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Instead of taking the tired "What foods will be hot in 2011?" route for today's Food cover story, writer Leah Zeldes tries to figure out how and why certain foods become trendy. Included is a clever sidebar on things chefs and trendwatchers wish were hot but which likely never will be, including aprons, wild game and hominy.

Of course, "cupcakes" and "pork" and "burger" appear many times throughout the story. Which explains our cover illustration (at left). Fun, isn't it?

Credit goes to Sun-Times designer (and Shopping writer) Jessica Sedgwick, who's the reason why the Food pages look so good week after week.

And speaking of cupcakes:

Crumbs Bake Shop celebrates the opening Friday of its first Chicago store at 303 W. Madison with a 1,000-cupcake giveaway.

Crumbs co-founder Mia Bauer says this is the first of four Chicago Crumbs locations slated to open this year.

Not blind to the view that the cupcake -- or shops touting them -- is nearing its saturation point (if not already there), Bauer admits, "I understand it completely. I kind of feel it myself. Sometimes, it's kind of like, Oh my God, there's so many now."

But, she quickly adds, "We are a full-service bakery and we still want to be a place where we know people's kids' names. And the cupcakes, they really do speak for themselves."

So yes, Crumbs does carry cupcakes -- their signature giant ones are $3.75 each -- but they also carry 149 other items every day, including that near-impossible-to-find-in-Chicago treat, the black-and-white cookie. Which makes me wonder: Am I the only one excited about black-and-whites cookies? Where else in Chicago can you find a good one? And will this be the year the black-and-white finally has its day?

Oh, forget it.

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(Courtesy King Arthur Flour)

Suburban restaurant openings, on the whole, happen much more quietly than in the chef-driven city landscape. A casual burger joint in a shopping mall in Lombard? Yawn.

Only, this one's just a little different.

Tom & Eddie's, opening Friday at the Shops on Butterfield in Lombard, is the brainchild of Ed Rensi and Tom Dentice, a couple of retirees who, um, used to run McDonalds. Rensi, whose first job at McDonalds was working the grill, retired as CEO in 1998; Dentice was executive VP in charge of operations of training. So they know a little something about the burger business.

Their concept for Tom & Eddie's -- gourmet burgers -- isn't novel, especially these days, what with the M Burgers and DMK Burger Bars and Five Guys sprouting like weeds. But it's as far as you can get from the Golden Arches, with hand-formed patties (and not just beef, but ahi tuna, turkey and edamame, too), housemade potato chips and toppings such as Nueske's bacon, peppadew peppers and the ubiquitous, beloved fried egg.

There's no lack of marketing savvy, either. Starting at 10 a.m. Friday, the restaurant will hold a drawing for one person to win a weekly burger meal; the winner will be announced at 9 p.m. In addition, any customer who comes in "dressed to the nines" (echoing the opening theme) in a tux or gown during the first nine days gets a meal on the house.

I had a sneak peek at the burgers -- or stylized renditions of them -- back in April, when Rensi and I met at the studio of Chicago food photographer Stephen Hamilton. I was reporting a story on Hamilton; the client Hamilton was shooting that day happened to be Tom and Eddie's. Rensi, a big, tall guy, talked like a pitchman, in a big, booming voice. The story was about Hamilton, but the floor was most certainly Rensi's. We're going for quality here, he told me, a top-notch burger, no fooling around.

I saw him again at the National Restaurant Association show in May at McCormick Place. This time, he was hawking the SpinFresh fryer, which operates using centrifugal force. Rensi is on the company's board.

Did I mention he owns a NASCAR team?

Already in the works: Geneva and Deerfield locations of Tom and Eddie's. First, though, the opening Friday in Lombard. Don't be surprised to see Eddie working the grill; he's hard to miss.

Besides that it's all about burgers and milkshakes, there is much more to like about Spike Mendelsohn's "The Good Stuff Cookbook," named after his D.C. eatery (which might make its way to Chicago one of these days.) Recipes are simple and produce fun, boldly flavored, gorgeous food. There's an entire chapter on the retro wedge salad, for crying out loud.

But since burgers and shakes are the main attractions, I asked Mendelsohn for his top tips when making these classics. We didn't have space to run these in today's Food pages, so take note now: spikeburg[1].jpg

For burgers:
1. Toast the buns on both sides.

