Patriots Tavern is not an easy place to eat.
Technically located in Stillwater, it's well off the grid in what my wife affectionately called "a Tim Burton neighborhood." If you get there, make sure you get there before 9 p.m. If you get there before 9 p.m., you'd better hope there's an open seat or a short wait. Otherwise, you're either cramped in the entrance or lurking around the neighborhood as you wait.
Weather all that, though, and some of the best burgers on this side of the Mississippi await.
The Basics: Patriots Tavern delivered on two of the three things it advertises on the front page of its website.
Wood creaks beneath your feet and bright lights guide you to your seat - one of maybe 20 in the restaurant. The potential for old-timey effect is maximized in their little space; dirt-white walls like the Twins uniforms hold patriotic tsotchkes, like the framed 13-star flag hanging in our booth. What's I'm saying is, this Minnesota restaurant does a masterful job capturing an era before Minnesota was a member of the union. Now that I mention that, this restaurant does seem like it'd be more appropriately situated along the Potomac or in Philadelphia someplace.
There are hokey details to ordering at Patriot’s. Ketchup has to be requested and comes in thimble-sized tubs. Three dunks with your burger and it’s cashed, so you’re left with unlubricated mastication until the server comes back.
On this night, the server didn’t come back very often. Even as the restaurant neared closing time and traffic dwindled, service didn’t improve. There was a half-assed effort to erase earlier sins by a server as we were finishing, but the service experience was firmly in the friend zone at that point. He looked like Bacon in “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels,” but that wasn’t enough. My wife ordered the Patriot Burger and I ordered the Firecracker Burger. Sides must be ordered separately - I, being me, ordered mashed potatoes.
I don't recall the prep time well enough to properly gauge it, but it doesn't matter with a national treasure like the Firecracker Burger. It immediately ascended to the realm of my favorite cheeseburgers down here. I love the creator’s attention to detail. Everything on it is out to get you, even the plants! Rocket greens? What pipes around here are they finding these suckers in!? The Firecracker packs a precisely appropriate amount of kick. It makes you feel alive without making you wish you would die. It tastes fantastic.
My wife enjoyed her Patriot Burger. At $8, good luck finding a cheeseburger with bacon at that price point anymore. Perhaps it’s best that Patriots isn’t near the other guys. The Firecracker, at only a buck higher, was also a tremendous bargain.
Know that you may be waiting for a table when you come here, and know that you might spend 20 minutes waiting for the bill to land at your table when you come here ... but come here anyway. The food is too good to pass up. And if you don't take my word for it, the head chef at Smalley's (NAME DROP!) will back me up in the drop of a coconut.
Not all good things come easy, but I think you'll find yourself pleased with what comes on your plate at the end of the struggle.