Matt’s Bar vs. The 5-8 Club: “Two households, alike in dignity”

Matt's vs. 5-8 header

Matt’s Bar (l), the 5-8 Club (r)

After my whirlwind trip to New York, the best way to come home and kick off the 2016 season (season? sure) of Burger Fetish is with the biggest Minneapolis burger question of them all.

There’s no Minneapolis food item more iconic than the Juicy Lucy*, and no greater rivalry than that between Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club. Both bars claim invention of the cheese-stuffed burger, but every Minneapolite has an opinion on which Lucy is best. Luckily, I am a Minneapolite, full of both opinions and, at the moment, a lot of beef and cheese.

I’ve never actually been to the 5-8 Club, having accepted on hearsay that Matt’s Jucy Lucy was the better. I recruited my favorite native Southsider, Kyle, to join me, partly because he’s the only person I know who prefers the 5-8 Lucy, partly because he loves burgers enough to go eat two of them with me, and partly because he’s one of my best buds in the whole wide world. AWWWWWWW. Shut up.

According to legend, soon after Matt’s Bar opened in 1954, a customer asked proprietor Matt Bristol to make two patties with cheese in the middle, causing him to declare, “that’s one juicy lucy!” and a sensation was born. The 5-8 Club opened in 1928 as a speakeasy and went legit following the repeal of prohibition. Originally called the 58th St. Club, patrons began referring to it as the 5-8 and eventually the name stuck. It has no cute origin story for its Juicy Lucy, but say they invented it “in the 1950’s,” which sounds dubious, but I’m not here to quibble on undocumented history.

5-8 Club cross sectionAt the 5-8, you can get your Lucy stuffed with American, blue, Swiss, or pepperjack. I, obviously, went American. I misunderstood the server’s question and ordered mine without fried onions, which I’ll admit is a misstep, especially when it comes to a fair comparison. Otherwise, the only topping was pickles on a notably less-than-squishy bun. The patty arrived relatively medium-well, still pretty juicy with basically no sear, but well-seasoned. This leads me to believe they don’t keep their griddle cranked the fuck up like most burger joints. Lucys are traditionally cooked through to ensure the cheese melts thoroughly, and keeping the griddle at a more moderate temperature makes sure the meat doesn’t dry out, which I respect, but as I learned in New York at Whitman’s, this isn’t actually necessary. They stuff an incredible stack of three slices of cheese between two quarter-pound patties, and it came out looking like a beef patty that got pregnant. The solid quantity delivers an awesome mouthful of meat and a grip of cheese in every bite. They season their grill daily with bacon and onions, and despite my embarrassing omission, there was a definite subtle oniony taste to it reminiscent of a White Mana slider. I squirted some ketchup on the side for strategically acrobatic–so as not to spill that precious cheese–dipping, and I was pretty damn impressed with what I’d heard was the lesser Lucy.

Then on to Matt’s.

First of all, vibe-wise, Matt’s was on point. It’s a total dive, as opposed to the 5-8’s updated family restaurant, near-Applebees feel. Everything from the music to the attitude of the servers just screamed we-care-but-only-barely. You walk in and know where you are, and I frankly felt at home. I’m a dive bar dude.

Matt's cross section

The Jucy Lucy, on the other hand, could use some work. They pride themselves on having a griddle seasoned with over 60 years of Lucys and onions, but it mostly gave it an overcharred taste with added bitter notes of burgers past. The onions completely overwhelm the patty, which is not something I typically frown upon, but it was too much. And the pickles were weirdly overpowering. Not so much sour, they were over-seasoned, and they had way too much influence on the overall taste of the burger so I took them off, which is an enormous deal for a pickle fiend like me. Most egregiously, Matt’s puts a single slice of cheese between two 3oz. patties, which is not an awesome amount of cheese to have with six ounces of meat. The sear was wonderful, and the patty was seasoned respectably, the bun perfectly squished itself to the meat, but it plainly just wanted more cheese. I could respect the ratio if the meat was better and cooked less well, but for fairly standard well-done beef, you need to get fucked in the face with cheese.

In the end the 5-8 Juicy Lucy wins for me, on the basis of cheese. If you’re literally putting cheese at the heart of your burger, it needs to be amazing, and Matt’s American turns to a hot cheese grease that mostly just burns your mouth. The 5-8’s cheese-beef ratio has too much cheese, which is actually just enough, and it stays gooey and flavorful.