2. When you're doing building the burger, bun and all, wrap it in a big square of wax paper and let it sit for a minute or two. Mendelsohn learned this tip from his grandfather. "It literally steams it for a little but, keeps the burger hot and just gives it a great texture," he says. And nope, it won't get soggy.

For shakes:
1. Use a custard -- or the best premium ice cream you can find -- as the base for your shake. Mendelsohn uses a custard made fresh daily at his restaurant.

2. Use a handheld immersion blender, not a blender; if you don't have an immersion blender, they're not that big of an investment, and they're also genius for soups and sauces. "A blender creates friction; you'll end up with a watery shake," he says.

Here, too, Mendelsohn's recipe for basic mayonnaise, which we didn't have room for in print:

Homemade Basic Mayonnaise
Makes about 2 cups

2 large eggs
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups grapeseed oil

Add eggs, mustard, vinegar and salt to a food processor or blender. Process for 30 seconds in food processor, or 10 seconds in blender. With motor running, drizzle in oil slowly at first, then add in a thin, steady stream until all the oil is added and the mixture is smooth. Stop the motor and taste. If sauce is too thick, thin it with a little hot water. If too thin, process a little longer. The mayo can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

With McCormick Place reform legislation firmly in place, it's doubly encouraging to note that attendance at the National Restaurant Association show, which ended Tuesday, registered a 6 percent increase over 2009. (Last year, you may remember, was dismal -- down 24 percent from the previous year.)

And a few final, random thoughts from the show:

* Spike Mendelsohn, he of "Top Chef" fame, is working on bringing the Good Stuff Eatery, his "chef-y" Washington D.C. burger joint, to Chicago.

Mendelsohn and his sister Micheline (together, they wrote the Good Stuff Cookbook) met with a real estate company while in Chicago about their franchise plan, Micheline said. "The thought would be to expand the concept in big cities, rather than have 10 in D.C.," she said. Makes sense -- a certain high-profile lawyer from Chicago but now living in D.C. loves the place.

* Bumped into Primehouse chef Rick Gresh on the show floor; he offered these words about the street food thing trying to gain a foothold in Chicago.

"I think we have a lot of silly laws on the book. If it does happen, it'll change the way people eat here, in a positive way. Who knows -- maybe we'll have a steak truck."

And speaking of steak, Gresh is working with Goose Island brewmaster Jared Rouben to create what he's calling the "ultimate steak beer" that will mimic the flavors of Pinot Noir. Much like what Rouben has done with Vie chef Paul Virant and a handful of other Chicago chefs.

Brewing for the USB will begin in July for a fall release, Gresh said. There will be a spring release as well.

Yes, yes, yes, so the whole gourmet, chef-y burger bandwagon is rolling happily along, so much so that you might be tempted to roll your eyes if you hear of yet another place offering yet more grass-fed, hormone-free, bacon-topped patties.

But here's why we're resisting that urge with M Burger, the latest in Rich Melman's empire that's opening tomorrow at 161 E. Huron just around the bend from (really, within) the uber-upscale Tru: the prices, people! Have you seen these prices? The menu offers but eight food items, the priciest being a $4.99 chopped chicken salad. A cheeseburger is $2.99; a double M Burger, with "bacon, cheese, secret sauce" will run you $4.49, before tax.

Yes, we realize these are burgers we're talking about -- fast food, by definition. But there's a vast difference, in our eyes, between chef-driven fast food -- the M Burgers and DMK Burger Bars of our world -- and the rest. Given the choice, the former is what we'd feed to our kids.

And speaking of chefs going downscale, the buzz is building about Aldino's, Dean Zanella's latest venture in Little Italy, also opening tomorrow.

The menu is all about Italian comfort food, with an antipasti section alone that's worth swooning over. But we can't for the adjoining market Zanella has planned at 624 S. Racine that's opening in a few more weeks.

It'll carry the sort of ingredients that are harder to find in regular grocery stores -- preserved lemons, say. Zanella also wants to offer meats by the pound that he's using in the restaurant, and fresh seafood (likely available via pre-order) simply because "it's a hard thing in the city to find good seafood." He'll also offer sandwiches (porchetta with pickled fennel and a roasted garlic spread, veal meatball and so on) and prepared salads, sides and meals that "people can take and finish up at home."

