Hangin’ With Klecko: Mik German lands at Alary’s Bar
For the last three decades, I’ve gotten to work each day by using West 7th in St. Paul. Over the years I’ve eaten and drunk in every bar and restaurant on this route, from the airport to the Eastside.
Recently during one of these commutes my phone rang. I saw it was my friend Mik German, so I picked up.
For those of you who read this column regularly, you might remember a couple of years ago I wrote about Mik winning the Eastside Burger Battle.
Mik: Klecko, what’s your take on Alary’s Bar?
Klecko: I like the place. It reminds me of the bars Charles Bukowski wrote about. Every time I’ve gone there, the place was filled with blue-collar people, drinking cocktails and solving the world’s problems. Why do you ask?
Mik: I just got hired to run their kitchen.
Klecko: You do know the Alary’s has been running for close to a century, and they’ve never offered food service.
Mik: That’s not entirely true, they have offered some food service in the past, but that’s not the point. A couple years ago a new management group bought the place and now they’ve just finished building a new kitchen. It’s beautiful. Every piece of equipment is new. Where are you? Come down now and I’ll feed you.
During the last year I’ve had the unfortunate task of writing too many stories about iconic St. Paul hospitality concepts folding. It was a breath of fresh air to hear how an established business like Alary’s wasn’t resting on its laurels. I was curious to see the expansion, so I turned the breadmobile around and made my way over to Mik.
Mik: Thanks for stopping in, can I get you something to drink?
Klecko: Look at all these Chicago Bears banners. I forgot this place is a Bears bar. You do realize that goes against our purple and gold?
Mik: Yeah, I get ya, but it does make sense. The original owner, Al, used to play on the Bears, I think. I’m pretty sure this is the only Bears bar in Minnesota. Think about it—think how many people from Chicago have transferred to the Twin Cities.
Klecko: They’ve really cleaned this place up. It looks fantastic. Look over there at that family. I’ve never seen a kid in here before.
Mik: Yeah, like I was saying, the ownership group saw this space had a void with having no food service, and if you’re going to make food, it’s good to include everyone.
Klecko: This place is close to 100 years old, right?
Mik: No, this is actually the third incarnation of Alary’s. They started in 1948, what’s that, 70 years? And in that time they’ve done their thing in three buildings.
Klecko: I suppose for you guys, it was good that the Bears won the division. Did that bring in extra business?
Mik: Sundays were packed, wall-to-wall, we even had to put covers on the pool tables to create addition table space. Another thing that worked out nice, you know who Lavelle Neal right?
Klecko: Yeah, I know who he is, sportswriter for the Strib.
Mik: He’s from Chicago originally and he’s a huge Bears fan. He lives in the neighborhood. In addition to coming out for most of the games, he’s mentioned Alary’s a few times while doing radio slots. That’s advertisement we could never afford.
Klecko: Enough, I’m hungry. I think it’s time to eat.
That’s all I needed to say. Mik smiled, darted into the kitchen and surfaced with a basket filled with fried pickles.
Klecko: Dude, you know this is my favorite food group.
Mik: These are our frickles. Every place I’ve ever gotten a fried pickle, they served chips or spears. These are petite pickles. Take a bite.
Klecko: Yeah, this is spectacular. There’s more pickle, so the texture is crunchier. This is fantastic. Are you guys going to do primarily bar food?
Mik: At the end of the day, we are a bar, but our food is so much better than bar food. If we have to be deemed as bar food, I hope it’s elevated.
Klecko: How big is your staff?
Mik: Right now we have a staff of six, but that can expand to as big as 12.
Klecko: Are you having trouble finding help?
Mik: No, I’m the St. Paul Kid. I have more people than jobs.
Then after a wink, Mik slid back into the kitchen and came out toting a burger basket. From the prideful smirk on his face, you’d have thought he was holding a bowling trophy.
Mik: I’m really excited about this, it’s …it’s actually our unnamed burger at the moment.
I set the basket down, picked and prodded.
Klecko: OK, I see a burger, pepper jack cheese on a brioche bun. What’s this?
Mik: That’s jalapeño bacon chutney, and that mayo is made in house. It has herbs in it.
Klecko: That’s a lot of ingredients.
Mik: Yes it is, but as long as they’re balanced, everything will work out.
As I sliced the burger in half and handed the smaller piece to my host, he grinned. He already knew what I was about to experience.
After taking my first bite, I started to laugh.
Klecko: This is so good, seriously, how did you do that?
Mik: I’m glad you like it. That’s the best part of my job, figuring out how the Alary’s kitchen is going to plug into Alary’s the bar.
Klecko: This unnamed burger better have a name that’s big enough to match that flavor.
Mik: If you think of it, let me know, but it’s time for me to get back to work.
As I drove home, and began thinking how fortunate the Capital City is to have Mik German making the best burgers, my sentiment was interrupted by an epiphany.
I had thought of the perfect name for the unnamed burger.
Hey, Mik German, how about the Ditka burger?
That’s all for this month.
Until next time.
Dan “Klecko” McGleno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-329-4321.