I DON'T WANT to get too far out of my league here. I haven't spent much time in the Midwest. When I think of Minnesota, Garrison Keillor comes to mind, and Kirby Puckett, and really big malls. I know there have been great cultural contributions—Fitzgerald, Dylan, the Coens—but as all those men struck out for the coasts and beyond, reinventing themselves in a Gatsby-like fashion, it's easier for me to associate the state with the Grumpy Old Men franchise.
I shouldn't have been surprised to learn that Minnesota is among the most literate states, and the healthiest. I'm told their arts scene is thriving. Still, I'm happy to see my Midwestern stereotypes confirmed on some front—innovation that's not watered down for our coastal-state sensibilities; an export that doesn't apologize for cholesterol levels or improper spelling.
The Jucy [sic] Lucy can best be described as an inside-out cheeseburger—two (relatively) thin beef patties are folded and pinched together to enclose a thick pocket of cheese. The origin (and spelling) of the burger has spurred something of a McCoy/Hatfield rivalry in South Minneapolis. Two bars claim to have invented it, and partisan lines have been drawn—an establishment flies its flag of loyalty based on the decision of whether or not to omit the "i" (Matt's Bar claims they invented the burger, then ran with a printer's error on the original sign; 5-8 Club stalwarts turn up their noses at Matt's claims and typos).
Lucy's Original is operating out of a 1986 Chevy Step-Van, glistening with chrome and parked, at least for now, in a lot on North Mississippi. The window is lined with bottles of Mexican Coke and small planters of watercress. If you were fortunate enough to eat at the now-defunct Little Red Bike Café, you might recognize proprietors Evan Dohrmann and Ali Jepson, and you'll likely know that whatever they're about to hand down is worth getting excited about.
The core of their offerings—literally and figuratively—of course, are those cheese-filled patties. Dohrmann grinds the beef himself. It's all hormone free, locally raised, veggie fed, and everything else we've come to expect from our best burger maestros. While many of the options include Matt's original ingredient—American cheese—some burgers are stuffed with cheddar or blue cheese instead. I probably don't need to describe to you how and why the combination of ground beef and cheese work together—if you eat said things, you know this; if you don't, you couldn't care less—but I will say that inverting the standard formula makes for a succulent patty. Scoff if you will—I know this isn't rocket science—but in a town full of great burger options, I still found myself talking with my mouth full to express my pleasant surprise.
Dohrmann and Jepson aren't content just to doll up the inside of their burgers—they pay attention to the details too. Fleur De Lis Bakery provides Lucy's with soft, light potato buns, which are toasted just enough that walking down the street while eating isn't an impossible mess. Little Branch Jam handles their pickles, sauces, and fantastic tomato confit.
The best and most interesting burger I've tried is the Pineapple Express ($8). It's stuffed with cheddar, topped with bacon and grilled pineapple, then dressed with Sriracha mayo and peanut sauce. The sweet pineapple plays perfectly with the spice in both dressings. It's truly something to behold.
The Dylan Thomas ($7) was interesting as well. The beef is cooked with Guinness, which gave the meat a hint of that rich, almost molasses flavor. It's also stuffed with cheddar, then topped with the aforementioned watercress and tomato confit. Along with more standard fare, they serve a burger with blue cheese, arugula, and apple butter, and another with green chiles, a fried egg, grilled onion, and a red chile aioli.
I wasn't being entirely truthful when I implied that Lucy's didn't hedge toward our left-coast demographic. There's something for the herbivores too. The Yacht Burger ($7, and named for the couple's favorite vegan band) is Dohrmann's own vegan patty, stuffed with Daiya cheese and topped with sprouts, parsnips, bell peppers, and a dairy-free special sauce.
I suppose I'll have to see more of the Midwest than the airports have to offer. If Lucy's replicates the quality of food and the kindness of people (sample dialogue: "Do you take cards?" "No, but if you don't have any cash, I can just write down your name and you can pay next time."), then maybe it's not as bad as the liberal media (read: the Portland Mercury) would have me believe.