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The Great Jucy Lucy Hunt

Jul 14, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The first thing I planned to do once I got into town and set my suitcase down on Saturday evening was to go get a Jucy Lucy. What is a Jucy Lucy, you ask? It’s a cheeseburger that has the cheese inside the meat patty in addition to on top. It’s a thing here in the Twin Cities.

A couple of places lay claim to inventing it, but my survey of locals told me that I needed to get it either at Matt’s Bar in South Minneapolis or The Blue Door Pub in St. Paul. I was closer to Matt’s so I decided to go there. Oh, and the reason I’m spelling it “Jucy” is because that’s how Matt’s spells it. I don’t know why. I just go with it and try not to insert myself into local politics as much as possible.

Getting my Jucy Lucy was a process. It started by me getting into the elevator in my hotel and encountering my friend Keith Law, of ESPN. If you know Keith you know that his passion for and knowledge of fine cuisine is just as great as it is of and for baseball. I have dined with Keith before and his judgment has never steered me wrong, so I was more than a little unsettled when our conversation went like this:

Me: Hey, Keith. Good to see you!

Keith: Good to see you too!

Me: Where are you headed?

Keith: To a restaurant called Saffron to meet some friends. How about you?

Me: To Matt’s Bar to get one of those Jucy Lucys.

Keith: [a beat or two of silence] . . . Those sound absolutely disgusting. Oh well, if you survive, let’s meet up tomorrow!

All I can say is (a) I am still alive; and (b) I didn’t see Keith anywhere yesterday, so maybe he was killed by the Sautéed Parisian Gnocchi with spring vegetables, soft herbs and black truffle-taleggio cheese fondue at Saffron. Maybe he shoulda gotten one of those cheese-stuffed burgers? Just a thought.

A short cab ride got me to Matt’s, which looked like this at 7PM on Saturday night:


Those heads on the bottom were part of a long, long line out the door. A long, long line that did not budge for a good while. As I waited for it to move, a Twitter correspondent told me that, if I didn’t feel like waiting, I should walk about a mile to the southeast and go to Northbound Smokehouse and Brewpub instead. That sounded like a capital plan, so I did. I’m glad I did!

Northbound has some fantastic beer, one of which is called the Ground Rule Double IPA. Since it had a baseball name I decided that NBC was paying for it. And I decided to have two. Research, you see. As I sipped my beer, two “small world” incidents occurred in the space of ten minutes.

First, a woman with whom I struck up a conversation said “Oh, you write about baseball? I used to know a guy here in town years and years ago — sorta dated him for a while — who I think writes about baseball. A blogger maybe?” I was prepared for her to say “Aaron Gleeman,” but then I realized that “years and years ago” for a woman her age would’ve put Gleeman in Zubaz and Timberwolves jerseys in the fourth grade, so it couldn’t have been him. But she then said “Bonnes. John Bonnes.” Some of you may know John as “Twins Geek” from Twins Daily, and the podcast partner of Aaron’s on his “Gleeman and the Geek” podcast. Second person I talked to in town knows one of the two Twins bloggers I’ve ever met.

The second small world incident was more of a quirky thing. The bartender took my credit card and said “Craig Calcaterra? Weird. That was the name of my math professor at Metro State.” I know who this is, actually, as he is around my age, got his math PhD at about the same time I was coming out of law school and, because the Internet was new for most of us back in the mid 90s, he and I found each other while ego-surfing, thought it was quite funny and decided that, given our extremely different careers and skill sets, we were opposite poles of the quite small Craig Calcaterra Karass existing in the universe. I’ve never met him, but we used to do things like comment on each other’s websites and friend each other on Facebook in order to confuse people. Make fun of us if you must, but do appreciate that two Craig Calcaterras finding one another in the universe is somewhat less likely than a couple of John Smiths running into one another.

At that point my two ground rule doubles and the coincidences made it feel like the walls were going to fall in on me, so I booked it back to Matt’s. This time the line was not long and I got what I came for:


Oh, baby. If you ever get one, though, heed the server’s warning about it being very hot. That cheese is molten and it’ll melt your face off, bro.

I washed it down with “The Ringer” from Fulton Beer. I guess I could’ve stretched it into a baseball thing and saying that it was somehow related to Fulton County Stadium, but eh. Besides, Matt’s Bar is a cash-only establishment, so I couldn’t use the company credit card anyway. And, really, some things you have to keep personal. Like the Jucy Lucy. Which, though I don’t think is anything I’d ever make a habit of due to me not wanting to die in my 40s, is something I shall always keep very close to my heart. Because that stuff was awesome, yo.

Your move, Keith.

  1. El Bravo - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:49 AM

    It’s certainly not pretty, but it is beautiful.

