And finally, we get to The Nook. I’ve been avoiding doing this for a long time, since it’s a big favorite here in St. Paul. The Nook is perennially on “Best Burger” lists, and has periodically won awards for the best Juicy Lucy’s. Located at a small site in Highland Park in St. Paul (492 Hamline Ave. South), The Nook is almost always spilling over with patrons.
There’s little about The Nook that I shouldn’t like. It’s a nice smallish dive-y bar, with a focus on burgers. In all honesty, the “dive” feel is more of a slightly yuppie idea of a dive, but since it’s not overly yuppie, unlike the St. Clair Broiler, it still can be a fun place to eat. Unfortunately, though, because it’s always super busy I’ve never felt comfortable just sitting back and enjoying a few beers. This place is definitely more for meals, so it fails on that note to be the “our place” for our quest.
The main menu items are burgers, of course. This place has plenty of burger options, but the most popular is probably their version of the Juicy Lucy, The Juicy Nookie. To be honest, I’ve learned that I really don’t enjoy Juicy Lucy’s anywhere. They are way too over-rated. Yes, gooey cheese inside a grilled burger sounds brilliant, but what you end up with is an over-cooked dry burger with cheese in the middle. If you want gooey cheese, get the cheese on top, so that the burger can be cooked appropriately.
As such, I cannot fault The Nook for having an incredibly dry, tasteless Juicy Lucy. I can fault them, on the other hand, for vaunting this burger. It’s a sign about Nook fans that this is one of their favorite burgers. It’s all style and little substance. People think it’s good because people say it’s good. Give me a juicy, spiced burger with cheese on the outside any day over a Juicy Lucy.
Unfortunately for The Nook, the other burgers aren’t all that good either. Each burger I’ve had has been fairly tasteless. There’s no bite from the griddle, there’s no juiciness, there’s little flavor. Worse yet, every time I got cheddar on my burger, the cheddar was only slightly melted, so that it was a burger with a hunk of cheddar on top. Maybe you do need to get a Juicy Lucy after all.
I’ve given The Nook a lot of chances and every time I’ve been disappointed. The closest they came to being good was on my last trip when I ordered The Lodge Burger. This burger is a “spiced” burger (chosen because it was specifically listed as “spiced”) with bacon, cheddar, tomato, and chipotle mayo. I admit that it was decent, and even had a bit more flavor, but was still dry with an unmelted hunk of cheddar on top.
Luckily for that trip, we did take out. If I can avoid going to actually eat at The Nook, I do. I normally don’t like to complain about the service at restaurants, and once seated, the service at The Nook isn’t all that bad. However, since it’s nearly impossible to get a table, getting the attention of the staff at the crowded bar in order to get put on a waiting list can be immensely irritating. Every time I try it seems like the bartenders and waitresses have been trained to look away from anyone attempting to get their attention.
It’s a good thing the The Nook has a separate, larger location nearby with the same menu: Shamrock’s, at 995 7th St W. Shamrock’s has a generic sports bar interior, but it at least allows for far more seating. It’s a tad unfortunate that it is exactly the same menu, though, since the burgers aren’t good, and they have little else to offer.
And so, with that I wrap up my terribly written pan of a revered St. Paul landmark. Overrated is an understatement for this place, but I’m certainly not going to be able change anyone’s mind on this (c’mon people, just try to defend the unmelted hunk of cheddar. I dare you). But seriously, if you’re looking for good burgers in the Twin Cities, there are plenty of better options (e.g. The Convention Grill).