Chicago, IL 60647
If the following two axioms are true,
a) Nat and Adam like burgers
b) Nat and Adam appreciate value
then why are Nat and Adam dreading eating the Cheap Burgers only slightly less than the Veggie Burgers? Because, more often than not, we're dealing with restaurants discounting a $6-$10 menu item to a quarter of the price. The best-case scenario is a crowded restaurant, the worst is a special alternate cheap-o burger, and the great unknown is everything in between. Given the choice between the false economy of a $1 burger (bun, cheese, and toppings extra) or paying $8 and being left to eat in peace, we'll take the latter every time.
We eased into this category by checking out TOC's winner, Darwin's, which is a burger I'm quite familiar with. Darwin's is close to my house, and its menu of slightly upscale bar food has proven to be well-executed and often pleasantly surprising. Prior to the conception of the Project, my recollection of Darwin's burgers was fond, if a little vague. The somewhat generic ambiance of a yuppie Bucktown bar has always been offset by pleasant service, a decent beer selection, and good value.
So, while I'd been to Darwin's plenty of times, I'd somehow always avoided the clusterfuck of "Tuesday Burger Night." Shit was a mess. We were able to grab the last free table without incident, which unfortunately sandwiched us between parties of screaming children and too-loud aging hipsters. The harried waiter dropped off menus and the unfortunate news that the fryer was broken--no fries. This is bad news; unlike a lot of spots with apathetic spuds that you wouldn't miss, Darwin's seasoned, thick-cut fries (TOC compared them to potato tempura, which is actually pretty apt) really elevate the plate. People were being offered potato chips or a green salad in their place; your team had one of each. (A reliable source told us that the fryer's been broken for several days at least, and that they're none too accommodating about creative substitutions.)
We missed it the first time around, but here's the fine print:
(Note that the price isn't actually listed. It's somewhere between $2 and $3; see the receipt at the end for more about this.)
So even if you keep it cheap with $2 PBRs, you're still not getting out of there for less than $7 plus tip. If you always have a couple of drinks with a hamburger, no sweat, but I actually didn't feel like I needed two beers and Adam was sick, so this was kind of a stumbling block. A ringer was called in to drink Adam's beer.
Despite the busyness of everything, our burgers arrived in an appropriate amount of time, cooked, more or less, to the requested level of doneness--although this is one of the rarest medium-rare burgers I've ever had.
Darwin's special tri-plates (which usually present a pile of the aforementioned fries bookended by halves of a burger, NOT the other way around as TOC's picture implies) are generally well-liked. I'm a little ambivalent about having my burger cut in half--why is this necessary?--but not enough to make an issue out of it. The bun is good and somewhat egg-y, reminiscent of challah, and the vegetables are fresh. The beef is seasoned very lightly, but it's high-quality stuff with a dead-on fat/lean ratio. It's a straightforward interpretation done quite well: you get the impression that you're eating something fresh.
My green salad was seriously limp, and Adam found the potato chips depressing. Without fries, you might as well be making dinner at home.
Here's the check. I got cheese on my burger and Adam didn't, but they were both $3. Adam also had soup. Everything cost $19, but we couldn't figure out exactly what cost what. We were tired.
So, whatever: Darwin's burger is solid, neither disappointing nor particularly exciting, and you will surely not regret (although also possibly not remember) any burger you eat here. If you're hungry, in the neighborhood, and in the mood for a couple of beers on a Tuesday night, this is a pretty good option. Best cheap burger deal in the city? Maybe, but I'd personally much rather have a regular $3.45 That's-A-Burger single any day of the week.