A Whale of a Burger

Barker’s in Hudson offers killer pub grub with a side of down-home ambience.

Atmosphere is the white whale of the restaurant industry: The harder one tries to capture it, the quicker it slips through the weather-worn grasp. A perfect catch is the balance between a destination eatery and the neighborhood bar, where friends are always near at hand. Barker’s represents this one-of-a-kind hospitality, maintaining it by simply remaining delicious.

The bar and grill just off of Hudson’s riverfront celebrates its 28th anniversary in October; for each of those years, owner Pete Foster has made it a priority to be known as a Hudson institution. Nearly everything on the menu comes from a local farm or butcher, from the steaks (cut in-house every day) and burgers to the baked goods fresh from St. Agnes Baking Co. in St. Paul and Grateful Bread in River Falls. “We want to keep every dollar we can in the local community,” Foster says, adding that the local ingredients mean fresher ingredients. “There’s a quality of taste element, too.”

Barker’s has a proficiency for saucy wings and crave-worthy burgers. The wing selection boasts a diversity of flavors, from traditional barbecue for the mild-mannered member of your party to a bit more zing for the adventurous sorts.

We love the smokehouse barbecue wings, slathered in house-made zesty sauce, that come with a side of sour cream, or the kung pow, a blend of spicy Szechuan and Cantonese sauces with tangy mango dipping sauce and finished with fresh lime (both versions cost $11.95).

But it’s Barker’s burger game that’s on point. The menu is a veritable smorgasbord of options, from the everyday Bullseye burger—a made-to-order offering of smoked cheddar cheese, hickory-smoked bacon and smokehouse barbecue topped with lettuce, tomato and crispy red onion ($10.95)—to “my personal favorite,” says Foster, the Casino el Camino ($9.95). Basted with Louisiana hot sauce and cayenne pepper, this burger is Southern hospitality with some fire. Crumbled Amish blue cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and chopped celery are on stand-by for the cooling comedown.

All burgers come with a side of kettle-fried potato chips and a dill pickle, but we recommend paying a little extra for the legendary hand-cut Barker’s fries ($1.45). Their not-too-salty yet crispy texture offers an unbelievably fresh taste for a fried food.

Then there’s the brew: Barker’s has a deep catalog on tap. Many Minnesotans like to cross the border for a Wisconsin exclusive, New Glarus, and while Spotted Cow ale has made the label famous, it’s the Totally Naked American pale lager that’s the belle of this ball, made with all-natural ingredients and imported hops varieties from Germany and the Czech Republic.

For a bit more pucker, Rush River Brewing Co. has created an ale perfect for a hot day on the boat. Infused with grapefruit juice, Citra and Mosaic hops, and a zest for good measure, the grapefruit Scenic pale ale is normally only available at the Rush River Taproom, so take advantage of this special offering.

Whatever your preference, Barker’s website is updated weekly, showcasing featured dishes and drinks on tap. This delicious dinner download is a great place to start exploring.

The Drink: Hüsker Dü’s, Hüsker Don’ts ($8)
The Bar: Lolo American Kitchen and Craft Bar, Stillwater
The Tenders: Jake Baker and Sam Ziemer

Rinse a lowball glass with Malort, a Swedish wormwood liqueur similar to absinthe (swirl a small amount, then discard). Set aside. Combine one part gin, a squeeze of lemon juice and a splash of Luxardo in a shaker with ice, and stir until chilled. Strain into Malort-rinsed glass. Add a splash of cherry juice. Lolo bar managers Jake Baker and Sam Zeimer are serving some of the coolest drinks in the Valley, but this one will knock you down if you’re not careful. The bitterness of the Malort is lifted (a little) with the lemon’s acidity and masked (sort of) with the cherries’ sweetness. Floral notes of the gin’s juniper actually tone this bad boy down. “It’s a really refreshing drink, with a little bit of oak from the gin and tartness from the lemon and Luxardo,” Baker says.

Food Notes compiled by Diana Stein

Foodies on Foot Tour
Fridays and Saturdays Sample cuisine from some of Stillwater’s best eateries. Chefs at restaurants like the Green Room and Revé create small-plate dishes, often with beverage pairings from Lift Bridge Brewery or Northern Vineyards, All ages. $65. 1:30–5 p.m. Tour meets at the gazebo at Lowell Park.

Fête de Fleurs
June 25 Chateau St. Croix Winery’s celebration features a winery tour, wine tastings and food from local purveyors. Pair a glass of the Chateau’s Golden Harvest Riesling with the grilled bruschetta from Adventures Rollin’ Food truck in Siren, Wis. All ages. Free, $6 wine tasting flight.

Afton Strawberry Festival
June 25–26 Don’t miss the Saturday-night pig roast, where hand-pulled pork sandwiches are served with local strawberry salad. For dessert, enter the strawberry shortcake-eating contest or head to the bake sale (held at Memorial Lutheran), where area bakers show off their skills with strawberry pies, crisps and crumbles. All ages. Free. 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Sun.

Hungry for More?
What do you think of this expanded section? Have a food or drink establishment you’d like to see reviewed? Perhaps you have a recipe you’d care to share. We accept all questions, queries and critiques at stcroixvalleymag@tigeroak.com; send yours today!