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Battle of the Juicy Lucys

Warren Rojas/CQ Roll Call
Arsenal’s Juicy Lucy burger misses the mark. The Merguez burger is a jucier and more flavorful option.

This column typically functions by having you, my devoted readers, send me out in search of that which your taste buds simply can’t live without, but today I’m taking the initiative.

And this public service announcement is all about setting the record straight regarding that most mouth-watering of Midwestern bar fare: the Juicy Lucy.

Mind you, I am not a native son of Minneapolis. Nor has my backside had the pleasure of polishing a bar stool at either Matt’s Bar & Grill (originator of the Jucy Lucy; their mantra: “Remember, if it’s spelled correctly, you just might be eating a shameless ripoff!”) or the 5-8 Club (proud purveyor of the Juicy Lucy; “If it’s spelled right, it’s done right”).

But I’ve feasted on enough variations of the fabled inside-out cheeseburger — a grilling buddy makes them exclusively at the behest of his Minnesotan wife and a handful of Northern Virginia eateries experimented with the cult burgers while I critiqued restaurants there — to know when I’m sinking my teeth into something truly special.

And I don’t get that feeling from The Arsenal’s current reinterpretation.

A Messy History

As with many of the great food discoveries that dot the American landscape, the origin story (myth?) of who crafted the very first cheese-filled burger remains enmeshed in a regional turf war.

Cheryl Bristol, daughter of Matt Bristol, the founder of the aforementioned grill joint, has repeatedly stated that the meaty masterpiece came to being right over her family’s fiery grill.

Per Bristol, a bar regular strolled in one day in 1954 and asked the grill cook to sandwich some cheese between two burger patties. According to local legend, the cook complied, sealing a slice of cheese within the handmade beef cocoon, fried up the frankenmeal and served it to the waiting gent. When said customer bit into the protein bomb, the molten cheese sprayed out, causing the surprised guest to exclaim, “that’s one juicy Lucy!”

In the decades since, the quirky consumable has taken on a life of its own, migrating across the country while always remaining near and dear to locals’ hearts.

“Just as Geno’s and Pat’s stubbornly battle for the title of Best Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, so too are Matt’s and the 5-8 Club locked in an eternal struggle over who created the cheeseburger that has been called ‘the Cheesesteak of south Minneapolis’: the Juicy (or Jucy) Lucy. The sandwich exerts so great a gravitational pull on the local imagination that an entire website has sprung up to taste the Lucy in all its incarnations,” the Minneapolis-St.Paul City Pages wrote of the sandwich’s devoted following back in 2008.

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