Friday, September 18, 2009

A reply

It finally happened: The Chicago Burger Project has been officially called out by TOC writer David Tamarkin for "childishly ripping apart assessing" their list while having the audacity to take our time at it.

Apologies are due for insulting the critical autonomy of the second-most prestigious magazine in my dentist's waiting room. As we've made clear, we're not professional food writers, just self-funded burger enthusiasts who conceived of a way to kill some time while grabbing a bite to eat. Sure, we've taken a couple of jabs at your choices, TOC, but some of your choices have been laughable. Would you really take your mother out for a burger at Riverview Tavern, home of both ends of the tomato? Does anyone in your office still maintain that there's no better turkey burger than the pucks served at S.R.O.? (Psst: there is, it's at May Street Market.)

We took our time, took some pictures, and elaborated beyond "perfectly delicious" in our reviews. Childish? Maybe. More responsible than recommending Jury's for the 10,000th time? I think so.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


500 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 321-6242

Naha. Our white whale. We had literally been trying to get into this place for three years, the difficulty stemming from Naha's resoluteness in only serving the burger during lunchtime. And who really who has time to go to Naha for lunch? Certainly not us, and certainly not on the same day. But finally, we made it. And to our surprise the burger is still on the menu, for reasons that aren't entirely clear.

The theme of Naha is Mediterranean, I think? I don't know. A lot of stuff on the menu looked pretty good, but we were there for business (quick note: for some reason, Google Maps has this place listed in the South Loop, which is not the case...). Nat ordered his burger medium rare with bleu cheese, I ordered mine medium without cheese. They both came out done about the same...medium-rare-ish, and a tad on the juicy (read: drippy) side.


Mine. Boring. Also, note the sun-dried tomato. Nat correctly noted that if we were served a tomato that looked like that [during summer] at a lesser venue, we probably would have been disgusted.

Well before the burgers came out, the condiments arrived (Is this getting to be a common practice?): some mayo, ketchup, and grilled onions, which, I'm sorry to say, just looked like worms.

I also requested "yellow" mustard, which I meant as in, distinct from "grey" mustards. Something of the Chicago hot dog variety. Is that pedestrian of me? At any rate, what they brought out was below, certainly fancier/grey-er than I expected, and certainly not worth getting into with the very competent waiter:

Is this yellow?

The burgers, all told, were good, above average, a solid "B" grade. Nat reported that the bleu cheese was stellar. And we both really liked the sea-salted buns. A nice touch. I mean, they're certainly not worth the pricetag, but I understand they have a reputation to keep (Naha). It's not exactly clear why the burger is on the menu, amongst seemingly far superior/more interesting options, but perhaps they're protecting themselves against the pickiest/least adventurous lunchtime diners. The burgers came with standard fries that were sort of--wait for the triple-mixed metaphor--peppered with parsely, which these days is sort of a red herring for me. Just give me fries, no funny business.

Oh, we also ordered this house-made hibiscus raspberry tea, which ended up completely stealing the show. It was perfectly sweetened and very fresh-tasting. Pretty much made the entire visit worth it.

And these candies (strawberry gummy thing and chocolate tofu?!) presented with the bill were a nice touch.

Can't say we'll be back, but it was a nice visit as a one-off.

Monday, June 1, 2009


2100 W. Irving Park
Chicago, IL 60618

O'boy, could we have done without a trip to this place, which is an overgrown Irish pub/sports bar (with two outside seating areas) in the North Center neighborhood. As we reach the end of the list, restaurants are being picked pretty much at random. I happened to know where O'Donovan's was, so it got the nod for an early lunch over Memorial Day weekend.

Click for the large size - note that all burgers come with "fires." Debateable.

Adam got the standard, and I got mine with bacon and cheddar.

