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Jun 8, 2009 07:17 PM

Jfood's Nook (MSP) Experience - Huh?

Jfood is getting close to drawing to conclusion to his JL search. Tonight he decided to take some more advice and drove to SP and arrived at the Nook. He was very fortunate as he was giving his name to the bartender a few seats at the bar opened up and he immediately grabbed one.

Jfood ordered a 1919 root beer and a juicy nookie with fried onions and onion rings. Then he settled in to read his book and watch the Yankees give up three runs.

The root beer was excellent, very creamy a nice flavor and Jfood thought this was going to be a great burger night.

The bartendress brought the burger and rings over and left, no ketchup, napkins or S&P so Jfood helped himself to them a few seats down the bar. Jfood first tasted a ring. No salt at all so Jfood grabbed the salt and sprinkled some all over the rings. Next bite and Jfood was not that impressed, they were fairly flavorless. The train had started its descent.

But Jfood moved onto the main event, the burger. He performed the same ritual as he did the week before at Matts. Slowly he bit through the bun, then the onions (no pickle since he later found them under the rings) and then carefully into the meat with its molten center. After the chew and swallow, Jfood was not impressed. So Jfood decided to take a deep breath and keep plowing away. Alternating between burgers and rings, Jfood just kept going and it just never tickled his fancy. The meat was harder than a rock, without any flavor and the cheese inside was bland as well. The rings were also bland and some were not cooked all the way through. The best part of the meal was the fried onions. All Jfood could think of was that the chef was just having a bad night.

Now last week, halfway through his Matt JL he ordered another. Halfway through this one he almost stopped eating. Jfood is not trying to pick a battle or sides or anything other than reporting back what he found. Did he just get a bad batch?

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  1. Hmmm, sounds like just a bad night to me. Maybe Mondays aren't the best nights to go, as I think they throw some sort of deal that could perhaps have some negative effect on the food. I've not had the onion rings, but their french fries are normally great, and the burgers I've had there have never been overcooked or hard. Give it another try in a month or two, maybe.

    15 Replies
    1. re: salvage7

      I believe I asked at the Shamrock (the sister restaurant) whether the kitchen makes its own rings and was told they did not. So I decided not to bother with them. Why eat frozen rings made somewhere else. That does not detract from the fries which are house made.

      (I do have that right, don't I? They don't make their own rings. I don't want to slander the place!)

      1. re: salvage7

        I'm tired of the early week excuse. Is there an Overcooked Mondays theme?

        As a customer, I exist in reality, if not in aggregate. If I am spending my money on a Monday, I expect the same dish I would receive on a Saturday, especially when that dish is a burger.

        1. re: kevin47

          But if you know that Mondays are off days....why spend the money then? It ought not be that way, but it often is...that's reality.

          But the Monday thing doesn't really apply to burger joints. It's more for high end restaurants. It's sort of why some high end places were closed on Monday - they needed a day off, and the purveyors have crap offerings. Not the case for a place that makes stuff in house or sells frozen food.

          1. re: pgokey

            Oh, I think the Monday thing can apply to small places, too. Surely your key guy should get a day off and in order to do that, you have to run the joint with your "B" team SOME time. Monday night's a good night for that, even for a burger place, as long as there isn't a big game of some sort on TV. It seems like with the bungling of the service (onion rings instead of fries, no condiments) jfood got the B team.


            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              Well it's Tuesday and you gave jfood some good ideas for tonight and tomorrow.

              1. re: jfood

                Excellent! I'm sorry you had a bad Monday. I know that kitchens can have off-nights, but it still stinks that you had a bad experience, at full-price and the full amount of time waiting. At least if you'd had the dollar burger you may have felt like, well, you got what you paid for. Obviously, you didn't.

                I hope you like Ngon Bistro!


            2. re: pgokey

              I don't spend the money. I expect to be compensated. Half-price wine is a popular option, or I'll try to get the hang of a place during their happy hour. But the most popular dishes should still be top notch, and the offerings generally should still be competent.

              And, as others have mentioned, it's a burger joint. I am willing to concede that a juicy lucy is as difficult to prepare as many other main courses, but can't the B-team (provided there is one... I recall my parents working a lot of Monday nights when I was growing up) handle the basics?

              1. re: kevin47

                Kevin, of course your point is completely valid. If you pays your price you should gets your burger. Really, it should be perfect each and every time, in the ideal universe. But, this isn't the ideal universe and we're talking about $7 burger cooked on a a grill that measures about six square feet at the neighborhood watering hole.

                The Nook is open 7 days a week, nearly every day of the year. Alex Roberts gets Mondays off, and go ahead and hold Alex to higher standards--that's the sort of thing that earns him James Beard awards and garners national attention. The Nook isn't Alma. The Nook is really a place that serves people in the neighborhood. If you live in the neighborhood, you probably do understand the ebbs and flows.

