Junior's Cafe and Grill (Eagan, MN)

  • Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
  • Star Tribune South
  • February 18, 2004

Strip malls don’t work in Minnesota, and here’s why: When it’s 10 degrees below zero, you really need a second door between the bitter weather and the store. But once you’ve entered Junior’s and found a seat away from the icy blasts coming from the door, fill up and warm up with the kind of basic grill cooking you used to find all over America before the rise of fast food.

What we like best about Junior’s Cafe and Grill in Eagan is the friendly, family-run atmosphere. No, we like the tender tasty pot roast. No, it’s the mashed potatoes. Well… let’s be honest. We adore the cheap, cheap prices. Imagine a huge half-pound burger on a grilled bun and served with a giant pile of hot fries for $4.

Even better, try the blue-plate specials. These include the pot roast we like so much, country-fried steak lost in white-pepper gravy, meat loaf and several other choices. You’ll get real lumpy mashed potatoes—the kind where you sometimes find flecks of potato peel—and an OK piece of corn on the cob. And thick sliced Texas toast, grilled with some Parmesan cheese. It’s a huge plate of food and will run you between $5 and $6.

Sandwiches are just as affordable, with the Philly cheesesteak priced at $5. And that comes with fries. Philadelphia is a long way from here, and this version could use more onions, but it still is an acceptable rendition. The burrito is bland and uninspiring, as is the chili. And the soup and chili should both be served hotter.

Junior’s is open for breakfast, too. Where else can you get two eggs, hash-browned potatoes and toast for $3, with additional bacon or sausage for $1? The most expensive breakfast on the menu is $7, and that’s for either the Cajun andouille sausage breakfast or the Tex-Mex breakfast.

This place is one of the great south-of-the-river deals, make no mistake. Now, it’s not perfect. Next time we’re in, we’re going to ask them to grill our burgers without using the meat press that squeezes the patties dry. We don’t mind waiting an extra minute or three for a juicy burger, and neither should you. And we implore Junior’s to ditch that butter-flavored oil they use to grill the buns. Spring for real butter, guys, please. Minnesota is a dairy state, and we can tell the difference. And we want Heinz, not that no-name ketchup on the table, too. We want malts and fresh-made, hand-dipped onion rings. But hey, there’s time. Junior’s opened Nov. 2. They’re still on a bit of a honeymoon.

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.