We'd forgotten what category the O'Donovan's burger had been mentioned under---turns out it's the fourth-place cheap burger, available for $2 on Mondays with a drink. (Time Out cites a "peppery kick" that would prove nonexistant.)We were paying Saturday prices, but I don't think it would have mattered. It was pretty bad, along the lines of the McCormick and Schmick's $2 burger. Things were looking promising when the waitress asked us how we wanted our burgers cooked (medium for both of us). But we got these charred-out pucks:

This kind of patty just cannot be cooked anything rarer than well-done. Just sad. Why bother? The bun was lightly toasted and a little stale. At least we're in decent-tomato season. Fries are forgettable McDonalds clones. It will come as no surprise that a Sysco truck was unloading box after box through the back during our meal.

Two things saved the morning from being a total waste. First: O'Donovan's makes a really good bloody mary.

All essential elements (salt-pepper sand, salami, pickled vegetables, 6 oz. beer back) are present.

What makes a big, dumb beer garden care about their bloody mary but neglect about their burger? Everything tasted fresh, with an agreeable (read: noticable) spice level. I think these are a big-ticket item, but there was "a problem" getting our order into the computer and we weren't charged for these, which was the second good thing that O'Donovan's has going for it. Consequently, I have no idea how much these cost, but they'd go for $10 most places, and getting them free was about the best trick O'Donovan's could have possibly pulled on us. That being said, even for $2, there's just nothing to recommend about this burger.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


(312) 786-9911
65 E. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60603

I knew that if I waited long enough, the salmon burger that TOC recommended at Rhapsody would disappear. Being a avowed salmon-hater, I was not looking forward to this one. But indeed, three years later, Rhapsody had the common decency to change their menu and replace the salmon burger with something else (TOC recommendation be damned!) We could have skipped the place altogether, but the “dry aged” burger with slaw remoulade slaw, onion jam and cypress grove cheddar advertised on their website menu sounded worth checking out.

We dined in the lounge, which is a very inviting setting. Definitely caught the pre-symphony crowd, which consisted of a slew of Lois Weisberg contemporaries that all looked worthy of appearing on advanced style. We started off with the duck nachos (that the online menu lists as accompanied by goat horn peppers, butter kasse cheese, cilantro and black beans…does that not look great in print?), which were too intriguing to pass up. I was a little underwhelmed, not expecting the cheese to be as thin and, well, buttery as it was. Also expected a bit more zip from the peppers, but what do I know about goat horn peppers...

Then it was time for the burger. Eyeing the creation from both the top and bottom gave it the appearance of this famous old-woman/young-woman illusion. It looked much more appetizing from above, but from the bottom the weight of the burger, it's relative greasiness, and the moistness of the other ingredients really seeped through the bun.

I liked the burger in the beginning, but the more it went on, the worse it got. By the end, mine had completely crumbled and was totally disjointed (for the record, Nat's stayed in tact). Also, the lettuce made no sense. Yes, I know that lettuce is customary, but the remoulade/slaw/jam combination, compounded by lettuce just made the whole dish a bit "softcore" for my tastes. Also, it didn't taste "dry-aged" as advertised, but to be honest I couldn't tell you what a dry-aged burger is supposed to taste like.

The fries were of reasonable quality, but were totally killed by the excess of parsely and salt sprinkled on them. We are talking copious amounts of salt, like, crystals all over my fingers. The sad, but truthful epitaph to this visit is that I felt really sick when I got home. And I felt sick the next day as well. Rhapsody has some intriguing things going on with their menu, and I would certainly hit them up for a drink before the symphony, but otherwise I can see no real reason for returning.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Perry's Deli
180 N Franklin St
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 372-7557

Although we've been anything but rapid or on-pace, Adam and I are nevertheless entering the home stretch of the Project, which is to say that (1) we've only got a handful of places that we still need to hit, and (2) we're down to the places that, for whatever reason, we've been putting off for over two years. I just searched my Gmail to confirm that Adam and I have been talking for over a year about getting to Perry's, a Loop deli with hours that make it all but inaccessible to anyone who doesn't work downtown.

Although I don't really have enough experience to justify this, I have a theory that Perry's is the bizarro Stage Deli. Where the Stage is derided by locals, Perry's has a 30-person line going out the door. Celebrities (supposedly) can't leave the Stage alone, whereas Perry's, decorated mainly with movie posters, lacks endorsements, even of the TV-anchor sort. The Stage's sandwiches are expensive and huge due to an overall scaling-up of a multi-meat sandwich; Perry's seems to prefer increasing the amount of a single ingredient to absurdity and beyond. To wit, Adam's "BLT."