                Dollar burger night is code for, we're tired, we had a long weekend, and no one here has the energy to babysit a jucy lucy. Maybe you came for a jucy lucy, and go ahead and order one if you must. But, if it doesn't work out for you, accept our apology and a burger for which you pay only a dollar. If you read the code, you know to order the dollar burger, or go somewhere else. It's hard to feel ripped off for a $1.

                To be honest, I don't think a jucy lucy is really a basic. If it were, there wouldn't be countless posts about them being either over or underdone, with "perfect" being the elusive experience everyone seeks.

                I have had consistently good experiences with the Molitor at the Nook. But, I also read the code pretty well. If they look like they are slammed, and not just normal slammed, but really out of control slammed, or are running one of their nutty specials, I go somewhere else. If I see one of the owners floating around, I usually stay.


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I know your point as more rhetorical/illustrative in nature than factual, but Alex Roberts was working (hard) at Brasa when i saw him there a few weeks back. (perhaps you meant that alma is only open 6 days a week, in which case i would venture that most of the staff gets mondays off, but Alex is busy trying to open another restaurant at well, and thats just not conducive to taking time off).

                  Im not sure your rationale for dollar burger night is 100% correct, but it is fair to say that its not as if the Nook is in need of promotions to get people in the door - they seem to succeed at that regardless of what they are charging for a burger. that said, i've already pointed out in this thread that your approach to dollar burger night is spot-on: if thats not what brought you in, why are you doing here?

                  1. re: tex.s.toast

                    You're right--I probably should have mentioned someone other than Alex Roberts.

                    I'm tired, so, I'm editing out everything that I just wrote.

                    But, it's okay if we disagree. :). In fact, I'm glad we do, because it makes us all think a little bit more about why we like what we like, and wonder if our tastes need to evolve.

                    I do think the Nook is really a neighborhood place and should be patronized on that basis. The main reason to visit, if you're not from the neighborhood, is to experience St. Paul.


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      You're right TDQ, but I had to expand my neighborhood 30 miles. :) I've always said the Nook is the neighborhood bar/grill every neighborhood wished they had. As for the burger, it's bar food! There is nothing exceptional about the Nook or Matt's for that matter other than the Jucy Lucy concept. You're not getting Kobe beef, special hand ground stuff of pure sirloin or grass fed organic. Your'e not getting flame grilled. You're getting supply house smashed burgers on a flat grill. Again, It's bar food. I love to go to the Nook primarily because of the ambiance and atmosphere and just generally having a good feeling. Maybe it makes the food taste better. Maybe jfood missed that like not seeing the forest for the trees, or maybe it just isn't jfood's thing. We are all different. If the restroom didn't have a faulty lock and opened directly on the dining area I would be less impressed, but I hope they fixed the lock by now. :)

                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                    I didn't know it was dollar burger night. That makes more sense.

            3. re: salvage7

              I don't think the Monday night thing is it, honestly. Although it is certainly possible for the chef (hahhahah, sorry, it's just hard to think of the guy at the griddle at the Nook as a chef) to have a bad night, the Nook is incredibly consistent and has been for a long time. It would be really freakish for them to have an off-night.

              A) I think jfood made some unfortunate choices (the fried onions is the only choice I would have endorsed) and B) I personally didn't think jfood was going to like jucy lucys in the first place because he hadn't liked any burgers in the Twin Cities until he'd tried Bulldogs, then Matt's JL. Frankly, I was stunned that he liked Matt's.

              The only part of jfood's experience that surprised me is the part about they forgot to give him the condiments/napkin basket. Normally, they plop it right in front of you.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Oh, DQ! You're not a Matt's fan either? I love their Jucy's. Maybe it's the cute elderly next door Swedish couple that had us pick them up for them circa 1987. They are long gone from this world and we no longer live in the Corcoran neighborhood, I have lots of great memories sitting down with them with a bag of Matt's JL's and hearing about the Minneapolis Moline tractor factory where East Lake Target now stands. I've stated before that Matt's well-aged grill is magic. I'd chalk it up to longing for times past, but if Jfood liked it, it can't be half bad.

                1. re: justalex

                  juastalex, I'm afraid I am not a fan of Matt's burger, alas. I just found it burned tasting, on a lousy bun with bloated, soggy fries. I know one person's "burned" is another person's "char". And, while I do appreciate yours and jfood's taste, I never allow myself into being conned into something I don't like, just because someone else likes it. (jfood and I disagree on a couple of things.)

                  However, I do think you're right about the well-aged (and thorough knowledge of) their grill and, in fact, I think that's what the Nook has going for it, too (and why "Shamrock's" can't hold a candle to the Nook, even though everything else about the approach and recipe might be the same).

                  However, your story is so sweet that maybe I'll have to go back and give it another try! That sounds like a wonderful memory!


