I’m not sure how the rest of the world looks at travel, but for me it’s all about the food. The places I have visited and most want to visit all have one thing in common: iconic must-have eats that need to be conquered before life can be complete.

This is a wild obsession with many chefs. A lot of us are trying to outdo one another with the craziest concoctions, biggest challenges and food creations that can be cooked in a laboratory. That said, I always try to squeeze in the time-honored classics when traveling.

Here in the Midwest, there are a few great nearby foodie destinations. Big cities with extremely talented chefs and amazing traditional local food on the cheap. In Kansas City there is world class BBQ. Minneapolis has its Juicy Lucy wars. Chicago offers dogs, deep dish pizza and beef sandwiches.

Whenever traveling to great foodie Mecca, I think there are a few rules to follow before deciding where to eat. Do your homework! Look in advance to arriving. There will be a list of must-haves. You will want a mix: tried and true or old school and the newer hot spots or old school. Don’t avoid the celebrated joints just to be different. Pizzeria Uno still serves some of the best deep dish pizza in Chicago or anywhere. That’s not to say the new kid on the block isn’t worth a try. (Gateway Market’s fresh deep dish pizza dough is outstanding if I say so myself.)

Serious foodies should also consider dining with what I call “the Masters,” or master chefs. For example, I always try to dine in a Rick Bayless place when I am in Chicago. Decide what looks good and map it out on your list. Take advice from well-known food writers, food professionals and locals. Not all busy places are great, but it’s a damn good sign. Find the best times to go. A perfect example is Katz Deli in NYC. The pastrami on rye with deli mustard is on my must have list! I would never go at high noon. Getting there before 11 or after 1:30 or 2 makes sense. The atmosphere is better and you don’t feel as rushed. I also like to avoid busy times because I feel the food is not quite as good when the kitchen is slammed. You should also make reservations when possible especially when dining with “the Masters.”

I’m not sold on anonymous internet restaurant reviews because it is impossible to know their prejudices or if they’re credible. For instance, you might be reading a review of a burger joint that serves thin, smashed style burgers and the review is done by someone that prefers thick, fancy pants burgers and is unable to appreciate how really great these burgers can be. Or a better example is: You like Chicago Deep Dish style and a reviewer is a transplanted New Yorker that thinks that style of pizza is closer to a pasta dish then a pizza.

Enjoy the iconic foods of a city and try something new as well. Do your own “old school vs. new school comparisons. See where you fit on this topic.

With that, let me segue way into a recipe for one of my favorite iconic foods – Minneapolis’ “Juicy Lucy.”


A cheeseburger with the cheese inside the meat, the Juicy Lucy comes to the table with the cheese in a molten core and a warning against scalding yourself with hot, liquid cheese. To make it, you’ll need the following:

  • 24 oz. ground beef (preferably George’s grind from Gateway Market)
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder for seasoning
  • four slices of American cheese
  • one onion
  • sliced dill pickles
  • four South Union hamburger buns

What you need to make your own Juicy Lucy

Start with 24 ounces ground beef. Divide into eight (8) three-ounce balls. Season all around each with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Set aside.

Then fold four (4) slices of American cheese (I use Boars Head) into quarters. Stack them on top of each other. Set aside.

Finely mince one onion, season with salt and drain all the liquid.

Set aside several thick slices of raw onion, sliced dill pickles and four (4) South Union hamburger buns, split and buttered.

Flatten each seasoned ball into a disk about three inches in diameter. Place the stacked American cheese directly in the center of four of the discs. Place the remaining four beef discs on top of the discs with the cheese. Seal without moving the American cheese from the center by pinching the edges together, forming one patty. This should resemble the shape of a flying saucer.

Sneak attack.

Preheat a large nonstick griddle or a large nonstick skillet on medium heat. Toast buns, buttered side down until toasted to your liking. Remove and hold uncovered.

Place the well-sealed patties on the nonstick griddle or pan and pray. Even if you are not religious this shows an act of good faith and MIGHT just keep you from getting a burger blow out.

Cook the burgers without disturbing or moving. When the edges are starting to become visibly brown the burgers are ready to turn. Flip burgers. Then, directly in the center of the browned side, pierce a hole about the size of a pea. This relieves the pressure and keeps a side blow out, which is the kiss of death for the Juicy Lucy. Continue cooking the burgers on the other side until nicely browned. Remove and rest on a plate.

While burgers are resting and WITHOUT cleaning the griddle, cook the drained diced onions until they are cooked to your liking. Place raw onion, cooked onions and pickles on the bottom of the buns. Place burgers on top of condiments and enjoy!

Build the burgers with some raw and caramelized onion and some dill pickle slices.

Minor blowout. Happens to the best of us.

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