Everyone in Minnesota, even Prince, knows that the king of all cheeseburgers is the Juicy Lucy. A large part of this has to do with how, as a food, it allows us to let go of our Great Northern Restraint, tapping into a time before polite society and manners. To the unfamiliar, eating one of these things can feel a lot like killing an animal with your mouth.
At their most basic, the burgers are delightfully simple things: take two ground beef patties and stuff cheese inside instead of melting it on top. Most menus come with all-caps warnings about the inherent dangers of this beast. Molten cheese gushes everywhere. Grease squirts ruin shirts. First date food it is not.
Though it sounds like the work of precocious cavemen, The 5-8 Club and Matt’s Bar both claim to have created the first Juicy Lucy. The battle for ownership is sort of like the Twin Cities’ Judgment of Solomon, for if you cut one in half, all its goodness would spill out, leaving each with nothing but half a boring, normal hamburger. So, rather than risk losing the cheesy baby entirely, both parties have seemingly agreed to bicker over ownership for the rest of eternity, for which we customers remain forever grateful.
In the meantime, Juicy Lucys have proliferated. Shit, there’s even a Juicy Lucy burger shop in New York City. But the Big Apple is out of its league compared to the quality of Juicy Lucys on display in the Twin Cities. But which cheese-stuffed burger is the best in Minneapolis and St. Paul? Here is the definitive ranking.
NOT RANKED. THE 5-8 CLUB
This will piss people off. Without its historic, er, beef with Matt’s Bar, this contender would’ve been forgotten long ago. The 5-8’s half-pound patty can be stuffed with your choice of cheese (American, Blue, Pepperjack, Swiss) which is a clear selling point for that picky-yet-unadventurous demographic, but the meat itself was overdone and flavorless. The cheese lacked the magmatic viscosity to cause proper damage. Even long loops of perfectly caramelized onions couldn’t save the feeling that this Juicy is riding the coattails of true greatness.
The Vincent Burger is an exercise in schizophrenia. Almost everything you need to know about it is embodied by the fact that the very same burger can be found at both a lauded dining establishment with white tablecloths and at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins. Listen, you can purchase this version for three different prices depending on the locale and time of day. Served on an eggy bun, the beef was so flavorful you almost wished you didn’t have teeth so you’d have an excuse to suck your way to the supremely rich prime rib/gouda-stuffed center. In contrast, the raw onion, chopped lettuce, and bland tomato let all the air out of the main act. The secret sauce got lost in the above conflict. Eating this felt like ending up on a date with someone who’s either tried way too hard to impress, or failed to hide their trust fund while slumming. 6. HELL’S KITCHEN
The Juicy Lucifer begins as a solid stab at the classic (gaping maw of grass-fed beef spilling forth with roiling American cheese, house-made bun toasted in enough butter for it to count as its own ingredient) and turns remarkable in a single element: a ramekin of Hell’s Kitchen’s own red pepper jelly. Not so piquant as to deter the faint of palate, this alone makes the burger, and sometimes that’s all it takes. 5. THE BAD WAITRESS
The sloppiest of the bunch is probably the least-known in the city, because it’s hidden within a neighborhood diner better known for its all-day breakfast offerings than a burger made from locally sourced beef stuffed with cheddar, gouda, cheddar-mozzarella, habanero peppers, onions and cilantro (Yes, all of that is inside the burger). A full accompaniment of lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, and a heap of homemade guacamole on top keeps the Volcano Burger from devolving into a napalm feast, while making it one of the freshest tasting burgers on this list. The gripes are few, but significant: at just shy of a foot tall, the thing is really difficult to wield, and it felt light on cheese for boasting three separate kinds. Still: would eat again in a heartburnbeat.
4. SMACK SHACK
The only thing wrong with the Lobster Lucy is that it respects none of the principles of a Juicy Lucy except in form:
1) Minneapolis is landlocked and this isn’t steak, so adding lobster on top is cheating.
2) It comes with a white cloth napkin.
3) It costs a twenty-spot after tax.
Those three sins aside, the Lobster Lucy is out-of-this-world delicious. Its Taleggio cheese, tarragon aioli, and caramelized onions perfectly complement the giant, fresh lumps of lobster and super flavorful beef. It’s just such a shame it couldn’t follow the rules.
3. THE NOOK
St. Paul’s The Nook has a small roster of dive-y Juicy Lucys that keeps things interesting while providing food that feels like it should be eaten in a bowling alley whose ceiling is decorated with dollar bills. All its offerings are aces, but the most flavorful is the Spanish Fly Chorizo Burger. For once, the meat itself outshines the rest of the ingredients, blending ground beef and chorizo in a flavorful twist that’s complimented perfectly by a gooey, mild queso center.
Go for the meat. Stay for the cheese. Wash it down with a pitcher of Premium. Now try not to barf on the bowling balls.2. MATT’S
Matt’s Jucy Lucy (spelled without the ‘i’) is undoubtedly the smallest of the batch, born of a time when martinis weren’t Gorgons either. Prepared for all to see behind the taps of a dive bar that hasn’t changed a bit since probably 1973 servers hand over the goods wrapped in enough white patty paper to be spread like a personal placemat to catch drippings. Matt’s doesn’t even mess with baskets, let alone plates. Its American cheese cascades forth with a volume and excitability rivaled by none. White as snow, the hockey puck-shaped buns only pretend to be toasted, if at all. Each patty’s perfect sear is brought to you by to the salt of a thousand Minnesota winters, and the grilled, minced onions are surely the work of elves. Topped off with a handful of sliced pickles, it is the perfect bar food, built from the most basic items in your drunk grandma’s cupboard. 1. THE BLUE DOOR PUB
Without a doubt, the Blue Door would not exist were it not for Matt’s exceptional classic. Are we talking apples and oranges here? Of course. But when on the quest for the perfect Juicy Lucy, no other establishment can hold a candle to the Blue Door. Their entire menu of stuffed burgers blazes a trail into a complex, flavorful future without abandoning the bar-food roots so central to the Juicy Lucy.
The most exemplary of all is the Merriam Park Blucy ($8.50), which straddles the line between classic Juicy and highbrow concoction. Its just-rank-enough bleu cheese, present-but-not-overpowering garlic, crispy-thick bacon, tart pickles and finishing sweet of red currant jelly rings all the flavor bells. Finally, living proof it’s possible to have it both ways: cheap and classy.
So maybe the Merriam Park Blucy’s ingredients aren’t your bag? One of the menu’s ten other Juicy Lucys will surely make you happy; otherwise you might not make it.