Many areas have a particular food item that is well known locally, be it Philly’s cheesesteaks, St Louis’ toasted raviolis, or the Upper Peninsula’s pasties. One of the local equivalents for the Twin Cities is the Jucy Lucy (and how to spell that is an issue it’s own). Basically, a Jucy Lucy is a cheeseburger with the cheese stuffed inside the meat patty rather than on top, with two patties of meat crimped around a molten core of cheese. While having some cooking challenges (like getting thoroughly good melting of the cheese and cooking of the interior of the burger without completely killing the meat), it’s a combination I rather like. It, however, also has some consumption issues: aside from the obviously unhealthy nature, the Jucy Lucy is also well-known for burning peoples’ lips and chins on the hot liquid cheese as it bursts out of a burger, so warning about the cheese are common at Jucy Lucy joints.
Who invented the Jucy Lucy (which is available at well over a dozen bars, taverns, and burger joints around the Twin Cities) is a matter of dispute which I won’t even try to resolve here, but it’s clear that several locations (including Matt’s Bar, and the 5-8 Club a few miles down the street, a rivalry that’s even been featured on Man vs. Food and Food Wars) have been dishing out variations on the the Jucy Lucy (including variant spellings) for longer than 50 years. Regardless of primacy, I still regard Matt’s as one of the best (indeed, to date it’s my favorite) Jucy Lucy’s in town.
Matt’s is definitely a Minneapolis institution, dating back to 1954, and one of the attractions of going to Matt’s is that walking through the door, you are literally stepping back into the 1950s, back to a time when the Lustron Houses that still date much of this area as 1950s construction were still new. The bar is somewhat dark, with textures wallpaper and dark wood paneling, and is basically a bar aside from a grill and deep-fryer down at one end. Matt’s historically was a bar first, and a burger joint second, but, in my experience, that’s actually a good thing (for a nice comparison, my Matt’s experience always reminds me of another of my favorite burger bars, Miller’s Bar in Dearborn, MI).
The grill is where the magic happens, they take a fresh Jucy Lucy patty, in which a single square of American Cheese is quartered, crimped between two patties (usually when I’m at Matt’s I see someone assembling the patties), and then seared on the grill. As mentioned above, to really get the inside of the burger cooked right and the cheese fully liquefied instead of just molten, this results in a sharp sear to a well-done burger, and a delicious smell of seared beef that permeates the bar (and your clothing, if you linger too long… Minneapolis is one of those towns where, if you make the mistake of wearing a wool jacket into a place, people the rest of the day will know where you ate…). The meat is thin enough (due to the hollow core) that the well-done cooking doesn’t make it tough.
I must have lost my look of Jucy Lucy confidence over the years, since the waitress sized me up and decided that I was the sort that really needed two warning about the hot cheese. But this isn’t my first Jucy Lucy rodeo, so after the customary minute cooling-off period, I took my first mild bite into the Lucy. Yup, that’s still good. One of the things I love about a Matt’s Jucy Lucy is that the cheese is actually 100% liquid, it really combines well with the seared beef without being at all waxy.
Matt’s does a handful of other sandwiches, but I’ve never tried anything but a hamburger and more Jucy Lucys than I can count. They have decent fries as well, served in almost ridiculous quantities (usually I can split a half order of fries with one other person, a full order is a whole deep-fryer basket).
Sure, there may be a lot of friendly rivalry about who exactly invented the Jucy Lucy, but the Matt’s Bar Lucy is a good burger by most any standard, and worth a stop by or a small diversion to try out (although feel free to try some of the other perennial favorites like the 5-8 down the road, or St Paul’s Groveland Tap or Blue Door).