An ode to the Jucy Lucy (or Juicy Lucy) of Minneapolis, which may be the best cheeseburger in America

·4 min read

The Jucy Lucy may be the best burger in America. Also known as the Juicy Lucy, the cheese-stuffed burger was invented in Minneapolis nearly 70 years ago.

It’s an ideal convergence of beef and cheese. Yet the iconic cheeseburger remains relatively unknown. Untouched, the burger appears modest by modern standards, no toppings stacked sky high. Yet it belongs in the culinary realm of Chinese xiaolongbao soup dumplings and even the Chicago-style stuffed pizza (on the rare occasions when the latter is done right). They’re technical marvels, barely containing their deliciousness within.

Legend has it that two South Minneapolis bars claim to have invented the iconic cheeseburger. I discovered that’s not quite true after visits last fall. Only one clearly stakes the claim, while the other concedes it’s the customers who’ve fought its case.

Matt’s Bar in the Corcoran neighborhood is known for its deliberate misspelling of the dish, a historic holdover from a printing error.

“A Jucy Lucy is a burger that was created here by Matt Bristol in 1954, the year he opened,” said Amy Feriancek, general manager. “He and a few locals were here on an afternoon when it was slower, and he created this wonderful burger.”

Bristol’s daughter, Cheryl Bristol, ran the bar from 1984 until 1998, when Scott and Cathy Nelson bought the business.

Feriancek has worked at Matt’s for 23 years. “A lot of people tell a lot of different stories, but this story I actually heard from Matt,” she said. “He unfortunately passed away in 2014, but I still know his wife, Donna.”

At Matt’s, the Jucy Lucy ($8.95) has a crust that conjures a seared dry-aged steak. Not even the warnings for what lies within prepares you for the molten American cheese magma that pours out with a bite.

Three miles south on Cedar Avenue, the 5-8 Club in the Nokomis neighborhood has been continuously operating since 1928, originally as a speak-easy during Prohibition. While its claim to the cheese-stuffed delicacy is perhaps less concrete, its fan base certainly isn’t.

“According to our customers, somebody at the 5-8 Club invented the Juicy Lucy back in the 1950s,” said Jill Skogheim, president of the 5-8 restaurants. She said the identity of the original owner is also unknown.

The 5-8 Club expanded over the years, with four locations now in the Twin Cities region. They still stuff their original burger with American cheese. In 1996, the 5-8 Club added Swiss, pepper jack and blue cheeses as variations.

The classic 5-8 Club Juicy Lucy ($12.25) looks like a big, thick contemporary burger, complete fries and coleslaw on the side. The oozing experience feels more subtle, with the melted cheese melded into the beef fat.

What’s most surprisingly overlooked with the Jucy Lucy and Juicy Lucy conversations focused on cheese has been the absolute importance of fried onions on the burger.

At Matt’s Bar you can watch the transformation of dehydrated onions into bits of blackened gems on the tiny grill in front. By the way, they cook Jucys for 7½ minutes on each side. Your burger will take about 20 minutes from the time you order until a paper-wrapped package hits your table.

“We offer fried onions, which is the natural way of having our burger,” Feriancek said. “But we also offer raw onion and a slice or two or three of dill pickle. Simple, plain, but very, very delicious.”

The 5-8 Club offers raw or fried onions too, though theirs lean into a softer, sauteed state.

“It’s a kind of a naked burger with pickles and your choice of onions, but the fried onions and pickles would be the No. 1 way to go,” Skogheim said. “I’ve seen more than a few times where a server’s like, ‘They want and lettuce and tomato?’ Because that takes away from the cheese experience.”

There’s no judgment if you want to add ketchup or mustard, but unlike a Chicago-style Big Baby double cheeseburger, you’ll have to add the condiments yourself — Minnesota nice does have its limits.

“When people ask for lettuce and tomato, there is sometimes some judging,” Skogheim added with a laugh.

Matt’s and 5-8 are so different and both merit their own accolades. Perhaps that’s how they can maintain a friendly rivalry.

“We started something and obviously many, many people have followed after,” said Feriancek back at Matt’s Bar. “And good for them. We’re happy for them, too.”

Twenty blocks down the road, the sentiment seems mutual.

“It’s more a competition with the customers than it is the management or ownership,” said Skogheim of the 5-8 Club. “They do their thing, we do our thing.”

She does add a fact though.

“The one thing that’s indisputable,” Skogheim said. “We were around longer than any of them.”

5-8 Club, 5800 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis; 612-823-5858; 5-8club.com. Matt’s Bar, 3500 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis; 612-722-7072 or 612-729-9936; mattsbar.com