By Coco Mault
The Normandy Hotel, located in downtown Minneapolis, wasn’t always completely covered in their signature half-timbered facade, faux-aged with spots of underlying brick. In fact, when it opened in 1925, the hotel was mostly brown brick. It was the hotel’s attached diner, which opened in 1941 on the corner of 4th Avenue South and 8th Street South, that donned the white-washed walls embellished with brown timbers that is typical of the hotel’s namesake territory in France.
The hotel has survived through the decades, eventually adopting the half-timber design for the entire facade, but the diner wasn’t so lucky. When I discovered the hotel in 2005, there was only a floral-patterned, mauve banquet room that looked devastatingly underused instead of a diner or hotel cocktail lounge. Was there someplace, other than the hotel pool, where I could wet my whistle? The front desk attendant said that no, there was no cocktail lounge in the hotel. How disappointing! This news just didn’t seem fitting for a hotel that still, in many ways, emanated it’s 1920s charm.
Several months after that short conversation with the front desk attendant, some big changes started happening in the hotel’s banquet area. Gone were the floral curtains in favor of a more tavern-like restaurant, and soon a brand new neon sign announced The Normandy Kitchen. The restaurant had finally returned, and this time with a full bar. But more than that, what caught my eye was a king. This family-owned establishment brought back another famous detail from their history: The Henry VIII Burger.
For a burger named after a king, it wasn’t quite as ornate as might be expected. On the menu it reads as follows: “The Henry VIII Burger, a kitchen specialty since 1941. Our special blend of ground beef on a toasted and buttered bun. Simple and Perfect.” There is no extra charge for cheddar or pepper jack cheese; however, it is extra for blue cheese crumbles, mushrooms, or bacon. The burger will arrive open faced, with the cheese (if you choose to have it) melted on top of a thick, ⅓ pound meat patty. Onion slices, a tomato slice, and a leaf of lettuce come with it on the side. The bun looks properly golden from being toasted with butter, too.
The Henry VIII burger is delicious. Their blend of ground beef is quite flavorful on its own, but with the toasted bun, cheese, and additional veggies, it really makes for a satisfying meal — especially with the side of fries that comes with it (there is an option for a salad instead of fries). The fries are always perfect: hot, golden, and lightly salted. It truly is just as the Normandy says: “Fit for a king and a gourmand, too!”
There’s a delightful surprise that accompanies the Henry VIII burger that’s worth noting here. When diners lift their burger for a bite, they may be slightly distracted to see Henry VIII looking up at them from the plate.
Visit Normandy Kitchen’s website for more on the restaurant’s history and to check out their menu.