When someone says, “Let’s go to Bergen,” and if you know Bergens, your mouth begins to water.
You know you are going to have delicious steaks, cold beer, and a long wait for a table. But that wait hasn’t stopped thousands of South-Central Minnesota food and drink lovers from making the drive to Bergen, officially known as the Bergen Bar and Grill. Some folks actually make the wait part of the fun!
If you know about Bergen, then you know. If you don’t know about Bergen, then you need to read on. You can thank us later!
Bergen Minnesota is off the beaten path, in the Christiania Township of Jackson County located in South-Central Minnesota a few mile to the north of the Iowa boarder. The unincorporated town is nowhere near anything except corn and bean fields, wind turbines and the occasional hog barn. It’s so small that if you live in Bergen, you don’t even have a Bergen mailing address. You have a Windom, MN. mailing address.
But, the tiny 48-seat place has a rich history and the bar and grill a widespread reputation with the meat and potatoes crowd.
Bergen was settled in 1870 by immigrants from Germany and Norway. The original Bergen Store was built and opened in 1903. Peter Borgsgard was the first store manager according to old newspaper reports. By 1905 the Window Star reported the store, and the village of Bergen were doing a rousing business.
Residents and businesspeople of Bergen made it a point not to confuse their Bergen, Minnesota with Bergen, Norway. Early settlers maintained a “Live and let live” policy with the “other Bergen.”
So, what’s the big allure with this tiny bar in the middle of nowhere? The draw is so great that some people have been known to drive over two-hours from the Minnesota Twin Cities just for the steak and beer battered jumbo prawns.
It’s the small-town Midwestern charm. It’s the local guy at the bar sipping a Grain Belt at 11:30 in the morning on the Thursday talking non-stop to whoever will listen about the perch he caught last week.
It’s the ambiance of the “Cheers” corner tavern where everyone might not know your name, but everyone definitely stops eating and talking to turn around to see who just walked in the door.
And, of course it’s the food.
Kim (the Minnesota native between the two of us) calls it the old Minnesota supper club vibe. Simple Midwestern fare. Meat and potatoes and an iceberg lettuce dinner salad. It’s not fancy like Applebee’s.
You get the classic supper club salad before your meal comes out – Iceberg lettuce, cherry tomato, and a couple thick cucumber and red onion slices. Your choice of dressing comes in a small plastic lidded cup. Oh, and you get a warm dinner roll and butter.
It’s a steak. They are char-grilled the way you like, on a metal sizzle platter. That’s it. No “Fru Fru.” You can’t go wrong with any of the meat selections, whether it’s filet mignon, NY Strip, Top Sirloin, Ribeye or a slab of Prime Rib on Friday and Saturday nights.
Bergen’s menu has other choices besides steaks. They offer battered cod and walleye dinners, jumbo shrimp, chicken strips, and burgers. They offer dinners for two, letting romantic couples share a large cut of steak and six beer battered jumbo shrimp.
It’s amazing to me as a retired chef that Bergen’s extremely busy small kitchen can offer a labor intensive twice baked stuffed potato as the regular side starch with their meals. For an up-charge you can get fancy by adding sauteed onions or canned sliced mushrooms on your steak, not that the beef needs anything to help it taste great.
One of the “sleeper” menu items has to be their Hamburger Steak Supreme. A less pricey menu option at $13.50, the Supreme consists of a 9-ounce hamburger steak patty wrapped in bacon. This is char-broiled then smothered in Swiss cheese, sautéed mushrooms and served with fries, coleslaw and Texas toast! It’s a massive amount of food and is available for lunch as well.
Speaking of lunch, lunch offerings include standard midday meal fare such as a BLT, grilled ham and cheese, several chicken sandwiches and of course burgers. A Bergen menu mash-up of the classic Patty Melt and the Rueben is their German Patty Melt. Tucked into the toasted rye is a ½-pound burger, topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and special sauce.
During a recent visit to try out their lunch menu Kim opted for the fish sandwich. It’s a basic batter fried cod fillet with lettuce on a large burger bun.
I had the steak sandwich which featured very tender slices of steak in two pieces of Texas toast. I added fried onions which helped add another layer of flavor to the sandwich. We both choose fries as the side to the sandwiches, but you can pick potato wedges, coleslaw, cottage cheese or even one of their twice baked potatoes which I will do next time!
Bergen’s has a full bar with a wide selection of beers on tap and in bottles. Wine is served in single serving, airline-type bottles. Again, nothing fancy.
When you go to Bergen, expect to wait for your table or booth. They do not take reservations. When you arrive, you will need to head inside to the bar and get your name and cell phone number on the waiting list. Yes, they will call you on your phone when your table is ready.
It’s not a bad idea to order a couple cocktails at that time to help make the wait more enjoyable. During hunting season or the busy summer months, the evening wait for dinner can be up to an hour or more. Even if you show up before opening time, you can expect to stand in line to get through the door!
There is a patio area to the side of the restaurant to sit and wait and enjoy a drink, but others choose to grab their drinks and head back to their vehicle until they get the call.
Larger groups often gather out in the parking lot for a pre-dinner tailgate party. Some drive their RVs to Bergen and campout while they wait for their table. It’s all part of the allure and fun of a night at the Bergen Bar and Grill!
Please note: They do not take credit cards, so have cash or your checkbook with you. Bergen is now open 6 days a week, closed on Monday.
Lunch is now back up to six days a week and is served from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Dinners are served from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and until 10 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday nights.
Directions To Bergen: From I-90 in Jackson, MN. head north on State Highway 71 exit several miles to the 540th Avenue turnoff. You really can’t miss the restaurant once you’re on 540th Avenue because Bergens is pretty much the only business in town and the only one with a packed parking lot and a line out the door.