Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 9:39 a.m.
Somewhere out there, this burger waits for you
Sometimes we just need an excuse to hit the open road. For us, the promise of a perfect burger is just enough to gas up the car and go -- like a dangling meaty carrot at the end of a sunshine-soaked journey. Few experiences are a better slice of Americana than jumping out of the car and digging into a delicious burger, still sizzling from the flattop, juices soaking into a plush bun, draped in orange cheese, occasionally graced with some extra crispy bacon or a pile of fried onions. Here are three of our favorites to be found by driving north up Interstate 35.
3. Gordy's Hi-Hat, 415 Sunnyside Drive, Cloquet
(Pictured above) You'll swear you see Richie Cunningham and the Fonz around the corner as you enter this old-school drive-in. Take your place in line with the hungry hordes as the friendly staff quickly make their way through the orders. People come from miles around, planning stops on their way up to the cabin around the opportunity to dine at Gordy's Hi-Hat (or in the colder months, next door at the Warming Shack). They've got freshly made shakes, fries cut from scratch, and piles of thick onion rings, but the star attraction are these burgers. The fresh meat is gently coaxed into patties, quickly fried, and tucked into a fluffy, fresh bun. As you bite into it the burger collapses into your mouth sending your tastebuds into a beefy wonderland. They're so rich, juicy, and perfectly portioned, you'll find yourself pulling a Houdini. One moment, there is a burger, the next: It's gone!
2. Big Daddy's Cafe
, 2828 Piedmont Ave, Duluth
Home of the Big Daddy challenge, this little joint is tucked into an off-the-beaten path strip mall on top of a hill just outside of Duluth. The blue-collar atmosphere is homey. The waitress might call you "sweetie" or "honey." Even the regular-sized burger packs a hefty punch. You might be tempted to split one, but resist the urge. You'd hate to get into a fight over who got the bigger half. They're too good to share. Thick and cooked to order, they arrive quickly at the table with a pile of crisp, hot fries. They make those babies from scratch. Crispy and golden on the outside, pillowy on the inside, and served screaming hot. They're a perfect foil to that rich hunk of meat. Big Daddy's makes a big burger oh, so good.
That's going down like the Edmund Fitzgerald
Photo courtesy of The Anchor Bar
1. The Anchor Bar, 413 Tower Ave, Superior, Wisconsin
This is the stuff that dive-bar dreams are made of: As you walk into the darkness of the Anchor Bar on a sunny day, the room is slow to reveal itself. There is stuff everywhere. A dentist chair in the back, stacks of books, nets, shipping detritus, deep sea diving helmet, fish, rope -- there's no amount of time that you can spend in here and eventually see it all. While it sounds like an episode of Hoarders, in reality, it's a kitchy, cozy sort of darkness. Settle in at a table and grab a menu. These burgers are incredibly affordable; you can feed yourself and get a beer for about the same amount of money you've got lurking in your couch cushions. The waitresses are well-skilled in the sarcastic arts, so don't expect any coddling. Just order your damn burger and say thank you. The burger is moderately thin, but an ultimate beef explosion -- flavor that can only be coaxed from being cooked on a flattop that has been seasoned through the ages. Crispy on the outside, charred, heavenly. Impossible to eat without closing your eyes to drown out everything else, and spend a private moment in the dark with this bite of burger love.