            4. Yeah, you have to get the hand-cut fries, not the onion rings. I always get the Molitor or the Lodge burger. Unfortunately, you ordered things I never order or recommend. What a bummer to have a bad meal when there are so many good ones to be had in St. Paul. At least Izzy's didn't let you down!


              23 Replies
              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                jfood looked for the Molitor but he is not a fan of pepper cheese. He also thought by reading the threads that there were a bunch of "stuffed" burgers and when he saw only 2-3 it threw him a little. As he looked around he saw others with big fat burgers and was excited and the kid he spoke with in line told him to get the double something. Wrt the fries he ordered both rings and fries and only the rings arrived and did not want to throw the server under the bus so he just moved on.

                Yes it has been a long road to a burger but he did like 3 of 4 at 112 as well as BB and Matts.

                Guess it is one of those personal things as we all see from the dedication that many have for burgers (dogs too) in so many areas. Probably time to give the burger search a rest and go to Corner Table or Heidis tonight.

                Thanks DQ.

                1. re: jfood

                  Wow, that does sound like a bad night at the Nook, if the server brought the wrong order AND forgot your condiments.

                  I forgot that you liked 112's burger 3 times. What are you referring to as BB? I can't believe, in my own town, you've out acronym'd me! HA!

                  Anyway, I wish you'd branch out from burgers and try some of the authentic Southeast Asian cuisine here.


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Jfood first choice last night was going to be Pak Zam Zam (he know Pakistan is not really SEA) but saw the post about the owner not present and he called and no answer. And he is pretty burgered out at this point.

                    If you have some good recommendations for SEA cuisine jfood is all ears. He tried Manana last week and he loved it so any good spots are appreciated.

                    BTW - BB is Burger Bar

                    1. re: jfood

                      Which one is burger bar? American Burger Bar or Salut or ???

                      My favorite Vietnamese is Ngon Bistro in St. Paul for local sourcing or for French-leaning food. On the very end of the scale for a more "just like in Vietnam" kind of experience is Pho Tau Bay on Eat Street in Minneapolis. Very divey. Here's a link to a couple of discussions.


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen


                          Does the following sound good at Ngon - Rabbit dumplings, Beef Pho and Short Rib or Duck Entree?

                          1. re: jfood

                            I've never had the rabbit dumplings at Ngon Bistro! I've had the beef pho and enjoyed it very much, but be forewarned that it's controversial on this board.

                            Usually, I go for the several of the appetizers --lettuce wraps or the confit--and then something light'ish, either a salad or bun or something with tofu--so I have room for dessert.

                            Their ginger creme brulee is to tie for, and I like their cheesecakes a lot.

                            Usually, Ngon is a great place to go for more French-leaning Vietnamese dishes, so, except for the pho, your choices would probably serve you well. Soupkitten suggests here: i'd definitely get the coconut confit and probably some game, or pork belly, or short ribs


                            Have fun!


                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                              tagging along-- i have had the rabbit dumpling at ngon-- it was deep fried, and i liked it, but i prefer the confit both on the taste front, and for the unique nature of this excellent menu item. i second the adzuki bean cheesecakes TDQ recommends, either chocolate or vanilla. . . but i haven't ever tried that ginger creme brulee (scribbling mental note to do this asap)

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                Thanks ladies...notes scribbled on the printed menu to take with.

                                1. re: jfood

                                  Just fyi, the menu online is often a little out of sync with what's actually available at the restaurant. So, make sure you give yourself options!


                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    gotcha, jfood ran into that exact issue when he ordered from Al Vento a few weeks ago. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

                                2. re: soupkitten

                                  I think those cheesecakes are a little more unique, though, than the ginger creme brulee...


                                3. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  I can vouch for both the rabbit dumplings and the pork belly--delish! The night I dined I also had a scallops entree, which was fantastic. When I go back though, I'll probably try one of the local dishes, like the duck breast or the short rib.

                                4. re: jfood

                                  I've had the rabbit dumplings and really enjoyed them. My review of a dinner at Ngon Bistro can be found here:

                          2. re: jfood

                            If jfood chooses Corner Table, he should stop by Liberty Custard at 54th and Nicollet to try one more delicious contender for best ice cream in the twin cities. I don't know if I'd compare it to Izzy's--it's frozen custard after all--but it's pretty awesome!

                            1. re: drew13000

                              thanks drew, jfood loves real custard and CT has provided some great meals in his wonderings. He will definitely hit CT this or next weeek.

                              My try Ngon tonight, that looks like a great menu...thanks TDQ

                              1. re: drew13000

                                Mmmmm, a Liberty malt with peanut butter is my favorite.

