Chefs give burgers a new spin
One has a Michelin star. Another a trio of Asian restaurants. But none of these celebrated chefs is too proud to give the people what they want: a burger.
“My chef friends will not put a burger on the menu,” says Bill Kim, the chef of bellyQ. “I love my chef friends,” he insists. “But if you do something that everybody understands, and you make it delicious, what does it matter?” That’s the logic behind the “minibQ” burgers, a duo of ground beef brisket patties that debuted in November on the bellyQ lunch menu, alongside pork-dumpling soup and chilled somen-noodle salad. Kim being Kim—former Trotter’s chef, proprietor of three Asian-influenced restaurants—the burgers are a far cry from White Castle sliders. In place of a bun, bellyQ makes its own bao (steamed buns) daily; the buns are griddled with a little bit of Thai curry butter to turn them from soft to crispy, then piled with green papaya, kimchi, cheddar cheese and those brisket patties. Inspired by his memories of the “crab fries” from East Coast chain Chickie’s & Pete’s, Kim dusts the fries that accompany the burgers with a housemade Old Bay seasoning (oregano, chili powder and paprika), then offers three sauces—chili mayo, ketchup and nuoc chom (fish sauce, garlic and chilies)—to dip them in. “I want to cook for everybody,” Kim says. $13. Available on the lunch menu only (served Mon–Fri). 1400 W Randolph St (312-563-1010).
Kim’s chef friends might be holding out, but a few others agree with him:
The Sheerin brothers had two motivations for adding a burger to their bar menu. One: They were faced with some excess beef from their braised short-rib entrée. Two: They wanted people to think of the bar half of their restaurant as just that—a bar, where you can drop in for a beer and a bite to eat. So, is this your average bar burger? Not so much. Their pastry chef makes the bun—a hybrid of potato dough and focaccia—which is then topped with a ground-in-house chuck patty and an evolving set of toppings. It started with heirloom tomatoes in late summer and is currently taleggio and truffle fondue. Which brings us to another reason the Sheerins wanted to serve a burger: to give diners what Pat calls “the Trenchermen experience,” i.e., the tradition of hearty eating and drinking for which the restaurant is named. $15. Available for brunch (Sunday) and nightly on the bar menu. 2039 W North Ave (773-661-1540).
Ryan McCaskey did an experiment: He took away the burger, which had been on Acadia’s bar menu practically since the restaurant opened. “I wanted to see if I could sell other bar food besides a burger and a lobster roll,” he says. So he switched it out for a duck-pastrami sandwich on housemade rye bread. “As good as it was,” McCaskey says, “people just wanted the burger. I looked at the statistics; we actually lost revenue.” So back it came, a patty of three parts beef chuck (“the backbone”), two parts beef brisket (“water content”) and one part beef fat (“to add fat”), served on a brioche bun with capretta (a Sicilian goat cheese that “melts really well”), spicy Thousand Island dressing, bread-and-butter pickles and onion-bacon jam, with a side of potato salad. This time—even though Acadia just earned its first Michelin star—the burger isn’t going anywhere. $13. Available nightly on the bar menu (closed Mon, Tue). 1639 S Wabash Ave (312-360-9500).
In November, Urban Union began offering daily specials: bone-in prime rib on Mondays, beef Wellington on Tuesdays, cassoulet on Wednesdays and a 16-ounce Kobe beef burger on Thursdays. “It’s huge,” says the chef, Michael Shrader, who initially created the burger for the lunch menu—then doubled the size to add it as a weekly dinner special. “One of the problems you see with a lot of burgers,” says Shrader, “is they’re so damn lean. There’s no fat in it.” Kobe-style beef solves this problem because “it has great marbling and fat content.” Aged cheddar, applewood-smoked bacon and a ciabatta bun made in-house by pastry chef Mitsu Nozaki complete this burger, but should you want even more fat, Shrader’s got you covered. “You can add foie gras for 15 bucks,” he says. “If you really want to.” Available in 10-ounce ($12) size for lunch (Mon–Fri) and in both the 10-ounce and 16-ounce ($24) sizes for Thursday dinner. 1421 W Taylor St (312-929-4302).