As you walk into this cozy pub, you notice its eclectic vibe, like a cross between Psycho Suzi's and the Turf Club's Clown Lounge. You step over a rug unmistakably designed by Minneapolis artist Adam Turman. In front of you are two Juicy Lucys: one traditional and the other with blue cheese.
But this is not Minnesota. This is London, less than a mile from the Thames and the Tate Modern, in the Southwark neighborhood of mostly businesses and upscale condos. Lord Nelson Pub is an oasis of oddity and part of a trend of American-style burger joints that are introducing Minnesota's chief culinary export, the Juicy Lucy, to London.
If the pub's owner, Simon Ward, or any of his employees had ever been to Minnesota, you would swear the state could sue them for copyright infringement. Our server even uses the word "nice" when asked to describe the place.
Still, the real question is: How does the anglicized version of our heartland delicacy stack up? Ward brags that some Minnesotans have told him it's better than home. The comparison is apples and oranges, but frankly, this orange was pretty amazing.
Lord Nelson elevates the Juicy Lucy from the perfect hangover burger to an epic gourmet level. Ward wanted his burger to be big, and to keep the big patty moist he makes a paste of fried onions, capers, and gherkins. Then he adds soy sauce and English mustard. He mixes this with the meat before putting the two patties around aged cheddar cheese. On the burger, he puts coleslaw and a cucumber and is ready with a jar of chutney -- his suggested topping in lieu of ketchup.
The pub's "Bluesy Lucy" is stuffed with Stilton, which adds a distinctive bite where some blue cheese versions of the burger can feel a bit too mellow. Ward also mixes bacon into the patty. Again, he suggests the chutney. (And we suggest you go out and buy a jar of chutney before you make your next Juicy Lucy.) Another variation, the Whoopsie Lucy, is a vegetarian burger stuffed with cheese.
On the other side of London, in Camden Town, the Juicy Lucy pops up in a very different environment. The Diner bills itself as "classic American" dining, but it's a hip, upscale take on the diner. The Juicy Lucy here is not exactly what we would call traditional. In fact, it is the Minnesotan burger that went to study abroad in a foreign country and now has a really thick accent and wears linen pants.
To make their Juicy Lucy, the Diner chefs take slow-roasted pulled pork -- "St. Louis pulled pork" -- and add to it "diner cheese sauce," which the server calls "U.S. Cheese." Then they bread the patty in cornmeal before deep-frying it and topping it with spicy coleslaw. Regardless of its unorthodox makeup, this too is a spectacular burger.
The Juicy Lucy has popped up throughout the London area: the Dime Bar, the Globe (in Brighton), and Byron. Fred Smith, head of food for Byron, touts his Juicy Lucy as particularly true to the original. The special twist is the cheese, which he says melts at a low temperature so that the burger can be served pink (he wouldn't disclose the type of cheese they use).
When asked how the quintessential Minnesotan burger ended up on the plates of Londoners, almost everyone gives the same answer: Man v. Food. [page] Adam Richman's Travel Channel show visited Minneapolis in 2009, where he retold the story of the Juicy (or Jucy) Lucy's invention. "It started when I had an almighty hangover and I was watching Man v Food," Ward says. "And I was horizontal watching him eat a Juicy Lucy and I was thinking, 'Oh fuck all, I want that so much.' When I got to the fridge there was nothing in there and I said, 'Ahhhh save me, telly.'"
He came in on Monday morning and had the chef make up a version of the burger. They made up a dozen just to see what would happen. The first 12 orders of the day were all Juicy Lucys. Ward told the chef, "I think you might have to make some more."
The server at the Diner tells a similar story. He had first heard of the burger from Adam Richman's show. When asked what he knew about the burger, he recited the entire origin story and even cited Matt's Bar and the 5-8 Club. Our own Hatfield and McCoy story has gone international.
Of all the bars that serve our culinary claim to fame, Lord Nelson has the most remarkably Minneapolis feel to its decor and sensibilities -- starting with the rug designed by Adam Turman.
Ward is an art collector who got his start when he was working as a PR man in the music industry. Turman says the two became friends over the internet when Ward bought some of his gig posters. And when Turman visited London several years ago (before the Juicy Lucy was introduced to the menu), Ward took him and his wife around town.
Turman describes the same sensation of familiarity: "It felt a little Northeast-y. I guess I kind of felt at home."
Over 4,000 miles from Minneapolis, the Juicy Lucy is an international star, appearing twice on Shortlist.com's best burgers in the UK list. Our burger, the miracle cure of Twin Cities hangovers, has slowly begun to take over the world. And it makes a city as large and international as London feel just as familiar as home.