Where can you chomp into a top-flight spicy cheeseburger, one that’s kicky but straightforward, one that pairs exquisitely with a Surly Furious tallboy? Surprise! You can find it at Palmer’s Tavern in little big ol’ Hibbing, home to old-school service and new-school televisions, home to old-school prices for new-school flavors.
You could say it’s a little bit off the path geographically; but, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the path’s fault for not leading us here to begin with.
The Basics: Depending on who you ask, the Iron Range could be four cities or it could be a quarter of the whole state. For the purposes of this piece, we’re going with Wikipedia’s definition.
The present owner is the granddaughter of the original owners. Under various names, the doors to Palmer’s have been open for over 70 years. You can find them just off Hibbing’s downtownish Horward St., and on the web here.
It’s hard to tell which way Hibbing’s main street is trending. Long-empty, dystopian storefronts abound, but a new shopping hub called Howard Court looks fresh, and the Brickyard — Hibbing’s most happening club — looks alive and well. You can still get a killer steak and eggs plate at Sportsman’s, but you can only get saddened at the once-iconic (I think?) but now shuttered Zimmy’s. Two blocks east of the strip, on Third St., is Palmer’s.
Don’t be so quick to assume this is some hole in the wall. Step inside and you can’t help but notice the barely-chipped bricks and untarnished wood panels that envelop the room. You can’t turn your head without seeing the game. Flat screens, all of them, resolution for days. Vikings jerseys from all eras, beautifully preserved in glass casing: Moss, Carter, and Jake Reed above the door, Kyle Rudolph and Marcus Sherels by the emergency exit. If you’re a Vikings fan, this joint’s a memorabilia wet dream.
Wait … are those Packers pennants on the ceiling? Hmm.
On my first visit, I was part of a seven-man crew that filled up a shiny Vikings logo-clad table. On my second visit, my buddy Eliot and I bellied up to the bar. I got the Boshi Burger both times, the deliciously trashy creation of cook-slash-dancing instructor Steve Shopp.
It comes out of a kitchen space roughly the size of a home bathroom, and there’s very little to figure out: jalapenos, jalapeno bacon, jalapeno mayo, pepperjack cheese. The bun absorbs the juices without getting soggy. The Boshi doesn’t play footsy, but it doesn’t roundhouse you through the back wall, either. Ketchup was never needed.
The fries are nothing remarkable, freezer crinkles methinks, but you get a good portion for $2.50 if you’re into it. While I’m on the subject of prices — wait, let me give the Twin Cities folk time to sit down. We good?
This burger and a Furious tallboy together, $11. Eleven.
The prices are welcoming, and so are the people. The waitresses, the bartenders, even the leather jacketed man in the bald eagle bandana talked about his grandkids and sent us off with a handshake. There wasn’t a single prick at Palmer’s, either time we went in.
The Boshi Burger is a microcosm of the entire Palmer’s experience: It’s done well but not over-thought. It’s comfortable but not snooty. There are few establishments, anywhere, who put it all together as well as Palmer’s. You could say they’re one of a dying breed, but they’ll live forever if they keep living like this.