A Highland Park burger haven will get sizzling again Thursday with the reopening of Casper's and Runyon's Nook.

In December, a fire gutted the locally renowned restaurant on Hamline Avenue across from St. Paul's Cretin-Derham Hall High School. Although Ted Casper and Mike Runyon serve similar fare at their nearby W. Seventh Avenue restaurant, Shamrock's, Nook fanatics prefer the atmosphere at the cozy neighborhood pub.

"We're trying to get it close to what it looked like before," Casper said of the rebuilt restaurant.

What will be the same is the menu with the patron-favorite Juicy Nookie and fresh-cut fries. The old wooden bar has been refinished and reinstalled at the front of the house with the full complement of beer taps hooked up and ready. Earlier this week the smell of sawdust -- and lack of food cooking -- gave the place that new-restaurant smell.

Regulars will notice a freshness to the place, including a "reservation only" table tucked near the bar where the tiny kitchen used to be. The kitchen now sits in the back of the restaurant.

An elevator is being added, making it easier to get food down to the Ran-Ham Bowling Center in the basement, a throwback alley where scores are kept with paper and pencil. The alley wasn't damaged in the fire nor was anyone present or injured at the time.

Several dining tables replaced pool tables in the basement, slightly expanding the Nook's seating capacity.

Most significantly, the Nook now has ramp access and an enlarged main-floor restroom, making it accessible for handicapped customers.

The reopening can't come soon enough for the owners, who saw the restaurant shuttered during the busier winter season. Insurance covered some of cost of being closed, but not all.

"We'll be fine. There's a lot of people out there who have it worse than us," Casper said.

The plan is to open now, and quickly work out the kinks associated with the new layout and equipment because customers will expect their favorites to be as they were before.

"We don't get the excuses of a new restaurant," Casper said. "We have to hit the ground running."

The restaurant will be open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. Casper said they're planning a splashier reopening party in June.

Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749