Lions Tap (Eden Prairie, MN)
Hamburgers are a nearly perfect invention. Juicy and hot, easy to hold, easy to chew, the hamburger has universal appeal. It's easy to make the case that hamburgers are America's great export to the world. But recent books and films have pointed out the dark downside of that global influence. And it's true that lots of people don't eat meat.
It can be a guilty pleasure, then, to have a burger. And if you're going to suffer the guilt, the pleasure should balance. It should be a really good hamburger.
Lions Tap, out on Flying Cloud Drive in Eden Prairie, is both lauded and vilified by the local food press. Websites publish conflicting reviews. Meanwhile, it wins all sorts of "readers' best" awards. Given that, we ran a little comparison: How does a Lions Tap burger stack up next to a quarter-pounder from an internationally known hamburger McChain?
Let's be upfront: Lions Tap served the better burger. The meat is good, and the patty is nice and thick. It's still juicy because it's cooked just to medium (though of course they'll cook to order). They salt their burgers, which makes them tastier, but you'll hear the regulars ordering burgers without salt. Lions Tap serves better tasting pickles than the corporate chain, and bigger chunks of onion, either fried or raw. We like to get both.
You can order a single quarter-pound burger, or a double.
But the complete experience is more than just a burger patty. It's a burger, fries, and a soft drink. And we're sorry to have to say that the bun at the Lions Tap just isn't as good as it could be. It's squishy, cloud-like white bread that fails to withstand being held. This is a hamburger bun circa 1965, and we've all moved on. Today's decent hamburger bun does not require the sesame seeds found on the McChain's bun, but it shouldn't flatten into nothing just from being picked up and bitten into. McChain has the better bun.
We loved the idiosyncratic crinkle cut fries served at Lions Tap. They're thicker than chain fries, with fluffy potato insides in every bite. That's what fries are for. We note, however, that fries must always be served intensely hot. A good order of fries must go from fryer to table in less than two minutes. In a kitchen that is making just three items (burgers, fries, and the occasional grilled cheese sandwich), less-than-hot fries are inexcusable. Another point to McChain.
Lions Tap win's on the soft drink. They serve 1919 Root Beer on tap, which is our top choice for drink. There's also the standard array of pop choices, as well as fruit juices, lemonade, and two types of iced tea. You can also get a 3.2 beer if you want.
All this analysis aside, we like the Lions Tap. We want to see small independent burger joints thriving in the world of McChains. So if you're driving down Flying Cloud Road, stop in for a bite.
16180 Flying Cloud Dr.
Eden Prairie, MN 55247
Sound level: Not too noisy
Recommended dishes: California burger
Prices: $3–$4 for a single hamburger or cheeseburger
Wheelchair accessibility: Yes
Children: No special children's menu