Wednesday, April 25, 2012

adventures in Brookings: the Nick's Hamburger edition.

A while ago, I wrote an article about my adventures in the Brookings WalMart. That was the first installment of my Brookings Adventure Series (yes, I’m making a series).

Brookings isn’t your average small city/large town. With a population around 22,000, Brookings is actually the fourth largest city in South Dakota (which doesn’t say a lot for my fair state). Brookings, though, has a lot more character than your typical Midwestern settlement. I would even go as far to say that Brookings has more to offer than Sioux Falls, my current home and the largest city in South Dakota. I attend more cultural events in Brookings than I ever have in Sioux Falls – since I moved back to the area, I’ve seen Lorie Line, The Rocky Horror Show as done by SDSU, Doc Severinsen, a full jazz ensemble at a restaurant called the Pheasant, and the US Air Force Band… all in Brookings. Sioux Falls has some culture of its own, but Brookings culture tends to be more up my alley. Don’t get me wrong: Sioux Falls is fine, but it’s the capital of chain restaurants and mini-malls. There’s not much to do in Sioux Falls that I can’t do in any other large city, but the same cannot be said for Brookings. If you’re looking for something light on the cookie-cutter feel and heavy on character, then Brookings is your place.

Case in point: Nick’s Hamburger Shop. Friends, this is my favorite place on earth. Nick’s has been gracing Main Street since 1929, and I have been gracing Nick’s since 1987. As you may have guessed from the name, Nick’s specializes in hamburgers. Heavenly, heavenly hamburgers.

For those of you who haven’t yet experienced the glory of Nick’s, allow me to explain why these burgers are so wonderful. Nick’s cooks their burgers using what’s called the “tank-fry” method: they basically submerge the burgers in a shallow pan of grease. This makes the burgers flavorful and delicious, and contrary to what you might think, they’re not all that greasy. Load it up with toppings and put it on one of the fresh buns, and you’ve got yourself a delightful burger. Nick burgers are rather small, so you’ll want to order them in multiples: their slogan is “buy ‘em by the bag!”
See the slogan?
See our pure joy?
I’ve been eating Nick burgers for as long as I can remember. I went there with my parents, both sets of grandparents, my aunts and uncles, cousins, friends: everybody loved Nick’s. Nick’s was always the first choice when we were thinking about dinner in Brookings.
When my sister came home for the first
time since joining the Air Force, our
first stop after the airport was Nick's.
For my Grandma Sheila's 80th birthday,
her kids and grandkids all convened
in SD. Of course, Nick's was a
top prioritiy.
A lot of the appeal of Nick’s lies in its atmosphere. Nick’s was remodeled a few years ago into the pleasant eatery it is today. You sit on bar stools, watch your burger being cooked, and eat off wax paper. If you go there around lunchtime, you’ll always find a crowd (except on Sundays – the one day Nick’s is closed). The restaurant is decorated in bright red, white, and black, and it has a pleasant vintage feel to it. You can even get homemade pie.

Nick’s has been through a few different owners over the years, but the lasted and greatest is a man named Dick. Dick is the friendliest guy you will ever meet, and he turned Nick’s into what it is today. If you stop by Nick’s for lunch, chances are you’ll find Dick there, and chances are even better that he’ll be happy to see you.

When Nick’s remodeled, the people of Brookings were worried that Nick burgers would not be available during the construction. Thankfully, this was not the case: Nick’s purchased a portable wagon that would temporarily house their grill. You would just walk up to the little window, order your burgers, and happily eat them at one of the picnic tables. After the remodeling was completed, the Nick’s wagon became available for events. This was the best thing ever.
Nick's wagon, circa May 2009.
My sister graduated from high school in 2009. My parents asked her what kind of food she wanted for the party, and Darrah only had one request: Nick burgers. So that’s what we did. The Nick’s wagon staked a claim in the yard, and the graduation guests just ordered at the window. We had a few volunteers who would even deliver the completed orders to the hungry party-goers. If memory serves me correctly, there were nearly 400 burgers eaten at our house that day. The number was nearly perfect – the Nick’s wagon was down to less than a dozen buns by the time we were done!

That very day, my brother Mitch reserved the Nick’s wagon for his high school graduation in 2011. It was just as wonderful as last time. For Mitch’s graduation, I brought a couple of college friends who had never experienced the glory of Nick burgers before. Haakon and Nate loved the burgers, and they REALLY loved the idea of a burger wagon that you can rent for parties. However, they made a rookie mistake: instead of pacing themselves for a whole afternoon of burgers, Haakon and Nate ate six or seven in one sitting. Needless to say, they spent much of the party sprawled on couches and bemoaning their gluttony. Meanwhile, the rest of us ate one or two at a time, leaving the afternoon wide open for socializing and more burgers.
Nick's wagon, circa May 2011.
I’ve lived away from the Brookings area for nearly seven years now, and I still find myself dreaming of Nick’s hamburgers. Living in Denver and New Orleans was especially tough – I went through a Nick’s drought. When I lived in Minneapolis, I managed to make it home about once a month, and most of those visits involved a trip to Nick’s. Now that I live a mere hour from Brookings, I can easily make the quick trip north to get my favorite food. That, my friends, is living.

So if you ever find yourself in Brookings with an empty stomach, stop by Nick’s Hamburgers. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
It doesn't get much better than this.


  1. The rookie mistake I made at Lorraine's 90th was not understanding that "small" really did mean like slider small. I only ordered one. Doh!

    1. Oh yes - always order in multiples!! :)