Several months ago, I wrote a piece about comfort foods in the Twin Cities. The best burger—hands down—was the Juicy Nookie Burger at The Nook in St. Paul. Well, since then, something big has happened to this establishment. Every couple of weeks, I walk two blocks carrying my laptop from my house to The Nook. I order lunch, and work on writing assignments. Usually, I’m the only person there about 11 AM. Regulars start arriving around 11:30, and local business people begin pushing open the door at 12:15 for lunch.
However, the other day, a line of people was waiting outside the door when I got there. I asked what was going on. A woman replied, “Guy Fieri from Food Network was here, and said this place has the best stuffed hamburgers.” It was 10:50. This wasn’t good for my schedule.
A few days later, I went back, and found my place at the bar in the corner by the jukebox. No tables were left, and the bar was filling up. I asked Sammy, my favorite Nook server, rock star, and friend, if it had been like this since the Food Network event. Rolling his eyes, he anguishedly replied, “Yes.”
To repeat: The Juicy Nookie Burger is the best! Barbra Streisand exclaimed so from the stage of the Excel Energy Center during her concert.
A cheeseburger with the cheese inside, it consists of cheddar cheese stuffed between two hamburger patties, and cooked on the grill until medium, then served on a grilled bun with raw or fried onions, along with a stack of fresh-cut homemade fries seasoned with garlic cracked pepper—all for $7.50. Add a Cherry Coke made with Grenadine (my favorite), or a wide range of tap, canned, or bottled beers.
Now, once in a while, I can pull myself away from a Juicy Nookie Burger, and order something else off the menu.
Start with the Triple B-Bourbon Bacon Burger—cinnamon-brown sugar bacon with smoky cheddar cheese melted all over it—and add homemade fries. All it will cost you is $6.50.
Or sample the Joe Mauer Double Play Burger—two hamburgers and one order of homemade fries for $9.95. No wonder he grew to be such a big boy! His old high school, Cretin-Durham Hall, is right across the street from The Nook—easy access after ball practice. It was his hangout.
The Nook has several chicken sandwiches, as well as a wonderful new Salmon Burger with lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce for $6.50.
Thursday’s daily special ($5.95) is another one of my favorites, the Pork Tenderloin Sandwich, which is normally $6.95. The pork tenderloin is breaded and flash-fired so it’s nice and crispy. And The Nook has something wonderful every day of the week.
If you’re a true carnivore, Wednesday’s for you: Steak Night. An 8-ounce rib eye and the works—coleslaw, garlic toast, and homemade fries—goes for $9.95 (on regular nights, it’s still a reasonable $12.95). Onion rings are $1.50 extra.
A Kids Menu for just $4.95 includes Mac and Cheese, Wee Burger and Fries, Wee Taco and Salsa, Chicken Fingers and Fries, Wee Corn Dog and Fries, and Grilled Cheese and Fries. Sunday night, kids (12 and under with paying adult) eat free 4-9 PM.
Sometimes, my partner, Chad, and I will stop in for a beer or glass of Yellow Tail wine, and snack on the Zingers—Hot to Mild Boneless Nuggets: 8 for $6.50, or 14 for $7.95. You can coat them with other sauces: Sweet and Spicy Plum, Spicy Orange, Honey Barbecue, or Szechwan and Apricot.
My favorite is the Leprechaun Legs: deep-fried green beans served with a dipping sauce for $6.95.
The Nook has something for everyone, but get there early. It’s a small place. Although the place has kind of a “hole-in-the-wall” atmosphere, it’s not about the decor or the space. Here, it’s about the food. Oh, and what food!
Of course, the cover of my cookbook and one of my first blue ribbons from the Minnesota State Fair are on the wall. It’s a neighborhood thing!
I tried to visit with one of the owners, Mike Runyon, but he was way too busy to talk. I told the waitress I was writing a column about The Nook. She threw me a haggard look, and replied, “Great, like we need more publicity.”
John Michael Lerma is a local chef, author, and Food Network personality. His company Garden County Cooking offers cookbooks, cooking classes, consulting, private events, and culinary vacations to Italy and the Caribbean. www.GardenCounty.info.
492 Hamline Ave. S., St. Paul,
Diners, Drive-ins and Dives
Hosted by Guy Fieri
Featuring The Nook
Mar. 3, 9 PM