    • Old Gator - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:50 AM

      Did anyone measure the bite radius? That looks like the girl’s torso from the coroner’s office in Jaws.

      • groupofsevenrules - Jul 14, 2014 at 1:46 PM

        No, it looks to me like a boat propeller hit it.

      • Old Gator - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:20 PM

        No, this clearly indicates the non-frenzied feeding of a small squalus.

  2. peopletrains - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    Good choice on heading to Matt’s and not one of its many impostors

    • swede700 - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:36 PM

      Agreed. I grew up about a mile and half away from Matt’s (I live in KS now) and it’s the best of the bunch that make the Jucy Lucy IMO. I’ve tried the others, and they just aren’t the same.

  3. clydeserra - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    you want confusing? Go to these guys’ convention

  4. migoli - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    Matts is slop as far as I’m concerned, 5-8 is so much better

    • jcmeyer10 - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:23 AM

      Yah, that’s where I thought it started. Dad’s a Minneapolis native but he’s damn proud of it and loves the 5-8 club.

      • mncharm - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:08 PM

        Matt’s and the 5-8 have sparred over who invented it for years with no clear answer.

      • Bar None - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:39 PM

        I used to live in Minneapolis and love both Matt’s and 5-8. Those are the two that I associate with the JL. Personally though, I think the owners were friends and decided to create this “claim” to originating it because people would go to both to compare. Sly but possibly genius.

  5. mncharm - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    Glad you enjoyed Matt’s. It’s a fine time, although it has long since been surpassed in terms of quality. Still wins on ambience.

    Nook/Shamrock’s in St. Paul — not the Blue Door Pub (although that’s not bad) — have the finest jucy lucys in town (baseball cred bolstered by having a Molitor burger, among others).

    • kander013 - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:06 AM

      The cheese curds and bowling alley are added pluses.

      • misterpatient - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:25 AM

        The Nook is also across the street from Mauer/Molitor’s high school.

      • kopy - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:25 AM

        And Craig might find the nearby Happy Gnome to his liking:

      • entitymn - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:15 PM

        Kopy – Happy Gnome, or Muddy Pig. Either or both would be highly recommended.

  6. moogro - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:15 AM

    Matt’s or the 5-8 club for the Real Deal. Lucy was never been to St. Paul. Metro State Craig could easily pass for HBT Craig in a wig.

    • moogro - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:40 AM

      Or a Twins hat with fur.

  7. ChoneZone - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    Since you’re staying at West Bank, be sure to check out Town Hall Brewery! Get the Masala Mama IPA. You won’t be disappointed.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:26 AM

      I’ll probably go there tonight. It’s right next to the hotel. I went to RePUBlic the other night.

      • mncharm - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:05 PM

        Also of mild interest: you’re staying right next to Walter Mondale Hall, home of the University of Minnesota’s Law School.

        Definitely hit Town Hall. Of the many excellent tap rooms/brew halls in MPLS, it’s near the top.

  8. ltzep75 - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    Want. One. Now.

  9. Old Gator - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    Do they stuff the cheese into the burger to keep it from freezing?

    • happytwinsfan - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:16 PM

      Judging by how the last one I had looked and tasted, the damn things are often frozen when they put them on the grill. That place is only riding high right now because Obama dropped in there and had one a few weeks ago.

      • mncharm - Jul 14, 2014 at 1:08 PM

        It is true that Matt’s burgers are frozen before they go on the grill.

        Place has been riding high for years nontheless; it’s always packed.

      • groupofsevenrules - Jul 14, 2014 at 1:48 PM

        I weary of Gator’s sub-tropical bias.

      • Old Gator - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:21 PM

        Especially in January, I bet.

    • Cris E - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:37 PM

      Typically they use two thinner patties with shredded cheese in between, and they either pinch the edges shut or just press them together hard. In recent years some folks have moved past American cheese and started putting other things in there like bacon. It’s an outstanding argument in favor of evolution.

      • happytwinsfan - Jul 14, 2014 at 2:46 PM

        Yes, and if you’re doing it right you hand smooth the outside of the meat so as to seal the cheese in and each patty is hand made. However Matt’s appears to be taking the short cut of frying the patties frozen causing the outside to be burnt. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they are buying the patties ready made from a wholesale vendor.

  10. sparkysaballer - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:38 AM

    Food, good local beer and covering baseball. That’s how you do a “business” trip. Thanks for the article, Craig.

  11. moogro - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:04 PM

    Craig, you are near Al’s Breakfast in dinkytown. Check it out at least for how small it is. Limited hours.

  12. chip56 - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    I’m not sure why Law would think a cheeseburger sounds disgusting just because the cheese is stuffed in the burger as opposed to sitting on top of it. But whatever.