Aside from taking treyf to a new level, I don't see what the point of this sandwich is. It probably had 3/4 of a pound of thick, apparently deep-fried, seriously salty bacon on mushy rye with forgettable vegetables---just not what a BLT ought to be. It's almost like Perry's was out to prove something.

Counterpoint: Adam has been to Perry's before and has described their bacon as "the best bacon [he's] ever had on a sandwich," and who am I to tell him otherwise. I just can't deal with bacon as a main course.

My pastrami with swiss; pretty forgettable. The pastrami was of the cut-too-thin, left-sweating-in-a-heating-tray variety and it tasted mostly of grease (andsuchsmallportions). I got maybe two thin deli slices of cheese on there; their contribution was negligable. Perry's takes a Subway-style approach to sandwich assembly, so I have no one but myself to blame for the handful of shredded lettuce on top.

But Time Out Chicago chose Perry's for the quality of their shakes, apparently the third best in the city. Here ya go: a chocolate malt.

As we've mentioned, there's not a lot to say about these. Mine wasn't very chocolatey and it wasn't very malty. This place is not any kind of shake destination. Due to the textural contrast the bits and the rest of it, I've come to believe that Oreo is the superlative shake flavor, and Perry's doesn't even offer it. Because there's a line out the door most afternoons, you have to order your shake with your sandwich, which puts me out. There's a gentleman's disagreement within the Project as to whether it's okay to treat a shake as a beverage: Adam prefers to, I would rather not. That said, it wasn't like I was missing an opportunity: Perry's carries some Dr. Brown's sodas, but not Cel-Ray, which is such an amateur mistake* but not really at issue here.

My beef is not really with Perry's, which has been around forever and has a loyal clientele and, y'know, "could be worse." I just cannot believe that Time Out Chicago picked this place. This is simply not one of the best five places in Chicago to get a shake; I doubt Perry himself would disagree. What about Margie's? Hell, what about Hot Chocolate? Out of all of the weird places we've been sent to, this one irks me the most. It's like giving elaborate, fake directions to a stranger rather than just admitting that you don't know where the CSO is. If I'd purchased the issue, this recommendation in particular would have me writing in for a refund.

*I think even Eleven City Diner has Cel-Ray. Seriously, what's it cost to keep a case collecting dust in the back room? It's not like you're going to offend anyone with its presence.

Monday, January 12, 2009


1335 W Wrightwood Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 529-8888

If you are a fairly middling establishment in the middle of a gigantic metropolis with no distinguishing qualities, you can either embrace what you are, or pretend to be something you are not. And Tavish is certainly doing the former. They have blown up to the size of a young child the print-out of their #2 ranking for miniburgers on TOC's list and put it on the window. This endorsement faces an equally-sized plug from the Chicago Tribune, which looks considerably older than the TOC list (hmmmm). Not too cool to act like they didn't care, I immediately appreciated Tavish's swagger in showing off "what they got."

About 6-8 of us occupied the front be-television-ed room, but the entire place was massively long, resembling a Viking ship, somewhere that a Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes meeting wouldn't be out of place (or in Nat's terms, "if Darwin's were a crackhouse"). On to the burgers...

[Tavish under the bright lights]

One strange discrepancy between TOC's write-up and Tavish's menu is that the miniburgers were served as three, not four (as TOC suggested). Fries (what looked to be oven-fried potato chips) accompanied the burgers for a total cost of $8. The burgers themselves, I enjoyed quite a bit. They were done perfectly medium (although we weren't asked how we wanted them prepared) and were at an optimal level of moistness--they were not greasy at all (note: I like to err on the side of dry). The buns were lightly toasted and the pickles were pickles. I liked the fry-chips more than Nat did and thought they contributed to the overall stoic dinginess of the atmosphere.

