This week, I wound up embroiled in a stuffed-burger controversy. Embroiled. As in broiled, a method of cooking. See what I did there?
Anyway, two establishments in the same southern section of Minneapolis – Matt’s Bar and 5-8 Club – both claim to have invented the Juicy Lucy or the Jucy Lucy, a hamburger with cheese on the inside. Notice the difference in spelling? That’s right – they can’t even agree on that. (Apparently, they’ve made up trash-talking shirts, too, their passive-aggressive, fashion-forward way of extending the battle.) They’re like the Hatfields and McCoys of ground beef.
Oddly, I’d never tried either version in any of my maybe 100 trips to the Twin Cities. That drought ended Monday with a trip to Matt’s. Why Matt’s? Because my buddy used to live in that neighborhood and he suggested it. Simple as that. The rub is that some other friends went the opposite direction the day before, hitting up 5-8.
It was good, they said, good enough to order again, but not good enough to go out of your way to do so. I was armed with this information when I entered Matt’s, which looks and smells like every bar and grill in Green Bay, Wis., circa 1962. At least, that’s what I imagine how Titletown looked during the Vince Lombardi era. Wood paneling. Gaudy duck decorations. Neon PBR signs under dim lighting. Flat-screen TVs. OK, so maybe not that last one, but you get the purposely outdated picture. (Related note: What a racket it is to run a dive bar – you never have to update the decor. In fact, it’s frowned upon. Genius.)
There are also many, many burger awards – excellence in meat – hanging on the walls. (Way better than any diploma, by the way.)
So let’s get down to it: The Jucy Lucy was … good. Maybe even very good. But not life-changing or transcendent. Plan white bun. Pickles. Ketchup. And hamburger filled with scorching hot cheese. To me, that was more amazing than the flavor.
What kind of cheese turns so liquid when melted? There wasn’t a hint of clumping or burning. And how does it stay contained in the meat without dripping out prematurely? Yes, in my weird opinion, the Jucy Lucy is a miracle of physics more than a culinary wonder.
Maybe I chose the wrong restaurant – perhaps 5-8 Club really is superior in the way it wraps meat around (assorted) cheese(s). But people swear by them both, meaning it’s just as likely that the rival joints are essentially the same, the burger battle a draw.
Two days later I was in Athens, Ga., a spectacular college town (more on that next week) that also boasts a locally acclaimed stuffer-burger joint.
The point: The more cheese-injected, grilled meat the better. Let’s raise our burgers in a toast to Matt’s AND 5-8 Club. You came up with a delicious idea at roughly the same time (it’s not like you cured cancer) and we’re all better (if closer to dying) for it. Well done, er, medium well.