“…So we’re getting together at Kings about three o’clock. Come if you can, we’d all love to see you.”
“What’s Kings?” I ask.
And my former supervisor Jon just stares at me. After a few second he says, “You know where Wiederholt’s is?” I nod; I’ve been there many a time. “Right across the street from them.”
What’s the story?
Kings Bar and Grill has been a local fixture in the Minnesota town of Miesville since 1984, when the Greenlee family bought what had been a grocery store plus bar and restaurant with a limited menu, but the business that is Kings can be traced back to 1874. Still a restaurant and bar back then (okay, saloon), with boarding house, it was a stopping point between Red Wing and Hastings in the days of the horse and buggy. So whether one comes from Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hastings, or any of the little towns in between, a child of the area who doesn’t know about Kings will always rate that dumbfounded how can you not know about Kings look.
The plain, square exterior to the building gives no hint about the inside, though the full parking lot with overflow into the church’s across the street certainly suggests the place is popular. It’s a double-door entrance, of course – keeping heat in during the winter is a major focus of buildings in Minnesota. The first door opens into dark, well-kept wood with a dried-flower setting for accent. A cheerful dry-erase sign proclaims the day’s specials in a pastel rainbow – blue, yellow, pink. A slight scent hangs in the air from the last time the inner door was opened; grilled beef, onions, toasted bread.
Opening the inner door, you walk into the hum of conversation and laughter as well as a line. The bar – complete with stools, TVs showing Golden Gophers hockey and chatting patrons – is on the right; at the head of the line is a podium attended by a red-shirted employee, who takes names and party sizes before ushering folks to their seats.
Have you ever noticed how it’s possible to detect quality food with no more than your nose? Something rich and indefinable, yet not overpowering, that says top-grade meat, fresh tomatoes and lettuce, home-baked bread, and a tension inside your mind eases, because you subconsciously know you’re about to be treated, not tricked.
The second-shift group I’m there to meet is almost ready to leave, so I chat with them while the host seats Jerry, Ted and Don. The guys peruse the menu and order me a soda while I yap with people I haven’t seen for over a year. I am technically in the way, but the waitress simply gives me a smile and moves around me as I try to apologize.
Later, as I read the menu, I learn the story of Kings from the cover; a history as long as Miesville’s, the phrasing and the picture suggests the building is still the original one, built in the latter half of the 1800s! If that impression is indeed the truth, what an achievement! And it would explain the shape of the exterior.
The menu is a study all by itself. The back page has food suggestions other than burgers, but as the history says, after 1992, the focus of the business became more and more its signature burgers; from 4 simple ones to over 50! (And they are always open to audience participation and suggestion – under the header “Tryouts,” the entry World Series says they’re always looking for new ideas and to let the server know what you suggest.)
With names like Rook, Queen, Shutout, and The Sacrifice, and descriptions that include peanut butter and maple syrup, I need our waitress’ help in deciding what to order. When I tell her of my onion allergy, she warns me that they do fry onions on the same grill they use to cook the burgers, but that they will do their best to keep onions away from mine – a courtesy I always appreciate. I finally decide on the California Blu – a 1/3 pound burger with lettuce, tomato, and a sprinkling a Blu Cheese.
Oh. My. Word. It sounded strange, and it tasted great. The burger was thick and meaty, the bun perfectly toasted, the lettuce crisp and sweet instead of winter-bitter. And the melty, buttermilk-like tang of the crumbled Blue Cheese mixed in with the rest had me hunting every last speck off my plate to put back in the burger and enjoy properly.
Ted had ordered a burger with chipotle sauce and jalapeños; Lance joined us from the work group when the rest of them left (bantering with the host – “Did I tell you that you could take that chair?” “No, I thought you knew you hadn’t told me that.”) and talk drifted to Don’s cultivation of hot peppers, among them the dreaded ghost pepper.
Lance, though he loves hot stuff, shudders at the ghost pepper; Ted brings up one that’s been bred to be even hotter, the scorpion pepper, referring to them as “weapons of gastric destruction,” and our table rocks with laughter. Our noise causes the waitress to grin, and none of the other patrons bat an eye in our direction.
In fact, the only hitch in the afternoon was how slow the waitress was to stop back and take our payments after she’d dropped off our checks; Kings had gotten a new influx of people, and she was running from table to table with drinks, plates and smiles. We were left wondering if we should head up to the bar ourselves to pay, or wait. We got that question answered and rose to leave. Lance offers his chair back to the host – “You can have this back now,” who proceeds to look at the two short tables with full sides that had been the long table and say, “Well, what am I supposed to do with it now?” and Lance tells him to put someone in it and feed them.
Child of south-eastern Minnesota, I can now say I know where Kings is, and believe it deserves its reputation – “A Kings burger is sure to leave a tasty impression.”
Whenever you’re in the area, give that motto a test for yourself. Kings is worth it.
Kings Bar and Grill
(Known on Facebook as Kings Place)
14460 240th Street East, Miesville, MN 55033
Tuesday-Thursday 11am to 10pm; Friday-Saturday 11am to 11pm; Sunday 11am to 10pm; Closed Mondays
Varies, of course, depending on what you order, but reasonable – a plain 1/3-lb hamburger without fries or chips is $3.20 (as of late March 2014), and the prices range upward to $5.99
(651) 437-1418 or via the website