Again, I don’t do rankings and I don’t do ratings, but the next time someone asks which Juicy Lucy is better, I’ll tell them the 5-8. Then I’ll send them to the Blue Door for what I consider the best Juicy Lucy in town. Both bars stick to  methods that might have been novel in the 1950’s, and good on them for keeping people interested for 60 years, but burgers have gotten better since then. The rivalry will never go away, die-hard adherents will maintain their allegiances, but I’m honored to add fuel to this ongoing fire.


*A word on spelling, because it matters. The 5-8 Club calls it a “Juicy Lucy”. Due to a spelling error they decided to run with, Matt’s calls it a “Jucy Lucy.” Because writer [sic], I consider “Juicy Lucy” to be the “correct” spelling of the category of cheese-stuffed burgers, but a restaurant can name their burger anything they want; at the Nook, it’s a “Juicy Nookie”, and at the Blue Door it’s a “Blucy“. I will use appropriate spelling when discussing each bar, but use “Juicy Lucy” in reference to all cheese-stuffed burgers, without specific allegiance to either Juicy Lucy**.

**See what I did there?

 

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The Vincent Burger at Vincent: “Adieu, Adieu to you and you and you”

Vincent Burger

2015 marks the “death of fine dining” in the Twin Cities, following the closing of two of its classic gems, La Belle Vie and Vincent. Culinary excellence has surpassed the elegance of white tablecloths and jacket-required dress codes. Our high-end dining options are just more accessible. I’m obviously a burger dude, but I love a fancy-schmancy meal, and when La Belle Vie closed, I got sad even though I’d never been there, but rather because now I never would. So when Vincent announced its imminent closure at the end of the year, I vowed to put its legendary burger on Burger Fetish in memoriam.

But first I had to eat one, so I got the crew together, and freaked them out when I told them where we were going. We eyed the dining room through the windows wondering how much we’d stand out, then walked in and got a booth in the still-classy-but-not-so-stuffy bar area. It was their late night happy hour and we ordered a few extremely reasonably priced drinks, shared an order of poutine, and got a round of Vincent Burgers.

Chef Vincent Francoual moved to Minnesota from New York–where he spent time at four-star fine dining French restaurants Le Bernadin and Lespinasse–in 1997, but hails originally from France where he began his culinary career at age 15. In 2001 he opened Vincent A Restaurant on Nicollet Mall in Downtown Minneapolis, which was well-received off the bat. But in 2009 he introduced a burger that paid homage to both Daniel Boulud’s uber-decadent db Burger and Minneapolis’ own Juicy Lucy.

Vincent Burger cross sectionAt first glance, you’ve got a fairly standard California-style: lettuce, tomato, and raw onion with a special sauce that a finger-swipe confirms is actually a pretty standard special sauce: ketchup, mayo, pickles. The burger is grilled–with a very elegant quarter-turn crosshatched grill marks–which as we all know dries out the meat a bit but delivers a really excellent flame-licked taste, served on an eggy squishy also-grilled bun. But the star of the show is hidden from view. It’s stuffed with smoked gouda and braised short ribs, and it’s delicious. The short ribs are barely-holding-together tender and full of amazing flavor, and the gouda is just delightful and rich and goes toe-to-toe with the short rib. The California toppings and special sauce give it an air of familiarity, but the stuffing really drives the point home that you’re eating something special.

Following Vincent’s closure, chef Francoual will be moving on to a position as Cara Irish Pubs‘ Culinary Director. Luckily for us, they’re bringing the Vincent Burger to all of the locations, but before it becomes an Irish pub staple, I’m just gonna insist you get one at its original home while you still can. You’ve got two weeks from my publication date until Vincent closes, folks. Go on happy hour when the burger’s only $8. Go bid farewell to Twin Cities fine dining by eating the lowest-brow thing on the menu. But go and fucking love it for being damn tasty.

Ahem. Announcement time.

No post next week because I’m heading to New York City! I’m joining my family to celebrate Christmas, and I’m using it as an excuse to take a week off of work to eat as much as I can, but it somehow feels like it still won’t be enough. It would behoove you to follow me on the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr because I’ll be eating an unhealthy amount of burgers at as many damn places as I can, chronicling my travels on the various social medias. Of course, I’ll be giving a full round-up right here on the Burger Fetish main event, but that’ll be the next entry in about two weeks. ‘Til then, you can all drool over pictures from the road.

The Cease and Desist & The Blucy at Blue Door Pub: a Hooker with a Heart of Gold

Blue Door Cease & DesistHands down, the coolest fucking thing in Minneapolis* is the Midtown Greenway, a bike trail on an old train route spanning the entire city that I can take all the way from my place in the Whittier neighborhood to the Mississippi River in less than half an hour. Then, it’s just a quick ride across the bridge to St. Paul, a suburb of Minneapolis.

