By BRIAN BAKST
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Baskin-Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream. The Nook has 31 types of burgers.
They’re ooey-gooey and oh-so-good.
At the always-bustling burger joint in residential St. Paul, over-indulgence is the rule and staff proudly wear T-shirts promoting the “Meat is Murder. Tasty… Tasty… Murder!” motto. Want a burger stuffed with pepper jack and topped with roast beef, bacon and cheddar? No problem. How about a patty coated in a delectable bourbon sauce? Coming right up. Care to heap the sauerkraut, corned beef, Swiss and tell-tale sauce of a Reuben atop your standard burger? Done.
Unlike Minneapolis with its hip downtown vibe, St. Paul is the sleepier of the Twin Cities. But its neighborhoods offer dining gems, some of which, like The Nook, are more hole-in-the-wall than chic gastropub. Situated beyond the outfield fence of the high school baseball diamond where eventual American League MVP Joe Mauer and Hall of Famer Paul Molitor cut their teeth, the restaurant’s brick facade has placards marking the spots where big hitters have landed balls over the years. Inside, the walls are plastered with memorabilia, photos of famous diners and award brags. Local icons have sandwiches named for them.
There’s a spirited St. Paul rivalry in the “Juicy Lucy” business. That’s the term for a burger with slices of cheese being enveloped in a beef patty prior to cooking, making for a molten middle.
A couple of miles away from The Nook, the Blue Door Pub serves “Blucys” — burgers with an oozing core of blue cheese and garlic or coconut milk-soaked mozzarella.
The Nook opened in 1938, and is now run by a pair of fresh-faced high school buddies who bought it in 2000. Ted Casper and Mike Runyon built it into a big draw.
Guy Fieri brought his popular Food Network show “Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives” here twice — the second time after owners rebuilt following a fire that gutted the place in 2010. Barbra Streisand raved to a Minnesota concert crowd about The Nook burger she had.
It’s almost sacrilegious to bypass the beef, but the generously portioned beer-battered walleye sandwich and half-pound BLT won’t disappoint either. Need some veggies? Go for an appetizer of Leprechaun Legs (deep fried green beans with a zippy dipping sauce).
Fries share a basket with the burgers but that doesn’t mean they’re secondary. Soaked overnight in vinegar water, they cook up with a crispy outside but keep a chewy middle.
Be sure to ask to have them tossed in “crack” — a garlicky pepper blend that you’ll want to lick off your fingers.
Wash it all down with one of many imports or local brews on tap. If there’s somehow still room in your stomach, pop next door to Lynden’s Soda Fountain, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor, for a scoop or a sundae. Then head downstairs to the eight-lane bowling alley where rickety pin-setting machines routinely turn awful throws into magical strikes.
The Nook’s full menu is available there, too, after its owners bought the Ran-Ham Bowling Center a few years ago. After all, there’s nothing like hoisting an alley ball with greasy fingers.
If You Go…
THE NOOK: 492 Hamline Ave S, St. Paul, Minn. 651-698-4347. http://www.crnook.com
LYNDEN’S SODA FOUNTAIN: 490 Hamline Ave S, St. Paul, Minn. 651-330-7632. http://www.lyndens.com
RAN-HAM BOWLING CENTER: 490 Hamline Ave S (beneath Lynden’s), St. Paul, Minn. 651-698-0252
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