Where were you when you had your first cheeseburger with grilled cheese sandwiches used as the bun?
I was in Hibbing, dining and talking with two of the longest-tenured friends in my life. One was Aaron Brown, author, columnist, much better writer than me, and one of my first mentors. The other was Eliot, my brother from another mother. I was at Mike’s Pub, on Howard St. Somehow, it took me over 36 years to eat a sandwich with grilled cheese sandwiches as buns.
Mike’s Pub sits on Howard St. in a space formerly occupied by a Mexican restaurant. It absorbed the space next door to build in a game room and a second floor for parties and overfill. It’s a good thing they’ve got extra space: when the Brickyard – the nexus of Hibbing’s nightlife at the time – burned down last summer, Mike’s brought in some of the displaced staff and many of the displaced night owls. The website.
RELATED: Hear my interview with Aaron Brown this week on the Minnesota Skinny podcast!
The corporate world calls them “collision spaces” but Jon Taffer calls them “butt funnels”: intentional obstacles meant to encourage close encounters with co-visitors. The logic is that you meet people, you get to talking, you connect! You collaborate! You’re terribly unproductive and you just wind up elbowing people and rubbing your butts against other butts. Many of the booths are too large for one party so you – gasp! – share it with strangers. This is actually how I learned how to Snapchat.
What I’m saying is, the guardrails between the booths and the bar counter, the random barber chair past the end of the bar, they work! It’s a nicely-done space, too. Think a sports bar dressed up for an outdoor wedding.
Your first order of business should be Mike’s Pretzel. It’s advertised online as being 24 ounces, and it doesn’t give you any reason to doubt that when you’re seeing it in real time. Using Eliot’s hand, we measured the pretzel as being over a foot long and approximately a foot tall. That’s how large this pretzel is: you assign it a height.
Two cheese sauces accompany Mike’s Pretzel, a standard cheese and a jalapeno cheese. I wish the jalapeno cheese would have been spicier, but it wasn’t bad. Both pretzels we ordered were soft like fresh bread loaves, and generously salted.
Michael’s Grilled Cheese Bacon Cheese Burger, as my man Eliot pointed out, cleverly handles the problem of too much bun and not enough burger. AB added, “It’s like a stuffed crust.”
The top bun is a cheddar cheese sandwich, and the bottom a Swiss. For the novelty, I was willing to let a kind-of-too-small, overcooked patty slide. It’s a simple, edible amusement. It’s the kind of thing you’d think about making at home, decide it would be too much work, and settle for a frozen pizza instead. Having someone else make this for you is worth its $12.50 price tag by itself. That it tasted good, despite its flaws, was a bonus.
The pretzels are $11.50 apiece, and the burgers go for $12.50. Our server kept us topped off, and had the courtesy to move quietly past us when she saw we were recording an interview. It’s not something we ask for, so it’s a blessing when we get it. Mike’s Pub is taking a lot on, and doing a bang-up job with it.
Eliot and I went back that night. The bar chairs were adorned with Easter bunny-face backrest covers. I put one over my head during karaoke and sang Lady Gaga, which I don’t do very well when I can’t see the lyrics. The end.
RELATED: Other must-eats in Hibbing include steak and eggs at Sportsmen’s Taverna, and the Boshi Burger (and all other burgers) at Palmers Tavern.