Summer is for Wagner’s Drive-In Double California burgers. Summer is for crinkle-cut French fries, onion rings, and large milkshakes. Summer is for chili cheese dogs and sandwiches with over-sized fish fillets. Summer is for picnic table umbrellas, trays hung from driver’s side windows, and getting out of your seat to run down a flyaway napkin.
Summer is over.
This year, September 23 bore the dreaded calendar phrase “Fall equinox.” We won’t be able to sit at the picnic tables much longer, and we’ll need to be careful soon about leaving hot food hanging outside of our car windows – not to mention leaving our car windows open. But as I sit at the picnic table today, watching cars cruise up and down Broadway Avenue while I await the arrival of onion rings and a fish sandwich, I’m already swelling with a summer’s worth of memories at this little Brooklyn Park drive-in.
I think it was two years ago now that a co-worker named Rose introduced me to this place. “Have you ever tried Wagner’s?” I hadn’t! And now, if I turn around at my desk and see a sunny sky out the window, a lunch at Wagner’s Drive-In is practically inevitable. So is my scramble around the office, and my repetitions of “I’m going to Wagner’s. You coming?” Being annoying is just being annoying, but being annoying with passion moves masses.
There could be three of us at Wagner’s Drive-In, any given weekday, two keesters on the bench seats and one on the table. Crickets chirp, the wind whispers, and we accidentally look like we’re posing for a folk album cover. #Squad. Or maybe it’s four of us, squeezed together in the shadow of an umbrella. Anyone lollygagging with their French fries or onion rings will soon have three other hands picking into their stash. That’s just how it is. We all have large milkshakes, obviously.
If there are no takers, I go it alone. The Double California here looks Heaven-sent. I take some 15-20 pictures, pick out my one good shot, and display it proudly on Instagram: the big, cartoonishly red slice of tomato; the handful of shredded lettuce; and char-kissed beef patties. It bites like the best burger at a backyard barbecue and carries that hint taste of old grill surface. You can’t just go out and get burgers like this anymore. You have to know where to go. Wagner’s Drive-In is one such place, a true classic among today’s imitators.
The first Wagner’s Drive-In dates back to the 1970s, when Ed and Annieliese Wagner went into business with a location in St. Louis Park. They eventually expanded to Brooklyn Park, but sold the original Wagner’s in 2003 (it was renamed Galaxy Drive-In, but is now closed). Ed and Annieliese’s son Jim runs Wagner’s today.
The dining room seats 14. On one wall is an American flag with a Brooklyn Park Fire Department badge in the star box, a gift in recognition of Jim Wagner’s work with the department. On another wall is a photograph commemorating Ed Wagner, who passed away in 2005. There’s a a metal sign by the register that reads WAGNER’S. BEST BURGERS EVER. The food never takes long, and you’ll probably have your large milkshake before you even step back from the ordering counter.
The Double Cali is flanked on the burger menu by a chili cheese burger, jalapeno popper burger, patty melt, and a few others. Beyond the burger section, hot and cold sandwiches rule the day. There’s a Philly, a Reuben, a turkey club, a grilled cheese, a couple of ham sandwiches, and that fish sandwich. One end of your fish fillet will probably be jutting out like a diving board, and ribbons of lettuce will be everywhere. The tartar sauce will make an honest effort to hold everything together, and mostly succeed.
Get chili dogs if you want to. They’re the plainspoken kind: the chili is either homemade or doing a fantastic job fooling me, the staff will probably bury your hot dog with it. Are you getting cheese? Please get cheese. It’s just a slice of American laid down under the dog and … I mean, pretty much melted. No matter how good I try to make them sound, you’ll probably still think “Holy crap, these ARE really good!” when you try one.
Summer is over, but make no mistake: we do this all year. Maybe we get one of those five tables in their dining room; maybe we bring it back to the office. But I always have a large milkshake in one hand. In the other, a vanilla milkshake I brought back for Rose. She asked for a small – and when I set that large vanilla milkshake on the edge of her desk, it thumps like the head of a gavel hitting a sound block.
- Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
- Prices: Individuals items are $5-10 all around.
- Location: Right here!
- Will I go back? If I turn around at my desk and see sunshine outside, lunch at Wagner’s almost becomes automatic.
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