One of the first entries I had over five years ago on Road Tips was about the Lions Tap in Eden Prairie, MN. My friend, Bob Boyd, had turned me on to the Lions Tap and I wrote about it here. As you can tell, the blog - and my voice within the blog - has come a long way from those early days. The Lions Tap makes such a great burger that I had to revisit the place on a recent trip to Minneapolis and write a more deserving post on the place.
The history of the Lions Tap twists and turns all the way back to 1933 when the present day location (see map) was used as a vegetable stand to sell produce for land owners Severin and Mary Peterson. Mike and Inga Larson managed the little produce stand for the Peterson's and after awhile they began to sell beer along with the fruits and vegetables. After a while, the Larson's decided to put in a gas station.
After the death of Severin Peterson, Mary Peterson sold the business to her son, Severin II, and his wife, Doris. The younger Peterson's eventually sold it to John and Mattie Buckingham who quit selling produce and turned the place into a boot-legged whiskey bar with gambling. And after the death of John Buckingham, Mattie sold the little roadside tavern to Leonard and Helena Schaefer.
The Schaefer's introduced little deli sandwiches, known as "Stewart Sandwiches". Business got so good from the sandwiches and the beer being sold that they eventually tore out the gas pumps to make room for more parking. The Schaefer's eventually began to franchise their sandwiches and today the "Stewart Sandwiches" are now known as Deli Express - a company that provides pre-made deli sandwiches to convenience stores in 26 states.
"Ma" Schaefer, as Helena was called, was quite the local celebrity around the Twin Cities. Newspaper articles were written about her and she was overly beloved in the community. Upon the death of Leonard Schaefer in 1958, "Ma" sold the place to her niece Irene Lyons and her husband, Sears Lyons. It was then that they began to make the burgers they're so famous for today.
The first burgers were made in an electric frying pan that could cook up to four burgers at a time. The Lyons introduced draft beer - Hamm's and Grain Belt, of course - and soon they expanded the little place to provide for music and dancing. But the draw were the burgers the Lyons' made at the roadside bar.
In 1974, the Lyons retired and sold the business to Lloyd Berg. When Berg couldn't get a city permit to sell liquor, he sold the place to his brother Vern. Vern, and his wife, Marlene, saw how much of a gold mine the burger portion of the place was and expanded the kitchen just to be able to do more burgers. They also introduced the french fries and onion rings the Lions Tap is famous for today.
The Berg's eventually sold the business to Don and June Gilbert in 1977. The Gilbert's owned the place for a very short time, selling to Bert and Bonnie Noterman only after a few months of ownership. The Noterman's changed the name of the place to the present day Lions Tap. The Noterman's also improved upon the already great burger by introducing a quarter-pound, handmade patty, and cooked with their special seasoning. They upgraded the buns and began to lightly toast each bun for improved flavor.
The Noterman's upgraded the building in the mid-80's with a nearly half-million dollar renovation. More parking was added, more seating was added. But it was the same great burgers on the menu that people kept coming in to eat on a regular basis.
I met a dealer and his fiancee for lunch at the Lions Tap one day when I was in the Twin Cities recently. I was a little early, so I sat at the bar and ordered up one of the Lions Tap's craft beers they had to offer. Their beers are brewed for them by the Cold Spring Brewery, a Twin Cities area brewery that dates back to the mid-1800's and who now makes a number of private label brews for a number of restaurants including Gluek's in downtown Minneapolis. The Lions Tap Lager had a crisp, but somewhat bitter taste to it. It was OK, but it wouldn't have been anything that I would have sought out to take home with me.
My dealer and his fiancee showed up and we sat in one of the booths in the main dining area by the bar. The menu at Lions Tap is pretty small - they feature six different types of burgers along with their fries and onion rings. My dealer ordered a double cheese burger with fries, his fiancee had gone to the restroom, so he ordered a California Cheese burger (lettuce and tomato) and onion rings for her. I ordered a double mushroom/swiss cheese burger with raw onions. They cook the onions on the grill with the beef patties and it helps give the burgers their distinct taste.
It wasn't all that long after we ordered when the burgers showed up at the table. From the first bite, I remembered what I have been missing for over five years. The taste of the burgers at the Lions Tap is just sensational. The special seasoning helps, but I'm almost positive that the old grill that has been cooking thousands and thousands of burgers over the year helps give them that distinctive taste. The beef was juicy and moist, the fresh mushrooms were grilled, it was swimming in Swiss cheese, the bun was excellent and the overall taste was outstanding. It's no wonder the Lions Tap has won a number of Twin City area "Best Burger" awards over the years.
I'm in the process of updating my "Best Burgers" list and I may have to seriously think about adding the Lions Tap to my personal Top Ten favorite burgers. It's a little bit of a drive out to the Lions Tap, but the trip is worth it. The Twin Cities have a number of very good burger places, but the Lions Tap may be the best of them all.