The cloth on the pool table is blue, most of the walls are painted red, the ceiling is painted pitch black, and there’s a Jalapeño Popper Juicy Lucy on the menu that just got showered in gold. This is Jersey’s Bar and Grill, on the very regal-sounding Concord Boulevard in Inver Grove Heights.
If you fancy yourself a burger freak in the Twin Cities and hadn’t heard about Jersey’s, you might have been a little bit screw-faced last Saturday when everybody voted them tops at the Twin Cities Burger Battle. And I mean everybody: they took Judges’ Choice and People’s Choice, the first time that’s ever happened in the same year.
Jersey’s co-owner Bill Ashton says the Jalapeño Popper Juicy Lucy has been on the menu for about four years now, and was an idea he whipped up with the kitchen crew at the time. This is the first year the popper has represented Jersey’s at the Burger Battle.
But before you even meet that burger, the first thing I think you’re going to like about Jersey’s is … well, Jersey’s.
The building Jersey’s Bar and Grill occupies dates all the way back to the 1890s, but it was 2001 when Bill and Shelley Ashton pursued it. Bill was managing a Bierstube at this time, he says, and looking for a business ownership opportunity. He was 24 years old.
“I always told people,” he says, “Instead of going to school and spending money, I worked and made money, figured out what I wanted to do and started a business.”
Bill says the building wasn’t in the best shape when they bought it. A number of remodeling projects over the years updated the bar, installed the patio, fixed the upstairs, and most recently added hardwood floors and new windows.
The tagline on the Jersey’s website reads as follows: “Come for the food, stay for the fun.”
I came for the food and found a good place to catch a sports game. If the Timberwolves and Wild were any good, Jersey’s would have had enough TVs to play them both from plenty of angles ’round the bar counter. The TV screens aren’t huge and distracting, though – you have to want to watch them, and I like that. On the night of my visit, I effortlessly ignored an NHL playoff game between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues; a baseball game between the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies; and a golf … golfing.
I came for the food and found a bar with Slushie booze mixers, pull tab vending machines, and big red siren bubbles affixed over the bar counter. I found a paddle board chalkboard, too, advertising Malibu frozen drinks.
But most importantly, I came for the food and met Marina.
“Are you going to talk about how awesome a bartender I am?”
Marina says that in jest, but two other patrons at the bar tell me she’s “Number One” and “the best bartender in Minnesota.” She’s been at Jersey’s eight years, originally from Inver Grove Heights but lives a little bit south of town now. She prefers the French Onion Juicy Lucy, likes the au jus that comes with it, and is a big fan of Jersey’s garlic fries. She suggests them to me and now I, too, am a big fan of Jersey’s garlic fries.
Marina sends me into a brief state of bafflement when she tells me how much a pint of Cigar City Brewing’s Jai Alai IPA is. That was the beer I fell for when I vacationed in Florida four years ago, the best purchase I’ve ever made at a Publix, and the reason I was so excited when Cigar City finally began distribution in Minnesota last year.
Anyhow, how much does a pint of Jai Alai cost at Jersey’s? It wasn’t happy hour when I stopped in. Seven dollars? Eight? Nine?
Five dollars and seventy-five cents.
She brings me a pint and says, “Welcome to Inver Grove Heights.”
If you think I’m making this up, you’re overestimating how clever I am and how well I know music: the song that played while I took my first bites of that Jalapeño Popper Juicy Lucy was Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This.”
That cozy-looking blanket on top of the beef is jalapeño cream cheese, and a toasted sourdough bun covers that. I wish there would’ve been more cheese inside of it, but I say that about everything. It’s perfectly kicky, with a zing that draws you in, not a stupid heat that turns you away. It comes with sriracha you probably won’t need. There are greens on the side you probably won’t use. You’ll flip that top bun onto that comfy-looking blanket of cream cheese and eat this burger with focus.
This Juicy Lucy isn’t like the others, as Ashton explains.
“We were toying around with deep-frying them because they take so long to cook,” he says. “We came up with this, and it works great. Breading and deep-frying them is super easy and they cook a lot quicker.”
If the mere thought of this burger is causing your forehead to sweat, fine. There are 10 Juicy Lucys on the menu and 12 non-Lucy burgers. Maybe try the French Onion Lucy, Marina’s choice. It’s stuffed with provolone and caramelized onions, then topped with Swiss and fried onions. It comes on a toasted onion bun with that side of au jus.
You can try “The Cheesiest Burger in MN.” How does this sound: two quarter-pound patties topped with American, Swiss, pepper jack and cheddar jack cheeses? Wait – it’s also smothered in queso. It’s served on rosemary-sliced Tuscan flatbread. You can see the whole Jersey’s menu here.
They offer $2 meatballs at happy hour. There are drink specials at happy hour, too – in case a $5.75 pint of Jai Alai isn’t enough. There’s a drink of the month (Altos Margarita); shot of the month (Altos, just Altos); salad of the month (stop it); Juicy Lucy of the month (Cinco de Mayo); beer of the month (Guinness?); and a “Sand of the Month” (chorizo fried tacos).
You can find their daily specials here. Notice the number of times they’re about to show up on my next Burger Deals list update.
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