As hesitant as I am to link to anything from FoxNews, I can't help but share Shephard Smith's horror at this concoction, which came from a bar owner in Georgia who had run out of hamburger buns, so he just started slipping his cheeseburgers (with bacon, no less!) in between the halves of a Krispy Kreme donut. But maybe we can help to fund healthcare reform by slapping a big tax on these, seeing as how they are a one-way ticket to the cardiologist.

The Obamas love hamburgers. This past week, both the President and the First Lady made trips to hamburger restaurants in and near Washington. Everyone has heard about President Obama and Vice President Biden's lunch excursion to Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Va. last week, but not as widely reported was First Lady Michelle Obama's burger jaunt.

The Washington Post reports that Mrs. Obama and her staff dined at the Good Stuff Eatery, on Pennsylvania Avenue, this past Friday.

"The outing was just one of several the first lady and her staff have made to local eateries for lunch, also visiting Five Guys Burgers and Fries and a barbecue place," the Post reported.

The restaurant assembled platters of various house specialties, so everyone in the group of around 18 could sample a variety of burgers. The burgers they got to eat included the Colletti's Smokehouse burger, free range turkey burgers, the "Prez Obama" burger, regular burgers and bacon cheeseburgers. The burgers were served with two kinds of French fries -- sea-salt dusted ones and a thyme, rosemary and cracked pepper version. "Also on offer were Cliff's Homegrown Vidalia Onion Petals, a kind of high-end blooming onion," said the Post.

Who knew the Obamas were such burger fans? Maybe next time they're back in Chicago we'll catch them at Kuma's or Hamburger Mary's.

The AP reports that President Obama and VP Biden went on a burger binge today to a small strip mall joint called Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington, Va.

Amid a gaggle of photographers, the two paid with cash and waited for their number to be called.

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Ray's Hell Burger, also called Ray's Butcher Burgers, does one thing (and well, at that, according to D.C. foodists) -- a $6.95, 10-ounce burger made from freshly ground, prime beef.

Sara Levine of the Washingtonian.com said, "Ray's creations aren't of the truffle-and-brioche gourmet variety à la Palena or Central Michel Richard; they're more like great made-at-home burgers from the backyard grill, taken up several notches thanks to the quality of Landrum's meat." Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's only quibble: the brioche bun tends to fall apart.

Ray's doesn't even sell French fries.

The foodie(s) on the White House staff know their local grub. The cheeseburger at Ray's Hell Burger is on the list of the 50 best burgers in 50 states in the June issue of Food Network Magazine. It's one list we won't quibble with, at least not where Chicago is concerned -- the Slayer burger at Kuma's Corner is the magazine's pick for Illinois.

Update: We just heard back from Ray's owner Michael Landrum, who apologized for not being able to call us that day the Prez came in. Kinda busy, we guess.

Anyway, Landrum tells us he's humbled by the impromptu visit from Obama and Biden to his 9-month-old shop. And contrary to what some were reporting Tuesday, he says Obama ordered a cheeseburger with Vermont cheddar. And Biden ... uh, Landrum doesn't remember what theVP ordered.

"The tour buses haven't started rolling up yet, but seeing your restaurant discussed on The Daily Show and Dave Letterman is kind of cool," Landrum says.

Like other national burger chains, Burger King has beefed up its menu with the Steakhouse and Loaded Steakhouse Burgers, and now McDonald's is poised to produce a new premium sandwich -- the Angus Burger -- Crain's Chicago Business reports.

The Angus Burger, weighing in at one-third of a pound, is McDonald's first new hamburger on its menu in eight years, and it is McDonald's answer to bigger burgers introduced by rivals in recent years, Crain's says. The $3.99 burger, made from a better grade of beef than Big Macs and Quarter Pounders, will be rolled out nationally this summer.

While Americans' appetites certainly aren't subsiding, Crain's notes that the state of the economy could dampen the demand for pricier offerings like the Angus.


In the spirit of all those silly Facebook questionnaires (If your life was a movie, what would it be? What Peter Paul and Mary song are you?), here's a burger personality quiz. (Just call me Nurture Burger).

C'mon, it's Friday.

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About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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