The owner was sufficiently jolly enough to offer us free shots (which he seemed to be enjoying as well). They apparently had run out of Jim Beam so we were pleasantly served shots of Jack Daniels ("his brother") instead. You know what you should do if you own a dimly lit neighborhood place that is occupied by seven people on a snowy Wednesday night during a recession?

Offer free shots.

Now, to reveal the truth of this mission, we planned to grab miniburgers as a mere appetizer before hitting the newly opened Five Guys in Lincoln Park. Five Guys, a legendary burger chain from the DC area is a much welcome addition to Chicago. Nat's Alexandria-VA roots allowed him multiple meals at the original Five Guys, but for me it was my first time. The Tavish burgers were more filling than I expected so I only finished half of my burger, but I was seriously impressed. Despite the average-tasting fries and somewhat medical atmosphere (cold and fluorescent), this place is now a definite destination spot.

[Five Guys in all its glory]

I ordered mine with bacon tomato, onions, ketchup, mustard, and pickles, which was served to me as a more conservative/stable version of a Thats-a-Burger. I should mention Nat noted that the Chicago creation differed significantly in this regard from the original version (i.e. our buns remained fully intact). It was a delicious beast, and a great value (the diverse array of free toppings is a huge plus). Now I wouldn't say I would drive north all the way North for Five Guys, but if one was located in my neighborhood, I would get extremely fat.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Hopleaf
5148 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60640
(773) 334-9851

As far as Adam and I are concerned, Andersonville might as well consist solely of The Hopleaf, Simon's, and some theater that Andy used to go to. I know that there are other places that are deserving of a closer look (Tre Kronor [edit: not in Andersonville!], Marigold), but we're this far north so rarely that it's unlikely we would take the chance on an unknown quantity. I'd been to The Hopleaf several times before, but I hadn't eaten there in well over a year, so we steeled ourselves against the notorious wait times and made the trek on a Tuesday evening.

The Hopleaf is a Belgian beer bar in the front and a dim, cozy restaurant serving vaguely Belgian bar food in the back. You can order food in the bar, and you can order the beers in the restaurant, which is the better choice if you don't want to compete for service. The beer list is among the most impressive in the city (although, just for the record, I've got to give the edge to the Map Room when it comes to really interesting stuff, like oddball Cantillion guezes).

I feel compelled to apologize for this review, because I really have nothing very critical and/or funny to say about this place. The flipside of the long wait times is that the dining room isn't loud or crowded. Our waiter was efficient and appropriately friendly without being cloying. The bussers kept us supplied with crusty bread to soak up liquids---but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Hopleaf is known for their mussels, served steamed in either a white ale-and-herbs broth or what sounds like a Thai curry with coconut and ginger. I've only ever had the former, and I kind of doubt I'll ever make it to the latter, because the ale preparation is just ridiculously good. LTHers report some variability in the quality of the mussels, but I've never come across a bad one. (These smoke the version at Sweets and Savories, btw.) You really just have to order these if you come here. Adam and I split an order as an appetizer.

These are available as pictured, For One ($11), or For Two ($20) with a corresponding heap of frites.

Enlarge to show texture.

These are pretty good. The one thing they're not, though, is crisp---they're sort of limp and very tender inside, and they're also pretty absorbent, which is really what we were looking for. These fries plus the leftover mussel broth equals two-thirds of the best poutine man could ever hope to make. They are accompanied by an aoili that I'm pretty sure is just Hellman's and garlic, but it's nevertheless pretty much perfect.

These fries are also not served "in a cocktail shaker." I have no idea where TOC got that one.

We also tried the pork belly confit (it is 2008, after all), a maple syrup-rubbed hunk of crispy, fatty bacon. No complaints. Tasty for sure, but not transcendent, and your $10 is better spent on almost anything else served here.

If you're at all surprised that we both ordered the brisket plate with a side of stilton macaroni and cheese, you obviously haven't been reading this blog for very long.

This was really very good. It's hard to tell from the picture, but that brisket's about four 1/2" slices deep. A little smoky and a little fatty, it really hit the spot. The mac and cheese was also pretty good,with a definite bleu-cheese funk---I'm sure I could make it better myself, but seeing as how we'd already had plenty of fries, this side was very welcome.

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