I was in Hibbing, dining and talking with two of the longest-tenured friends in my life. One was Aaron Brown, author, columnist, much better writer than me, and one of my first mentors. The other was Eliot, my brother from another mother (but his mother is basically my mother when I’m visiting the Iron Range).
I was at Mike’s Pub, on Howard St. Somehow, it took me over 36 years to eat such a sandwich.
The Basics: Mike’s Pub sits on Howard St. in a space formerly occupied by a Mexican restaurant. It absorbed the space next door to build in a game room, and a second floor for parties and overfill. It’s a good thing they’ve got extra space: when The Brickyard – the nexus of Hibbing’s nightlife at the time – burned down last summer, Mike’s brought in some of the displaced staff and many of the displaced night owls. The website.
RELATED: Hear my interview with Aaron Brown this week on the Minnesota Skinny podcast!
The corporate world calls them “collision spaces” but Jon Taffer calls them “butt funnels”: intentional obstacles meant to encourage close encounters with co-visitors. The logic is that you meet people, you get to talking, you connect! You collaborate! You’re terribly unproductive and you just wind up elbowing people and rubbing your butts against other butts. Many of the booths are too large for one party so you – gasp! – share it with strangers. This is actually how I learned how to Snapchat.
What I’m saying is, the guardrails between the booths and the bar counter, the random barber chair past the end of the bar, they work! It’s a nicely-done space, too. Think a sports bar dressed up for an outdoor wedding.
During the day, one table is situated on a small stage. That’s where we sat, because I can’t eat a meal anymore without feeling like an artiste. We first ordered Mike’s Pretzel, which you really ought to consider if you’re eating with a small group of people, or a large group of people, or even if you’re by yourself and want to draw attention to yourself with this at your table. Thankfully, I was eating with a small group of people.
The pretzel is advertised online as being 24 ounces, and that doesn’t seem like an exaggeration. Using Eliot’s hand, we measured the pretzel as being over a foot long and approximately a foot tall. That’s how large this pretzel is. You assign it a height.
Two cheese sauces accompany Mike’s Pretzel, a standard cheese and a jalapeno cheese. I wish the jalapeno cheese sauce would have been spicier, but I say that about everything. Both pretzels we ordered were soft like fresh bread loaves, and generously salted. Nothing weird is done to them. If you’re a pretzel fan and you find yourself in Hibbing, put Mike’s on the top of your list.
Have that, then have Michael’s Grilled Cheese Bacon Cheeseburger.
“It cleverly handles the problem of too much bun, not enough burger,” said Eliot as he held his at eye-level. AB added, “It’s like a stuffed crust.”
The top bun is a cheddar cheese sandwich, and the bottom a Swiss. On the burger is American cheese and thick-cut bacon. With this, Mike’s has plenty of opportunities to take shortcuts. They don’t, though. The sum is the classic enjoyment of a home-style grilled cheese – the light crunch, cheese wires snapping off and getting stuck to your chin, forgetting to pull it off until later that day – but with the heft of a cheeseburger. A dry patty or brittle slices of bacon would have been acquitted in a situation like this, but neither occur.
It took every ounce of will, AND the busy afternoon I had ahead of me, to stop me from eating both halves.
The pretzels are $11.50 apiece, and the burgers go for $12.50. Our server kept us topped off, and had the courtesy to move quietly past us when she saw we were recording an interview. It’s not something we ask for, so it’s a blessing when we get it. Mike’s Pub is taking a lot on, and it’s doing a hell of a job.
Eliot and I went back that night. The bar chairs were adorned with Easter bunny-face backrest covers. I put one over my head during karaoke and sang Lady Gaga, which I don’t do very well when I can’t see the lyrics. The end.
RELATED: Other must-eats in Hibbing include steak and eggs at Sportsmen’s Taverna, and the Boshi Burger (and all other burgers) at Palmers Tavern. If you know the right people, you can enjoy another one of the Iron Range’s finest bars: Tammy and Brad Hejda’s Thirsty Salmon!