16180 Flying Cloud Drive, Eden Prairie, MN 55347 (map); 952-934-5299; lionstap.com
Cooking method: griddle
Short Order: Classic, simple burgers done right
Want Fries With That? Crisp and well seasoned
Price: single hamburger, $3.30; double cheeseburger, $7.45; fries: $2.25
Lions Tap is an old place. Cemented in the bluffs of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, outside of Minneapolis, the Tap has been selling burgers since 1958, but it's far older than that. The low building has been rehabbed and renovated over the years, so that it now resembles a classic, Midwest basement complete with Vikings and Twins collectibles and bucolic wallpaper featuring deer, ducks, and other birds. It feels like a wholesome place, too. Bert and Bonnie Notermann, the owners and formulators of the current burger (served since they purchased the restaurant in the 70's), are introduced on the menu as "Your Hosts."
An absurdly detailed pair of prominently hung posters lays out the entire history of the location beginning epically with "The year was 1855...". From there, the poster traces the story of the Tap as it has evolved from a vegetable market to a beer stand, a bar, a gas station, and back to a bar before the then owners began selling burgers in 1958. Other key details include the fact that the parking lot was blacktopped in 1981 and the specifics of an easement granted to previous owners at the dawn of the twentieth century. No detail is too small for the Tap.
Lions Tap serves the classic ideal of a burger (described as a "purist's favorite" on the menu) and is better for it. Despite the Jucy Lucy's inextricable identification with Minneapolis, customers will not find any cheese-stuffed burgers here. Instead, quarter-pound patties are ground and hand-formed daily, cooked to a fine, nearly black sear on a griddle and topped with Lions Tap's seasoning blend, which most likely contains a bit of garlic and onion powder and black pepper, among other, more secret ingredients.
The resulting beef is plenty juicy, with a meaty bite and properly salty. The single hamburger ($3.30) comes simply with raw or fried onions and pickles, but I opted for a double cheeseburger ($7.45) with fried onions (always go fried). The attention paid to detailing the history of the Lions Tap carries over to the burgers; they're appropriately minimalist, but carefully constructed.
Other burger options include a mushroom and Swiss burger (single, $4.75; double, $8.95), which has its benefits, but isn't as memorable as the original.
The California burger (single, $4.60; double, $8.65) comes with lettuce and tomato (not this California Cheeseburger).
Fries ($2.25) are crisp and well seasoned, but you may be better off ordering a second burger as a side.
Root beer on tap and fountain "pop" are available and screamingly sweet, but they me nostalgic for the homemade root beer stand I grew up on in Ohio.
Lions Tap is as advertised—straightforward burgers done right and not overcomplicated. If you're looking for a classic burger in the Minneapolis area, the Tap has you covered.
About the author: Noah Arenstein is a practicing lawyer, freelance writer, and co-founder and managing editor of Real Cheap Eats, a site dedicated to finding the best dishes under $10 throughout NYC. He can also be found making "Global Jewish Sandwiches" for Scharf & Zoyer. Follow him on Twitter @ChiefHDB.