It’s a term often used to describe a central, important place. Neighborhoods, industries, worldwide movements, all have such a place. As an example, I’d consider Grumpy’s Northeast in Minneapolis the nexus of the Twin Cities craft beer community. Most small towns have a Main St. around which its collective heart beats.
Individuals can have them, too. Maybe it’s an entertainment venue, or a getaway destination. Maybe it’s a comfortable room in your home. Think action. Think stories. Where’s yours?
Mine is in Superior, Wisconsin.
For the last 15 years, every point in my life and almost everyone involved have shared on thing in common: a bar on the south end of town. We’ve drank pitchers of Honey Weiss dry, cussed each other out over 8-ball shots, and eaten the best cheeseburgers in the world at this bar. I’ve hugged managers, and gotten into heated arguments with strangers over this bar. If this bar was my deserted island, I wouldn’t need to bring anything.
You’ll find it on Highway 53, past the Holiday gas station, right as you’re about to leave city limits. You’ll see a bright orange sign that reads: GRONK’S GRILL AND BAR.
I was introduced to Gronk’s in 2002. I was a sophomore at UW-Superior, and had just began working at Lids in the Miller Hill Mall. An obsession with cheeseburgers had already taken hold, and I thought I’d already found the best ones in the world at Tower Avenue’s hallowed Anchor Bar. My manager told me about Gronk’s, though, and suggested their burgers might be better than those at the Anchor. I thought he was nuts, but gave Gronk’s a go.
The first burger I had was a chili cheeseburger. So was the second, and so was the third, and so on for a while. I remember being floored, over and over, by heaps of homemade chili coating half-pound patties. It came open-faced; and, while you could technically use the top bun, there was no way I could’ve picked it up without dumping chili into my crotch. The first burger I fell in love with at Gronk’s was eaten by fork.
When I discovered their Wednesday buy-one-get-one-free special, I was there nearly every week. I even held staff meetings there when I ran the newspaper on campus. There’d be eight or nine of us, crowded around a six-person high table in the old bar, reaching over each other for Honey Weiss refills and the last ham and cheese balls. We gossiped about Student Senate members, and bitched about classes. Actual newspaper matters rarely came up.
Even after I graduated in 2005, Wednesday night Gronk’s visits were mandatory. As my fanaticism grew, I decided simply calling it “Gronk’s” didn’t properly express my excitement for it. I dreamed up an honorific address, one still used by my inner circle today.
I took a job at the Mesabi Daily News sports desk in 2006 and moved to Eveleth. When I was given my choice of days off during the week, I chose Wednesdays and Thursdays. Why?
So I could have Motherfucking Gronk’s.
I moved back to the area from the Iron Range back in 2008 after making history! I was the first person ever laid off at the Mesabi Daily News. This was when the bottom finally fell out of the newspaper industry. It was a jarring experience. I took a long time to recover from it.
When I had a little money, I stashed some aside for Wednesdays and had Mammoth Burgers at Gronk’s. The Mammoth Burger is a one-pound wrecking ball of nicely-ground beef, so big it requires a custom-made bun. It comes plain, but I paid the extra few cents for a slice of cheese when I could afford to (sadly, this was a calculated decision for me during this time).
I went with my cousin a lot. We’d talk raid strategies – we both played World of Warcraft at the time, which I do not recommend if you’ve fallen on hard times in the real world – and play pool on the warped table near the back exit. We rarely stepped up to the jukebox. Our ceaseless taunting, and the sound of beer being poured into glasses, was a soundtrack no singer could top. We’d play until the quarters ran out, finish our Mammoth Burgers, and give our cues back to the janky chef statue in the back corner who holds them.
I wasn’t happy often during this time, but there was one place I knew I could always find happiness. Sometimes, that alone gets you through.
“You haven’t been to Gronk’s?!”
I could never love a woman without making sure she can handle an upside-down burger. I brought this young gal there in early 2009. She was blonde, and about to turn 22. She immediately cosigned on my claim of Gronk’s having the world’s best cheeseburgers. I moved to the Twin Cities in 2010, and married the blonde woman in 2011.
Now, I visit the Twin Ports 2-3 times per year – which means I visit Gronk’s 2-3 times per year. More than once, I’ve driven to the Twin Ports just for Gronk’s.
These days, I absolutely must have a bacon cheesy cheese burger. It’s called cheesy cheese because it’s fitted with a slice of American cheese and a deep-fried patty of provolone. In photographs, it looks like an onion ring. It’s no gimmick: it’s stringy on the inside, crunchy on the outside, and gives a classically delicious bacon cheeseburger an unexpected dimension.
When you order this, ask for a cup of beer cheese on the side.
Gronk’s makes beer cheese unlike any other you’ve had. It spreads like a perfectly-whipped cream. It’s peppy, assertive, but not overwhelming. Smear it on the top bun, lay it on it thick, use the whole cup they give you. This is a pro-level move. Your first time doing this will absolutely astound you.
You’ll not find a burger like this anywhere else in the world.
I’ve taken my best friend from high school to Gronk’s. Both of my grandmothers, too. Both parents, their new spouses, most uncles and aunts, and countless friends have been there. I took one friend for the first time last Christmas. She’s probably the most soft-spoken friend I have, but I had her singing about Gronk’s by the end of the night. I brought two more friends a couple of weekends ago. The next day, I saw them again. They thanked me for the
all-caps-lock text message tirade suggesting they come with me. The day after that, they thanked me again.
I have not yet had the Enger Tower Burger, a six-patty monstrosity with six slices of cheese and a side of French fries. Now that I’ve blown “monstrosity,” I have no proper words for The Great Divide: six Mammoth patties, 12 slices of cheese, and a pound of fries. Read the whole challenge here.
Burgers at Gronk’s range in price from the $6.95 hamburger to $10.95, not counting the Enger Tower and Great Divide ($29.11 and $49.11, respectively). Burgers from the upside-down menu are still BOGO on Wednesdays; burgers from the large mouth menu are not. Check out all of the menus here. When the restaurant is packed, the wait time for your food can creep up toward an hour. Make sure you’ve got time, or call ahead for a traffic report.
I have hundreds more stories of birthday dinners, rants, and raucous nights out. I’ll have hundreds more before I’m done. I’ve got some friend, somewhere, I’m sure, who hasn’t had a cheeseburger here yet. I’ll find something to rant about, and want a pitcher of Honey Weiss. I’ll want ham and cheese balls, and a pool table to cuss at when shots go awry. I’ll want a cheeseburger, but I’ll only be hungry for the best one on Earth. For all of this, I know exactly where to go.
RELATED: If you want another example of how far back I go with this place, I wrote about Gronk’s Grill and Bar nearly five years ago, back when this blog was still The Kinked Slinky.