When I'm in the Twin Cities, one of my favorite places to stop and hunt for beer is France 44 in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis that borders suburban Edina. (I need to do an entry on France 44 - it's one of the better beer/wine/liquor stores in the Midwest.) Not far from France 44 is a little art deco diner that I've passed by many times, but finally decided to stop at on a recent visit to the area - the Convention Grill. I've read that they have a pretty good burger and I was going to find out.
The Convention Grill initially opened in 1934. It was built by a metal fabrication company as a prototype diner that they were planning on opening around the nation. When the concept didn't go, the company sold the restaurant to Greek immigrant Peter Santrizos for $75. Peter called the place the Convention because he wanted it to be a place for people to congregate and have meals. But business was so poor in the 40's that he used to call his place the "Cemetery" because it was so dead. However, Santrizos persevered and the Convention became a spot for power breakfasts, tasty burgers at lunch, and family dinners at night.
40 years after he bought the little diner, Peter Santrizos sold the Convention Grill to a local restaurateur John Rimarcik. Only 34 years old, Rimarcik already owned six restaurants around the Twin Cities and he fell in love with the little place just off France Ave. Rimarcik soon realized that he needed more room for his little restaurant and he expanded in the 70's when he was able to take over the space of a small barber shop that was next to him. The Convention Grill expanded again in the 90's taking over a space that used to be a beauty shop.
But the one thing that hasn't changed is the flat top grill that the Convention Grill uses to make their burgers. In fact, when John Rimarcik bought the business from Peter Santrizos in 1974, Santrizos handed over the spatula that he used to make hamburgers every day. Rimarcik still has the spatula. Now open 80 years, the Convention Grill has been owned by only two men - each for 40 years.
It was around 1:30 when I got into the Convention Grill on Sunnyside Road. (see map) There's a parking lot on the west side of the building with parking available on the street. Opening the door, I came into the original Convention Grill, looking very much the same as it probably did when it opened 80 years ago.
The original counter and short order area was still in the place giving it an old soda fountain feel to the place. A hostess greeted me and told me that I could sit anywhere.
I took a seat at a small table in the "new" part of the Convention Grill. The first expansion went to the first set of booths in the dining room, the second expansion was from the boots to the back wall. Mirrors on the wall gave it an appearance that the room was larger than it was.
The menu was on the table and I was soon greeted by a matronly lady who was going to wait on me that day. She had sort of a raspy voice, called me "hon" and personified the typical greasy spoon waitress. She was a fun gal.
Other than burgers on the menu, the Convention Grill also features a cold meat loaf sandwich, a grilled chicken sandwich and something called the Double Decker that features Meunster and sharp cheddar cheese with grilled tomato slices and bacon on whole wheat bread. They also have soups, salads, malts, sundaes and shakes.
When my waitress came back to see what I wanted, I asked her how big the burgers were. "Quarter pound, hon," she replied in a raspy voice. I wondered if I could eat a double and she said, "Oh, sure. You could handle a double." So, I ordered a Swiss cheeseburger and asked if I could get mushrooms and bacon on it. Both were a dollar more than the price of the burger. And she talked me into a side of fries, too.
And I was stupid - I should have just gotten the single cheeseburger and forgot about the fries. You know where some places will say their burgers weigh a quarter pound before they're cooked? These two patties might have weighed more than a quarter pound AFTER the were cooked.
The cheese was melted on top of the bacon and mushrooms and not on the top patty. OK, nothing wrong with that. But that left the bottom patty pretty much untouched. I tried to eat the burger like that, but I ended up pulling the lower patty off the bun and eating it plain.
And I'm glad I did because I could easily tell how good the taste of the 80/20 mix of certified Angus beef that they use at the Convention Grill. Juicy and flavorful, the naked beef patty was very good. However, with the bacon, Swiss cheese and mushrooms (even though they were canned mushrooms) the burger was simply scrumptious.
I almost forgot to tell you that the fries were also very good. They had a crisp outer shell and a very fluffy potato texture inside. These were the kind of fries were you could just eat them for a meal and call it a day. A side of fries was huge, I'd hate to see what an order - or even a HALF-order - would look like.
80 years, man - that's how long they've been making burgers at the Convention Grill. As good as the one I had, I think they have it down. It's like walking back into an old mid-20th century diner and getting the same food as generations have ordered years before. The burger was great, the service was spot on, and it was a fun experience. If you get the chance to get to the Convention Grill, I heartily recommend the place.