this article. In addition, I am aware of the popularity Blue Door Pub holds among Macalester students, but I stand by what I say. Even though I live just blocks away from that establishment, at the end of the day, I’d rather walk in the cold for a mile and a half to get a hot Juicy Lucy, a cold beer, and go bowling at the Nook.
The search for the best Juicy Lucy is ongoing, and I am willing to increase my cholesterol to find the juiciest of the Lucys. What is your favorite Juicy Lucy in the Twin Cities? What are your opinions on my review? Please email me and I am happy to answer any questions.
Matt’s Bar and Grill – 3.5/5 Blue Door Pub – 3/5 The Nook – 4.5/5 5-8 Club – 4/5