Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bike trip destinations: Eagles Nest

Distance from downtown Mankato: 12 miles if you use the Sakatah Trail, 7 miles if you just ride on Madison Ave instead.

Route I took: My friend Nick and I tried to use trails whenever possible for our route to the restaurant. We hopped on the Sakatah Trail near Highway 14, and after riding west on the trail for about 6 miles, we took a right onto County Road 27 and followed that into Eagle Lake. We were also going to use the Minnesota River Trail, but it was closed at the time due to flooding. If you're using this route, the Eagles Nest will be on your right off the town's main road (just past S 2nd Street).

By the time we were ready to head home, it began to rain outside and we reasoned that a shorter route was probably a good idea. We basically just rode Madison Ave back into Mankato, took a left onto the bike trail running alongside Victory Drive and took a right onto the Glenwood Ave bike trail. It's definitely a quicker route, but if you're going to the Eagle's Nest to chow down on the Duke Burger, a longer ride might not be a bad idea to help burn off the calories.

General ease/challenge of ride: Regardless of which route you take, the ride isn't overly difficult. The mileage is relatively short and the hills on Glenwood Ave and the Sakatah Trail are both pretty gradual slope-wise. Fair warning: There isn't much wind cover once you get out of the river valley, a fact we learned thanks to a pretty vicious head-wind on our ride out to the restaurant.

Safety of the ride: It all depends on which route you take. If the Minnesota River Trail is open and you want to stick to bike trails, the Sakatah route avoids heavy traffic and only has a few troublesome intersections (you have to cross Highway 14 on County Road 27 to get into Eagle Lake). Obviously, if you're riding on Madison Ave for the majority of the trip, you'll have to be more cautious of cars and be prepared to stop at more intersections. However, Madison does have sidewalks running alongside of it in Mankato, and once you're out of the city, the traffic drops off significantly.

Appeal of the destination: One of my favorite guilty pleasure shows in college and young adulthood is the gluttonous "Man vs. Food."

For those that have never seen the show, it's pretty much exactly what the title indicates. The show's host (a former chef who happens to have a massive appetite) travels to various restaurants across the U.S. that have some sort of eating "challenge" to attempt. The challenges could be anything from a small mountain of pancakes to a steak the size of a couch cushion (something John Candy did with hilarity in "The Great Outdoors"), and whoever successfully completes the challenge typically gets awarded with some sort of trinket to commemorate the occasion, like a t-shirt, a free meal or their name engraved on a plaque.

It's hard to explain why I like the show so much. Maybe it's because it helps me reminisce on the glory days of childhood, when I could eat whatever I wanted and get away with it thanks to a jackrabbit-like metabolism. Or perhaps I'm just envious of a guy who gets to eat for a living.

However, it's more than likely because I'm part of a culture that embraces extreme eating like it was some sort of sporting accomplishment. It's the reason why so many people tune in to the national hot dog eating contest and marvel at competitors who seem to have bottomless stomachs. Most of us can't eat (or wouldn't want to eat) what they are capable of consuming, which in turn leads to us admiring them.

It's also the reason why my friend and I decided to make the trek over to the Eagles Nest.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to like about the Eagle Lake staple. It has a good sports bar atmosphere, plentiful beer selection and a lot of decent eating options.

But we didn't go there for the atmosphere; we went there for the Duke Burger.

The signature Eagle's Nest menu item contains two pounds of beef, eight slices of bacon and five slices of cheese, all on a one-pound bun. It also comes with an unlimited supply of lettuce, tomatoes, mayo, onions and pickles.

The Duke Burger was created more than 20 years ago, when then-owner Lester Dittrich wanted to spice things up at the restaurant. The burger took off almost immediately and has since become an attraction that draws patrons from all over the country.

My friend and I had both seen pictures of the Duke prior to biking to the Eagles Nest, so we both kind of knew what to expect. However, that didn't stop us from gasping when the $20+ burger was brought to our table. It's roughly a foot in diameter and has to be rolled out on a pizza pan using a rolling pin. It also has to be flipped with a spatula the size of a cookie sheet.

The restaurant's menu says the Duke serves 4-6 people, but according to the waitress, many of the people who order it attempt to attack it solo. Reasoning that a burger apiece would likely send us both into a food coma, my friend and I decided to split one in half. Our preferred drink for washing the mass amounts of burger down was Summit with a side of ice water.

Despite our appetite being built up from the biking, we were not able to finish the Duke. There was a hockey puck-sized portion of it left when we both reached the point of maximum capacity.

(note: I would later learn that an 11-year-old girl managed to eat the Duke on her own, thus wounding my pride a smidgen)

I won't say it was the best burger I've ever eaten. It's a classic quantity-over-quality scenario and I'll take a burger and fries at Guenther's Cafe over the Duke Burger any day of the week.

However, it does make for a pretty cool photo opportunity.

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