Juicy Lucys have made it to London, but are they any good?

Categories: Minnesota Made

Wes Burdine
The Juicy Lucy at the Diner in London, England.

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.

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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.

Wes Burdine
The Juicy Lucy at Lord Nelson's.

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.

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