A few weeks ago I had an early morning flight I had to take out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. The night before my morning flight I stayed at a hotel near the airport. I'd been on the road a lot up to that point and I was craving some comfort food. Not Indian comfort food, but the real kind - hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. I wanted to go to a Keys Cafe, but there weren't any near where I was staying. A quick look on the Internet pointed me to a place in nearby Eagan by the name of Junior's Cafe and Grill. It was less than a 10 minute drive from the hotel so I set out for Junior's Grill (as it's known to the locals).
Alice Reyes is listed as the owner of Junior's Cafe and Grill. It has been a long time favorite for breakfasts, burgers and comfort food for people on the southeast side of the Twin Cities. In addition to the Junior's Cafe and Grill location in Eagan, they also have a bigger location in south suburban Burnsville called Junior's Sports Cafe that opened in 2010. They have a more extensive menu at that location and I understand that they have live entertainment.
Junior's Grill in Eagan is located off Pilot Knob Road near its exit off of Interstate 35 E. It's situated in a strip mall on Duckwood Drive in the midst of an area that has a number of retail stores and restaurants with a large Walmart across the street. (see map) There's ample parking out in front of Junior's.
Parking wasn't a problem when I got to Junior's Cafe and Grill around 7:30 that particular evening. I went in to the small restaurant and took a seat at a table up front in the corner. There were a group of three teenaged kids sitting at the counter having burgers and a group of three 20-somethings sitting at a table along the wall. It wasn't busy in the least.
Junior's Grill is classic Americana in the sense of decor. The well-lighted spot has a classic counter that seats 11. There are a number of tables topped with vinyl checkerboard table coverings. On the walls throughout the place were pictures and prints of classic American movie stars, stills from movies, sporting events, and screwball pictures such as ironworkers acting like they're playing baseball on exposed steel beams 60 stories in the sky.
Another interesting aspect of the place - at least to me - was the utensil caddy that was on each table. It held napkins, straws and knives, forks and spoons. A bottle of ketchup was on one side and a bottle of mustard on the other. It was butted up to a diamond-patterned chrome wainscoting. It was like stepping back into a grill/cafe in the 50's. The one thing that struck me about Junior's Grill was how clean and polished it was.
My server for the evening, Courtney, came over to greet me and dropped off a menu. She asked if I wanted anything to drink. The Junior's Grill location in Eagan doesn't serve alcohol and that was fine with me. I just had her get me a glass of water while I looked through the menu.
For a moment, I actually thought about getting breakfast for dinner. But then I saw that Junior's only offers breakfast from 7:00 a.m. (when they open) to 10:45 a.m. through the week. Oh well, so much for that. I concentrated my efforts on their blue plate specials. I was going down through the list and was getting a little worried. There was a meat loaf dinner, there was country fried steak, fried chicken. Hmmm... No hot beef sandwich? Finally at the bottom below the spaghetti and meatballs was the hot beef sandwich. Shwew! I was almost panicking for a moment.
But even if they didn't have the hot beef sandwich, I could have gotten one of their flat grilled burgers. I noticed a couple of the young kids at the counter had gotten the burgers and they looked very good. Junior's Grill is actually known for their burgers and I have already made a note to get back there sometime to try one.
Courtney came over and I asked if the hot beef sandwich came with mashed potatoes. It said in the menu description that it was roast beef piled high on a piece of white bread and topped with something called red pepper gravy. She said, "Oh, sure. It comes with mashed potatoes, but if you don't want them we can pull them."
"No, no, no," I said. "I want the mashed potatoes." She also told me green beans come on the side. I told her that was fine. About 10 minutes after I ordered, she brought the hearty American meal to my table.
The thinly sliced roast beef was served open faced and, indeed, piled high on a slice of white bread. It had a thick brown gravy slathered over the top. A crater of mashed potatoes with a small lake of the gravy was sitting next to it with the green beans off to the other side. To complete the comfort food experience, I got a large glass of milk to go along with the meal.
The sliced roast beef was tender and easy to cut. A serrated knife was provided with the meal, but I found the meat easy to cut with the fork. The beef was lean and had a nice flavor. The gravy was good and thick, but was a little too salty for my taste. Most thick brown gravy that I have encountered in my travels seems to be a little salty. It wasn't a deal breaker, but it was a little annoying.
The mashed potatoes were good, nice and smooth with a good taste. As I was concentrating on trying to finish the hot beef sandwich, I didn't eat much of the potatoes. Or of the green beans, for that matter. What I did have of the green beans, I found them to be cooked perfectly - not mushy or undercooked. It was a pretty good comfort food meal all the way around.
And there was a lot of it. I finished all of the roast beef on the plate, but left a large amount of green beans and most of the potatoes. It was very filling and a "spot-hitter" in every way. I still think the gravy was a little too salty for my taste. But I don't salt much of anything in any of my meals, so it may be fine for others. Overall, I was impressed with Junior's Cafe and Grill and would like to try one of their breakfast items and a burger at some point. I have a feeling their burgers are pretty good.