By Joe Buttweiler
MASON CITY — Quick: Who serves the best $1 burger in Mason City?
If you’re thinking fast-food, you better think again.
No less than three River City taverns offer burgers that cost just a buck – Burke’s Bar & Grill on Monday evenings, LD’s Filling Station on Tuesdays and Homer’s Sports Bar & Grille on Wednesdays.
So who’s got the best?
Research conducted by a team including Burger Meister Jim Shipley of Clear Lake has determined ….
Ah, wait. It’s not that easy.
Come along for a little tour and hear what Jim and the locals have to say, then maybe try them out yourself. Unless you’re one of those upscalier-than-thou folks, you won’t be disappointed.
First we visit Homer’s, 1911 S. Federal Ave. About 50 buck burgers are served each Wednesday night, said Homer’s manager Kelli Pope. They and the $1 fries and 22-oz. beers for only $2.50 draw a lot of return customers, she said, as do the tacos, enchiladas and pizza.
“For a dollar burger that’s not bad,” said Shipley, a recent North Iowa transplant who lives in Clear Lake. “I’d probably pay more than a buck for that.”
Shhhh. Don’t give ‘em any ideas.
He said he also liked the crinkle-cut fries and friendly atmosphere. “I kind of like these back-alley bars with the pool table and dart boards. Kind of blue-collar.”
Customers were snarfing down burgers like Wimpy and enjoying the evening.
“I love it, but I’m biased,” said Matt Bernhardt, a bartender at Homer’s who was celebrating his birthday by stopping in for a couple buck burgers with friends.
“You can’t get this across the street at McDonald’s,” said friend Joshua McLaughlin.
Next we visited LD’s, 620 12th St. N.E., where the toasted bun and chopped fried onions won high marks from Shipley.
At a table nearby, brothers Dennis and Allen Kindschuh, of Nora Springs and Mason City, respectively, were finishing off their burgers. They drop in a couple times a month, sometimes on buck burger nights. “It’s a great excuse to get out,” Dennis said.
“I think they’re done just right, are about the right size, and the price is certainly right,” he said.
The waitresses are nice too, said Allen, who stops in with other family members sometimes. “It’s a good place to come and see friends.”
And the no-smoking law makes it nice, Dennis said.
A place like Burke’s Bar & Grill, 1221 N. Federal Ave., might still be off the list for many if smoking were still allowed.
But the buck burgers on Monday nights are a big draw. Burke’s was easily the busiest of the three taverns visited, with nearly 40 people at about 5:30 p.m.
“These are hand-made patties. Boy that’s good,” said Shipley. “No wonder there’s so many people here.”
Neighbors Marlys Ennis, Betty Slock and Carol Barlow of Mason City were finishing up dinner – Slock enjoying a piece of pie with whipped cream – when asked about the buck burgers.
“I never would have come into this place if not for the dollar burgers,” Slock said. “This is one of the best hamburgers I have ever tasted. It’s just delicious.”
Seemingly still amazed at the bargain, she said the first time she came in for a burger her total bill was only $1.69.
“They can’t be any cheaper,” Ennis said of the burgers.
At a long table nearby, Jean Payne of Mason City was among a group of nine retirees celebrating a friend’s birthday. The group, which numbers 20 or so sometimes – has been coming to Burke’s once a week for 15 years.
“They’re absolutely wonderful,” she said of Burke’s buck burgers. “They do the bun right. They do the hamburger right. They do everything right as far as I’m concerned.”
“And if we have a birthday they let us bring in this other stuff,” she said, motioning toward a pan of apple dumplings before her group sang “Happy Birthday” to a member who turned … Well, she wasn’t saying.
And anyway, it was all about getting out and having a little fun.
So, the winner of our friendly Best Buck Burger Night competition was … Well, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
As for Shipley, Burke’s got the nod.