    • Cris E - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:32 PM

      Keith doesn’t strike me as much of greasy spoon, burger and beer guy. He’s talked up beer in the past, but it sounds like meals are in a very separate category for him. Whatever, big world, etc, etc, etc. (But he’s wrong, these things are wonderful.)

      • chip56 - Jul 14, 2014 at 1:08 PM

        Yeah – he always struck me as a bit of a pretentious jackass.

    • scatterbrian - Jul 14, 2014 at 2:28 PM

      That’s typical Law snobbery. A simple “not my cup of tea” suffices in this situation, but he has to go overboard with his disapproval, similar to what you would hear from a self-righteous vegetarian or vegan. “Those sound absolutely disgusting”? It’s a cheeseburger for f— sake.

  13. entitymn - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    Matt’s or 5-8 Club for “authentic”, but Blue Door or Nook for top quality. And Jucy Lucys are *definitely* a sometimes food.

  14. bkunza - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    If you love good food then you need to go to Mayslack’s in Northeast Minneapolis. have the famous roast beef sandwich. Best sandwich you’ll ever eat, if you can finish it (it’s huge).

    • 22yearsagotoday - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:31 PM

      Thanks for the great tip. I’m ready.

  15. 22yearsagotoday - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    This topic was covered on one of those Food Channel shows: either Man vs. Food or Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. Either way: good to see food articles mixed in with baseball (hot dogs, apple pie, Chevrolet).

    • Cris E - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:49 PM

      DDD has been to at least two or three of these over the years (The Blue Door and The Nook for sure.) Fieri is running out of unique places and now he’s simply going to anything non-chain that locals endorse. It was fun, but he’s been to hundreds of these and the best is past.

    • gostlcards5 - Jul 14, 2014 at 1:53 PM

      MvF did a specific episode on Matt’s vs the 5-8 Club for the best Jucy Lucy. They didn’t endorse one or the other (if I remember correctly) they had a loud bus drive by right at the moment Adam was supposed announce which was the best. Cheesy (pun intended), but definitely funny.

      • gostlcards5 - Jul 14, 2014 at 1:55 PM

        {Grammar Police Alert}

        sorry…left out the “and”

  16. gmagic9044 - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:38 PM

    “…something I shall always keep very close to my heart.”

    That looks like exactly the kind of something that will clog everything close to your heart.

  17. 22yearsagotoday - Jul 14, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    Everyone has a double. Hopefully, DirtyHarry’s double is banned from this site, too!

  18. The Dread Pirate - Jul 14, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    Saffron is delicious. The duck tegine is phenomenal.

    • jwbiii - Jul 14, 2014 at 8:03 PM

      I was just looking at the menu. I would go with that if I was very hungry or a lamb “BLT” at the bar if I wasn’t.

  19. moxdawg4 - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:38 PM

    Good call on the Jucy Lucy. Being from Saint Paul the small world events are quite common. We call it saint small…

  20. jsally430 - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:39 PM

    Glad to see you’re enjoying our city Craig!

  21. Chipmaker - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:11 PM

    Only two players in major league history have had the family name D’Amico, and they’re both named Jeff.

    Bill James related the coincidence of the two Isaac Singers in his Hall of Fame book: “two famous guys named Singer in all the world and both their mothers named them Isaac.”

  22. oruacat2 - Jul 14, 2014 at 6:29 PM

    One of the fun aspects of touring the country’s professional baseball stadiums is sampling the local food. I went to a Twins’ game at the old Metrodome a few years ago, and though I’d never heard of a “Jucy Lucy”, what I did buy from a vendor just outside the stadium was a fantastic dish of sautéed walleye with potatoes, onions, and garlic. It was awesome. Not sure if that is “a Minnesota thing” or not, but it rivaled anything else I’ve eaten at these games.

    • jwbiii - Jul 14, 2014 at 8:14 PM

      That an Upper Midwest thing called a shore lunch.. Usually the fish is battered and deep fried, but sauteed is better, I think. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario is where to find them, but really, they should be anywhere walleyes or muskies are available.

  23. tmc602014 - Jul 14, 2014 at 8:41 PM

    “I was coming out of law school” is somewhat ambiguous. Did you finish? Drop out to pursue baseball journalism? I certainly don’t wish to be rude, but now I’m curious.

  24. samiratou - Jul 14, 2014 at 9:07 PM

    If you’re in need of a breakfast spot, I HIGHLY recommend Hell’s Kitchen, which is not far from the ballpark (9th and Marquette). They do an awesome brunch, but that’s normally a weekend thing and I don’t know if they’re doing a special for the ASG, but they’re breakfast stuff is pretty awesome. If nothing else, go get a jar of their peanut butter to bring home. OMG.

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