                              2. re: jfood

                                If you ever return to The Nook, forgo the "stuffed burgers" (disclaimer: I hate jucy lucy's) and get the Nookie Supreme or whatever it's called (it is essentially a giant Big Macish affair). From your posts, you appear to be able to consume large quantities of food...this burger is large...but outstanding. The last time I had it was at lunch on a Tuesday.

                                I've never had their onion rings, but their fries are always good.

                                1. re: Foureyes137

                                  thanks 4-i's...the upper lip agrees with the no-stuffed burgers going forward...ouch last night.

                                  1. re: Foureyes137

                                    Second. The first time I went to the Nook, I had the JL because I felt obligated. I enjoyed it, but it didn't completely hook me. The second time, I had the Nookie Supreme and since that day, I've never had anything else.

                                    In fact, I just had one yesterday. Outstanding, as always.

                                  2. re: jfood

                                    Blue Door Pub is the place with a bunch of stuffed burgers.

                                    every place has off nights. I have had recent burger experiences at BDP that were much better than ones at Nook. Matt's never did much for me.

                                    If you want to try the Jucy to end all Lucy's, head to Vincent. stuffed with braised short ribs and smoked guada.

                                    1. re: getgot211

                                      Vincent...there is a place jfood needs to visit (if he hasn't already been).

                                      If you can make it for happy hour, the burger is a great deal. Otherwise, they run a weekly $30 3-course dinner that is excellent.

                                2. Yes, their rings are quite unfortunate. If you ever decide to go back, do order fries instead. As others have already posted, they are reliably excellent.

                                  I am no fan of the juicy lucy/nookie/what have you - I think a regular burger "works" better. Overall I've been happy with Nook and Shamrocks Nook burgers, but on rare occasions I've encountered an overcooked, rock hard specimen. I'm so sorry you had bad luck!

                                  Sorry you were disappointed!

                                  1. Sounds like a bad night to me. They usually cook their JL to medium (says so on the menu). Every place I've been to screws up a burger occasionally, though.

                                    1. Actually, it sounds like you found the prototypical Jucy Lucy. If you get one that ISN'T like that, you've lucked out. (When I was reading your account of Matt's, I was thinking..'man...he lucked out').

                                      The "double something" you were told about is the Nookie Supreme. I second that recommendation.

                                      I totally agree with the comments on the fries vs. onion rings suggestions. I also concur with Kevin re: the day of the week excuse. I can understand it a little bit if you are at a top-end place where the executive chef still does most of the cooking. When you are turning out 500 burgers in a row day after day after day, that excuse is bunk. There is no such thing as a chef having a bad night at the Nook, I'm afraid. He just simply screwed up a burger that isn't that interesting in the first place.

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: MSPD

                                        I agree that there is no excuse for having regularly scheduled "bad days" regardless of whether you are a high end chef-driven place or a dive bar. That said, monday nights at the nook are dollar burger nights, and i dont think any kitchen performs at its best when firmly entrenched in the middle of an insane rush brough on by a silly promotion. Clearly they bring the pain on themselves by having such a deal, but there is only so much that can be done short of expanding the kitchen (or dining room for that matter) to prepare for the onslaught that is monday dollar-burger night. As a stated policy i do not go to the nook on mondays, mainly because its even more crowded than usual but mostly because i dont go for a burger i go for a lucy (or molitor) and i know that with a grill full of dollar burgers theres no way it will get as much attention as on another night.

                                        1. re: tex.s.toast

                                          I totally get what you're saying tex and I can't rule out that it has some effect. The only minor flaw in that, in my mind, is that the Nook is generally packed to the gills no matter what time or day you go there. They are practically working the griddle to capacity at all times unless you get there right when they open at lunchtime on a weekday (which happens to be when I'm there more often than not). The guys at the Nook operate in "slammed" mode almost all the time.

                                          Who knows. Mostly, I feel bad that jfood had a meal wasted by an off experience for whatever reason it happened.

                                          1. re: MSPD

                                            A very good point. Until you've been there for dollar burger night (god forbid dollar burger night when there is a game on and its nice outside) you could easily confuse regular-slammed for monday-slammed, but there is a difference.

                                            1. re: MSPD

                                              What about going at say 3:00 pm on a weekday (but not a Monday.) Would you be served then? And would you get the A team?

                                              1. re: karykat

                                                You'd be served. Just be aware that for the next week or two, you might run into an after-school rush from Cretin-Derham Hall (across the street).

                                                I've run into the spacy waitstaff at the Nook before. Two counter staff chatting with their off-duty pals over onion rings for 15 minutes while everyone else at the bar waits to order, get a refill, ask for a setup.

                                          2. re: MSPD

                                            This is why I advised early on that given jfood's standards for burgers, he avoid the jucy lucy. I didn't think we could guarantee him a good experience. I also think he lucked out at Matt's. I also think he got a raw deal (so to speak) at the Nook, because I find them very consistent, but, yeah, dollar burger night may not be the best time to order something other than dollar burgers.