The burger: The Minnesota State Fair and Burger Friday, a match for the ages, right? But rather than focus on a deep-fried monstrosity or some other gustatory fairgrounds nightmare, today's emphasis is on the humble $2.25 burger at the Midway Men's Club. (Note: This is a replay a 2013 edition of Burger Friday, updated by a 2016 visit).
That's correct: Two bucks, and a quarter. While the Fairgrounds seemed engineered to separate fairgoers from their cash, it's surprising -- and refreshing -- to stumble upon a vendor that leans towards affordability.
Is it a remarkable burger? No. The modestly-scaled patties come right out of the back of a freezer truck, and they're thawed/grilled on a flat-top stove, with little -- ok, no -- embellishment. Plain is the most generous way to describe the bun. This is a zero-frills burger best experienced by leaning heavy on the (free) condiments: plenty of grilled onions, a few layers of pickles and lots of ketchup and mustard. A gooey slice of American cheese helps, too, although that'll cost you another quarter.
But each paper-wrapped burger is hot, filling and astonishingly affordable. What they recall, more than anything else, are the low-budget burgers that my parents used to pick up by the bag on Friday nights when I was a kid in the early 1970s, stopping at the nearby McDonald's on their way home from work. Since the State Fair experience is soaked in nostalgia, this flashback burger fits right in.
Price: I mentioned the $2.25 price tag, right? Low prices are a theme. A double-patty burger goes for $3 (same price as three years ago), and adding cheese pushes up the tab another 50 cents. Try finding those deals anywhere else on the fairgrounds. Well, outside the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book, anyway.
Fries: Nope, making the MMC one of the fair's few deep-fryer-free zones. Another reason to love.
Good to know: Along with noticeably low beer prices, the stand also earns full marks for sheer niceness. It dates to 1963, back when the Fairgrounds were once dotted with similar diner-style vendors; today, the genre has become something of an endangered species. Everyone working on the premises is a volunteer -- most of the service club's 160-plus members clock at least one eight-hour shift over the course of the fair's 12-day run -- and they pitch in to raise money for St. Paul youth activity programs, primarily in the city's Midway area.
It's a total win-win situation: Fairgoers eat for less, and their patronage helps kids.
Address book: Underwood St. at Dan Patch Av.
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