The scene: Tony Jaros River Garden, a dimly lit neighborhood bar in northeast Minneapolis. It’s a long, narrow room, with most of the 50 seats bellied up to the well-worn wooden bar. The signature drink is the Greenie, which is served in a plastic cup and tastes like alcoholic lime Kool-Aid. The bartender is an efficient, no-nonsense type who calls you “hon.” Most of the patrons seem to be regulars. You get the feeling that the place hasn’t changed all that much since it was opened by local-boy-made-good pro basketball player Tony Jaros in 1960.
But then you notice the menu: A chicken burger with garlic aioli. The vegetarian-friendly Impossible Burger. A mysterious BBQ Pig Wings appetizer at "market price."
What gives? After cook Bitsy Jaros Rettke retired from her 16-year tenure serving up homestyle meals, local chef Nick O’Leary (Borough, Coup d’etat, Travail) and restaurateur Josh Thoma (Smack Shack, the Lexington) took over the kitchen. Their venture is called Burger Dive, and it brings a new lineup of burgers, appetizers, and sides to the classic watering hole.
We got a sneak peek at the menu just before it launched last Thursday, and here are five key things to know about Northeast’s new dive bar-based burger joint.
1) There definitely some chef-driven flourishes.
As you’d expect from O’Leary and Thoma, the menu displays careful attention to detail. Burgers are crafted with a housemade grind, and many include a little something extra: A swipe of avocado, a dab of onion jam, a heap of pico. In addition to that garlic aioli, the chicken burger stands out for its juicy blend of ground chicken thighs enriched with pork belly. No dry poultry burger situation here!
2) But sometimes basic is best.
Although every burger we tried was solid, our favorite was actually the simplest: The House burger, which rings up under $10 and is topped with a classic combo of American cheese, minced onion, and a few housemade pickles.
In the appetizer section of the menu, deviled eggs and French onion dip taste exactly like the versions you’ll find at church-basement potlucks and backyard barbecues across the Midwest—and that’s fine. Sometimes, you just don’t mess with a good thing.
3) Don’t overlook the wings.
At a place that takes its namesake from the burgers, it would be tempting to stick with beef. That would be a mistake. While they might be tricky to eat—jamming a bone-in whole wing into your mouth requires some wrangling—it’s worth the effort. Order them wet or with a dry rub; both are excellent.
We also enjoyed the pig wings, made from pork foreshanks (basically the pig version of your forearm). They’re slow cooked, tossed with cornstarch, fried, and finally finished with O’Leary’s barbecue sauce. The meat is so tender it falls off the bone, and the sauce hits the ideal sweetness level.
4) You’ll find some bold flavors.
We were pleasantly surprised by sinus-clearing heat of the mustard served with the Big Ass Pretzel, and the cheese curds have a nice jalapeno kick. The PBJ Burger—bacon, peanut butter, and grape jelly, served on an English muffin—wasn’t really our thing, but you know what? It still works, and we’re betting there are plenty of people who will relish the sweet and savory mash-up.
5) It’s still a dive bar.
Keep in mind that the Burger Dive is an independent business from Tony Jaros River Garden—to get your food, the bar staff will buzz the kitchen to come out and take your order. You’ll end up with two separate tabs, one for booze and one for food. Both businesses are cash-only, but there’s an ATM onsite.
Never fear, Northeast: Your neighborhood bar and your Greenies aren’t going away anytime soon.