If you consider a hamburger to be just a standard meat patty slapped between two halves of a somewhat stale bun, you probably haven’t been to Minnesota. They take their burgers quite seriously. Dinning out in this Mid-West state you will find burgers in almost every possible variation and style. But the single greatest innovation since the invention of the burger is; the cheese-stuffed masterpiece that is the Jucy Lucy.
The origin of this Minneapolis institution is ingeniously shrouded in debate. Two burger joints on Cedar Avenue in South Minneapolis have been locked in an eternal struggle, both claiming to be the inventors of this protein packed gem. Matt’s bar makes the best claim in a 1998 City Pages article, where Cheryl Bristol, daughter of the bars founder and namesake Matt Bristol, told the story of the day in 1954, when a regular patron requested the cook put two hamburger patties together with a lump of American cheese in the middle. When the customer bit into the charred patty, he was heard exclaim; “That’s one juicy Lucy”.
The reason for the ambiguous spelling is because when Matt’s had the original signs done, they came back with the obvious error. Nevertheless, they ran with it anyway. 23 blocks south however, the 5-8 Club also calls itself the home of the Juicy Lucy. The owner claims that because their Lucy is truly juicy, they spell it correctly. Now because I’ve only ever been to Matt’s, I feel the need to use their flawed version of the name, intending no offence to the 5-8 fans.
My visit to Matt’s was influenced by a group of locals that had unmistakably made their decision on the original house of Lucy. And to be honest, I was far from disappointed. The retro frontage was reflected in the gold tiles covering the interior walls, the dark stained wood bar stretching down the right side, and the brown vinyl booths lining the left. A dive bar is the best portrayal I can award this dingy burger joint. And honestly, it’s exactly what I was looking for. Clearly, it was also what the majority of south Minneapolis was looking for on a late Saturday afternoon as we jammed in next to the old wooden jukebox hungrily anticipating the evacuation of a booth we could claim as our own. This gave me great view of the three-by-four-foot grill jammed in behind the bar where all the magic happens.
As for Lucy herself; she was just as she should be. The bun was soft and fluffy and the patty had a gorgeous char that caramelised the meat to the perfect texture and flavour. I went for the no onions option but that was a personal choice. And then there was the cheese; the pièce de résistance. It was like a golden volcano of gooey oily goodness. The addition of the big red basket of fries was the perfect accompaniment to soak up any unruly cheese.
Take it from a girl from Down-Under, where hamburgers come from fish and chips shops or multi-national fast food outlets, the Jucy Lucy makes a Big Mac taste like a big mess.
So wherever you decide to get to know Lucy, I suggest you heed the warning from staff before you bite to quickly to avoid the pain of scalding hot, liquid gold.