Imagine having a heavyweight boxer swing at your head with his left hand and miss. You feel the air from it, but you barely see it because it zips past so quickly.
In the second or so it takes you to process that, the right hand comes. It’s lands perfectly and you’re virtually knocked back in time. You see stars, little tweety birds, and a cheeseburger you ate four-and-a-half years ago.
That’s how I got the news Sunday, that Victory 44 had closed: scrollin’ down my Facebook feed, “Wait, what?” scroll back up, and I just stare at the screen. I didn’t even click the link. I just sat there, gutted.
The sadness of seeing a restaurant close lately feels like it’s getting dampened by how often it’s happening (or at least how often it feels like it’s happening). Victory 44 wasn’t just a restaurant, though, not to me.
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The look on my face says it all. That was my first Perfect Burger at Victory 44.
Everything people say to exaggerate their emotions, or plunk into headlines to get extra clicks, was absolutely true about Victory 44 for me. It wasn’t “like, so amazing!” it was amazing in that my first Perfect Burger truly amazed me. It wasn’t “OMG. Life. Changing.” The Perfect Burger became one of the ambassadors with which I introduced friends to the Twin Cities. My co-worker from Germany, I brought her for a Perfect Burger. Whenever I found out friends hadn’t had it before, I dropped everything and hauled their asses to North Minneapolis. That’s just how it was.
The Perfect Burger wasn’t “WELL, THIS IS A GAME-CHANGER!!!!!” The story of my first Perfect Burger is the first post on this website. Why? Because that cheeseburger started this website. THAT’S a game-changer. It had it, and the world had to know.
Revelation became curiosity. Are there more like this around here? I read a lot about this ‘Butcher and the Boar.’ Will that be like this? It was, but in a different way, and just like that, writing about whatever stupid thing happened to me lately became writing about the last thing I ate. That became purchasing my own web domain. That because The Minnesota Skinny. Everything it has become, it all started with that Perfect Burger back in 2013.
RELATED: “Flawless Victory!” from 2013.
Growing up in Duluth, my affordability ceiling for dining out was pretty much The Anchor and Gronk’s in Superior. The $2.50 Monday night pitchers. The warped-to-hell pool tables. At that time, cheeseburgers came to me in plastic baskets lined with flimsy red and white paper. Thinking about it, I can’t say for sure that I’d ever been served a cheeseburger on a plate before my first Victory 44 visit. I probably had, at like a Perkins or something.
Victory 44 wasn’t intimidating to people like me. In fact, it looked a lot like the restaurants that served you cheeseburgers in baskets. You probably had to park on the street, you probably saw cars shaking to bass thumps as they went past, and there was a 50/50 chance your dining room seat had you staring at a poster-sized pic of a pig’s ass. I can’t recall much about that dining room, but a fellow could never forget that poster-sized pig’s ass.
Usually, we sat near the bar. There was a table next to the window at which my groups reliably landed at. You could see everything from that table. The menu was up on a chalkboard, right behind it; you could look into the dining room, beyond statues or pigs, and smaller photos of pigs, and gaze upon the pig’s ass; you could see which beers were on tap (this was where we tried Brau Bros. Moo Joos for the first time) and beyond that right into the kitchen. The chalkboard menus were cool, but we knew what we’d come for.
The staff explained the Perfect Burger with such zeal. When initiating friends, though I’d already told them about it, I insisted they hear about it from the server. They explained how the burger patty was made – 80-percent lean ground beef, 20-percent pork belly! – and the bun it came on. They explained the French fries, how they’re fried in bacon grease and dusted with Parmesan cheese. It was a typical server’s duty by no means. This was a foreword to something incredible.
Then the actual meal came, and you got to watch your companions’ faces light up. You got to wonder if that’s what you looked like when you took your first bite. If you’re like me, and you get irrationally excited when you introduce your friends to good food, this was truly a golden moment. You got to live your first time vicariously through them, and talk about it way too enthusiastically afterward. You got to talk about it on the way home, and probably in your next few conversations thereafter. That’s what a Perfect Burger was capable of.
It wasn’t a $14 cheeseburger. It was a $14 moment, a memory, and how many of your best memories would you pay $14 to have? This was one of those memories.
And now, strong as they are, the memories are all that remain.
The innovation is not gone, as chef and proprietor Erick Harcey is still conjuring wonder at Upton 43 (it’s moving soon). Harcey also has a fried chicken take-out counter, for now. Other restaurants are allegedly in the works, but no restaurant could do for me what Victory 44 did. No cheeseburger, even the greatest one in the world, could do for me what the Perfect Burger did. I’ll eat another 10,000 before one of them finally kills me, I reckon, and I don’t think I’ve had the one best cheeseburger of my life yet.
I might forget that one, but my first Perfect Burger? I won’t forget that one.