I’d heard many things about the famous Juicy Lucy, from friends, articles and even a blurb on the Food Network but had never tasted one myself. And I love burgers, so it was somewhat embarrassing to admit I’d never had the Juicy Lucy. There are several places that sell the Juicy Lucy in the Minneapolis area: Adrian’s Tavern, The Blue Door Club and The 5-8 Club to name a few but the original Juicy Lucy was invented at Matt’s Bar on Cedar Avenue in South Minneapolis.
If you’ve never heard of a Juicy Lucy the concept is simple: instead of putting the cheese on top of the patty, it’s on the inside. Like stuffed crust on a pizza when you bite into a Juicy Lucy the melted cheese oozes out from the inside and runs all over your hands and drips down to the table as little cream-colored raindrops. For lovers of greasy bar food, the Juicy Lucy hits the mark. What can be better than slurping hot melted American cheese while chomping on an oily, charred burger straight off the grill?
So since I’d never tasted a Juicy Lucy I decided to start at the original source and hits Matt’s Bar to experience how it all started. One of the best things about Matt’s Bar is that it is a total dive. It oozes with atmosphere: from the dark lighting to the cramped space between tables to the blue collar clientele and the single busy waitress racing back and forth with baskets of Juicy Lucy burgers and fries, any worldwide bar-dweller should feel at home.
They don’t accept credit cards so be sure to bring some cash or expect to pay the fee at the local ATM. And the bathrooms in the basement resemble something from a New York City subway so I’d recommend holding it until you get home.
If you’re going to Matt’s expecting a valet to take your car and a hostess to walk you to your table before a team of waiters place cloth napkins across your laps and display their fancy dessert tray then you are in the wrong place. Matt is a barebones burger shop that specializes in grease and beer. You go there to gorge yourself and fill your belly, not for the fancy service.
But this is a popular joint. By 5:30 there was a line of people out the door waiting for tables while quietly sipping draft beer from glasses. Matt’s serves three sizes of draft beer so if you only want a taste you can get a 9 oz. glass for about $2.
Once you get a table the service is pretty quick and they serve your meals sans plate – just a burger wrapped in paper. If you ordered fries you’ll get those in a basket but that’s it. Your paper becomes both plate and placemat and the waitress will warn you to let your burger cool a bit before tearing it apart. The cheese inside is molting hot and will burn your tongue if you attack it too quickly!
The first taste of the Juicy Lucy is bliss – more because I was finally experiencing the hype and not so much because of superior taste. As a burger, the Lucy Juicy is above average but not spectacular. I’d had far better burgers at Red Stone and the Lion’s Tap. The appeal of the Juicy Lucy is the novelty of cheese pouring out from the inside. Don’t get me wrong, I recommend Matt’s and the burger is worth the $4.95 you’ll pay but don’t set expectations too high. It’s not a gourmet burger but the dive bar grease patty it was meant to be. In that sense, the Juicy Lucy succeeds.
The biggest complaint is the fries. They were nearly tasteless, quite heavy on the starch and bordering on the soggy. McDonald’s and Wendy’s fries crush the fries from Matt’s. You would expect a place that is renowned for its burgers to showcase an order of fries that would compliment their famous fare but this is the fatal flaw of Matt’s Juicy Lucy experience. You just can’t have a great burger without great fries. It’s like a Rocky movie without Apollo Creed – it just doesn’t work.
My wife also pointed out that the Juicy Lucy is served with standard American cheese but it would have tasted better with cheddar. I must agree. The cheese inside was runny and didn’t stretch apart for miles like your extra cheese pizza. A minor complaint but a worthy one.
In the end you’re probably going to go home happy with a full stomach. You might even be lucky enough to experience a brief “grease buzz,” a dizzying, disorienting and blissful head rush caused by a toxic injection of fat and cholesterol. Worry not, for the euphoria will soon pass…