Calm down, everyone, I’m kidding. Jeez.

I used to live in St. Paul, I love St. Paul, and I don’t get back there nearly enough. I don’t have a car, I live and work in Minneapolis, and I’m usually tired when I’m not working. If nothing else, Burger Fetish is going to bring me across the river to eat some fucking St. Paul burgers, starting with that one, up there.

Madeleine was in St. Paul and I took the magical Greenway to meet her at the Blue Door Pub in the Merriam Park neighborhood. They opened in 2008 in the old location of shuttered Puerto Rican restaurant Puerta Azul and named it in translated homage to its former occupant, slinging sexied-up pub grub. Apps are all fried everything: ten flavors of wings, battered green beans, cheese curds, zucchini fries, a variety of loaded tater tots, and muhfuggin Spam bites — spam, pickles, and cream cheese breaded in a panko & potato chip crust. And — oh! — burgers. And — oh my! — lots of burgers.

I’ll reserve the disputed history and proper spelling of the Juicy Lucy for a future post, but the crucial information is this: the cheese is on the inside of the patty. Construction involves making two very thin patties, sandwiching a piece of cheese between them, and pinching the edges shut. You griddle this epiphany, cooking the meat and melting the cheese, serving the masterpiece on a bun with your choice of hopefully corresponding toppings and sauces, and put the cardiologist on speed dial.

The Blue Door’s contribution to the Juicy Lucy conversation is the Blucy, of which they have 11 varieties on the menu, and a rotating special, ranging from basic (the Classic: a patty stuffed with white American cheese) to the not-fucking-around (the Bangkok Blucy: a patty stuffed with coconut-soaked mozzarella topped with pickled ginger served with a side of curry sauce). After my recent case of the blah-blahs, I needed an ooey-gooey cheeseburger with a capital CHEESE, and Blue Door knew exactly how to hit that spot: the Cease and Desist.

They take a patty stuffed with White American and diced pickles, then they top it with standard yellow American and grilled onions, shredded iceberg lettuce, and “‘Merican sauce”. Let’s not split hairs: they’re going for the flavor profile of a Big Mac here, and they kill it. Our burgers came flying out of the kitchen bafflingly fast, but upon further inspection the speed was consistent with quality of the patty. They must be using a hell-hot griddle to cook the patties for a couple minutes a side, achieving a crusty sear without making the molten cheese tongue-murdering lava-like. The American on top was a great mix-up to the mouthfeel, giving cheesiness on cheesiness enveloping the patty in the traditional sense while the stuffed cheese is good and melty in a way that stays creamy and oozy and, hell, cheesy. The pickles added acidity, and worked remarkably well with the molten cheese inside the patty, not skimping on heating them up in the usual fashion by putting them on top of the meat for residual heat. ‘Merican sauce was what you’d expect: some combo of mayo and ketchup for tangy sauciness. Add lettuce for crunch, onions for sweetness, and I loved it so much that I got another.

What? I was hungry, and we didn’t get any of the aforementioned apps. I got some hand-cut fries with my first burger, which were okay. Kinda chewy, not so much crispy, a tad overseasoned — I typically complain the reverse, but it happens — but nothing to write home about. And when Madeleine didn’t get her own fries, I should have guessed she’d eat half of them. Plus, I don’t know when I’m going back here, so fuck it: two burgers, punks!

My stupid phone died, so Madeleine came to the rescue and took this picture with her phone.

For round two, I got the eponymous Blucy, a straight-up patty stuffed with blue cheese and garlic on a bun, no toppings. Blue cheese pairs stupid-great with beef, and of course garlic goes great with everything. I put a little ketchup on the side for dipping. This time, the methodology revealed itself. The cheese was oozing out of the cracked patty, confirming my suspicion the grill must be hot as fuck, which can work great, but once seared, expansion and contraction continue, and the crust can strain. I wasn’t mad, though; It was well-seasoned and Lucys start falling apart at first bite anyhow. I really only brought it up to show how smart I am.

So, two stuffed burgers that I dug the shit out of, and a bunch more on the menu means I’ll definitely be back. They opened a second location in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood (whew!) in 2013, offering a few burgers exclusive to each location, which means even more burgers to eat without having to cross the river into Shelbyville.

I’m just kidding again, St. Paulians. Get over yourselves.

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*I reserve my right to hyperbole. Also, please note that I consider the “coolest fucking thing” in Minneapolis an easy way to bike to St. Paul.