GPS coordinates–N 44º56.359′ W093º14.833′
Monday thru Wednesday 11 am to Midnight
Thursday thru Saturday 11 am to 1 am
Sunday Noon to Midnight
by Kevin Wynn
Accolades are thrown at some hamburger joints with all the discretion of a politician making campaign promises. Some trendy new place opens its doors, comps meals to a bunch of eager-to-please restaurant review writers who then spit up praises worthy of high dollar advertising copy, which is, of course, the restaurants goal. Matt’s Bar at 35th and Cedar Avenue in South Minneapolis isn’t new, and it isn’t trendy either.
They’ve been open as Matt’s Bar since 1954, and grilling burgers for all of that on the same 3′ x 5′ grill behind the bar. In that time they’ve developed a reputation among knowing aficionados in the Twin Cities for serving fine tasting, cheap burgers. No less a skinflint than Carl Pohlad is known to frequent this place, where you won’t find anything on the menu over $4.50. Who can argue with delicious and cheap? I’m definitely saving my publisher some money on this one.
On the walls are the awards from Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine, Star-Tribune, Twin Cities Business Monthly, City Pages Magazine, CitySearch and others who have lauded this South Minneapolis, corner 3.2 joint. They didn’t come here for the beer or the décor, they came here for the hamburgers, and especially for the Jucy Lucy, about the finest tasting burger that can be had anywhere.
The oft-told story is of a regular customer who requested that the cook seal some cheese between two patties of hamburger. When our hero bit into the burger, molten cheese spurted out and after wiping his mouth, and undoubtedly checking himself for third degree burns, he exclaimed “That’s one juicy lucy!”, in quaint 1950’s lingo. Someone, maybe with a fine Minneapolis education, added it to the menu board as “Jucy Lucy”, and it’s been there ever since.
So what’s it like? I don’t know at what temperature molten cheese spontaneously combusts, certainly above the point at which human flesh succumbs to first-degree burns. Even though the waitress warned me, and even though it wasn’t my first time here and I was patient and munched some of the very good fries and read the awards on the walls first, I still was surprised by how hot it was. But it was still as good as I remembered, served with fried onions, slightly charred on the grill and in a paper wrapper.
While I packed my neck, I took in the cheesy décor. Not selected for its nostalgic effect, it’s genuinely unchanged from what looks to be about 1965, maybe earlier. Red linoleum tile flooring like I used to have in my kitchen, gold vinyl bubble wall coverings, on the wall behind the bar is a bumper sticker &endash; “Matt’s Bar &endash; Fear the Cheese.” I so wish I had a place like this within walking distance of my house!
The rest of the menu is simple- what kind of burger do you want? Hamburger? Double? Cheeseburger? You want raw or fried onions on it? How big a basket of fries? That’s pretty well it. Oh, they have a ham & cheese sandwich, a grilled cheese sandwich, and they make a pretty mean grilled chicken sandwich. But the Jucy Lucy, along with the easygoing, comfortable atmosphere, is the real attraction. Next time you’re out for an evening ride, wander up Cedar Avenue and try it for yourself. They do take-out too!
If Matt’s was part of a chain franchise operation, the Jucy Lucy would have gone the way of scalding hot coffee. Lucky for all of us Matt’s Bar is known only to several thousand of the Twin Cities most discerning hamburger junkies. Only tell your good friends and family members you really like about it.
Eat well. Ride well.