Jesse Keller figures he was the only kid in Clark Fork, Idaho, who had a subscription to Bon Appetit magazine. Encouraged by family, he taught himself the basics of cooking and, although he wanted to join the Navy, he attended North Idaho College's culinary program.
Two restaurant gigs later, he's incorporated the nickname his mother gave him, "Messy Jesse," into his first eatery, Messy's Burgers, opened in June of 2017.
Located in Spirit Lake, along Kootenai County's northern lip, Messy's Burgers is a classic roadside joint with an Americana theme. Burgers, dogs, onion rings, fries, ice cream cones, shakes, malts and floats load the menu.
Keller incorporates his appreciation for service members — police, emergency medical, fire and military — wherever he can, offering discounts and a decor that includes American flags and photos of service members on the walls. Keller's father, grandfather and son all have military connections.
Keller puts his culinary spin on Messy's massive menu with things like the "Ripper" dog ($5), so named because the succulent skin pops open when kissed by the deep fryer. "Kenzie" fries, loaded with garlic and butter, are served in half-pound ($5) or 1-pound batches ($8). The "Frychos" marry crinkle-cut fries with nacho toppings, including house-made salsa and taco meat ($7).
Then there are the fresh-pressed, never-frozen and cooked-to-order Angus chuck burgers: "Mini Messes" are an eighth ($3.50-$3.75) to a quarter-pound ($5-$6.50), while "Big Messes" are a third ($6.25-$8) to a half-pound ($12-$13.50). Signature burgers get toppings like blue cheese and mushrooms, bacon and an egg, red peppers, cheese, caramelized and fried onions both.
Keller's namesake meal, which includes fries and a soda, is the 1-pound "Messy Jesse" burger ($25) topped with four slices of cheese, six bacon strips and lettuce "for the health-conscious eater," he says.
Having survived a critical first year in business, Messy's has since gained quite a following.
"I eat there once a month," says Gary Lee Solis Jr., a longtime chef and restaurateur who runs Kyoko Sushi in Sandpoint.
"It starts with a great handmade burger in a good bun with quality ingredients and toppings," says Solis Jr., who won Messy's recent slogan contest with "You've tried the rest, now try the mess!" ♦
Messy's Burgers • 6285 W. Maine St., Spirit Lake • Open daily 10 am-10 pm (summer hours) • facebook.com/messysburgers • 208-623-4298