Take Me to the River: Springtime at the Mississippi Pub

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I stop into the Mississippi Pub on a textbook Minnesota March morning. The sky is bright, but the wind is brutal. The Mississippi River is right outside the bar, but the waves are small and sharp-looking. Does this wind make my water look cold? Some big boats are docked by the bar, but many are covered. The picture suggests it’ll be an exciting summer down here, but summer is quite a ways off yet.

Inside the pub, two servers named Shannon and Jonnie are working the Sunday crowd like Frank and Sammy worked “Me and My Shadow.” Communication is constant. Every time they cross paths, one asks if the other needs help. The place is probably three-quarters full, but they make it look easy. I slide up to the bar and ask for a coffee.

Shannon and Jonnie seem to know everyone at the bar. That includes me, and I’ve only been twice. Shannon says she recognized me as I walked up; Jonnie knows I’m a writer, and asks me “What’s today’s beat?” as she pours coffee.

I unload myself onto a barstool and tell her, “I’m sitting in it!”

Shannon has the hot hand at the pull tab tubs during one visit – someone wins over $500 in one sitting.

Jonnie and Shannon began working at the Mississippi Pub around the same time four years ago. Shannon is originally from St. Cloud, but moved out this way 15 years ago and got a job on the east side. She lived in Plymouth at first, but that changed when she adopted a six-month-old Lab/Coonhound mix.

“Of course I couldn’t leave him alone all day, so I migrated over here,” she said.

Jonnie is from Brooklyn Center, moved to this side in high school, and lives in Cottage Grove now. She has a dog, too, a German Shorthaired Pointer named Tucker. She’s also got two children, 5 and 3.

“I think having a dog is worse,” says Jonnie. “At least, with kids, you can find somebody to watch them.”

As we speak that day, Shannon’s parents are watching Beckett.

The Old Rock Island Swing Bridge in Inver Grove Heights

There’s a pier down in Inver Grove Heights that reaches halfway across the Mississippi River. It’s all that remains of the Rock Island Swing Bridge. First built in 1894, the bridge connected Inver Grove Heights and St. Paul Park until it was closed to traffic in 1999 – the same year the Mississippi Pub opened for traffic.

The east half collapsed in 2008, and the west half would have been wrecking-balled had the city not secured funds to save it. The bridge’s whole history is fascinating, and can be found on VisitIGH.com. I mention this because the pub is practically right underneath it. You pass the parking lot for the pier on your way to the pub. It’s a short walk to the end of the pier, and the view is a reward that far outweighs the effort required.

There’s a man who lives year-round in one of those big boats docked by the bar, a linebacker of a man with big hands and a shaved head. We get to talking. He gives me a virtual tour of his boat via phone photos, and sums up the living costs. He had a house once, he says, but it was far more space than he needed. He finally said screw it and bought a big boat instead. He estimates 50-60 people in Minnesota live on boats year-round.

“Most people say,’ Oh, it’d be too cold,'” he says. “[I have to say] No, it’s not! There’s a furnace in it. It’s not like we’re cavemen out there.”

He tells me about Kinnikinnick Island, and weekend-long parties he hosts out there, but says getting there on his boat requires about $200 in gas. He looks back on long nights at the pub. He’s had some huge tabs, but he mostly comes here for lunch.

When I ask him how the burgers are, he nods and says “Excellent.”

Bacon Marmalade

The Mississippi Pub kitchen may or may not be larger than the cubicle space I occupy during the day, but they make it work in there. Mac and cheese, burgers and sandwiches carry the main menu. Appetizers and house-made pizzas headline a late-night menu, and they sling breakfast plates on the weekends.

My friend with the boat loves the Pub Burger, made from a simple blueprint of bacon, American, lettuce, tomato, and barbecue sauce. I’d have the Pub Burger on a later visit – it’s no-nonsense and delicious.

My favorite is the Bacon Marmalade. Sweet onion marmalade, bacon, smoked Gouda, and garlic aioli. We don’t see those sins all in one place together too often. We need to take advantage of those opportunities when we find them.

There’s a burger with jalapenos, pepperjack cheese, and chipotle ranch called “Prop.” Another one rides Texas toast with Gorgonzola crumbles, melted Swiss, sauteed mushrooms, and onions. You can see the whole all-day menu here.

Get pub chips. They make their chips in-house with a potato spinner, and serve them with that seasoned sour cream that crushes Minnesotans’ willpower so often.

Huevos Rancheros

Breakfast at the Mississippi Pub means your choice of a Bloody Mary, screwdriver, mimosa, or tap beer on the house. The Bloody Mary is a popular choice, but I stick with coffee. The bar opens at 9 a.m. on the weekends, and the special runs until noon.

Jonnie steers me to the huevos rancheros when I ask for a cool-looking, good-tasting meal. It’s a wreath of chorizo salsa and shredded cheese arranged on a fried tortilla, with a pair of eggs in the center. It delivers on the aesthetic pleasure but it’s good eatin’, too. Stab into both yolks at once, watch it flow in every direction, hack, smear, and scoop with your fork. That plate will look good when it’s clean, too.

Otherwise, you’ve got a burrito packed with six ingredients and topped with two more; a breakfast sandwich made with two eggs and Texas toast; three pancakes, add chocolate chips for $1; biscuits and gravy; and, for the serial killer who brunches, a flatbread.

Cheeseburgers are 2-for-1 Monday nights, but there is a nominal upcharge if you go for the special burgers. If their fish and chips are like the plate of fish I had during an all-you-can-eat fish fry one Friday night, I do recommend it. The Mississippi Pub’s only misstep thus far has been an overcooked patty when I had a Tugboat Burger one day, and the kitchen had just gotten ambushed by a surprise party of 40 when that happened.

What I keep hearing is that I need to come back during the summer, when the patio is open for business and bands are jamming long into the night. It’s coming, but I’m content at my barstool with my coffee for now. I have people to share dog pictures with. I’m already on a conversational basis with some of the regulars. I might be addicted to pub chips. It all happens so fast here.

It’s one hell of a beat, if I may say so myself.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Love that place and the food and service is always good. I kind of actually prefer it in the winter when it is a little quieter and you can look at the river and pretend there is not snow all around you.

    • I do, too! Living in Newport now, I can be there in 10 minutes. I just wish that swing bridge was still up and running – I live pretty much right on the other side of it. Put a bridge there and I could be there in two!

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