Chicago: Great Choices Abound at Butcher & The Burger

AHT: Chicago

Burger reviews in the Chicago area.

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Butcher & the Burger

1021 West Armitage Avenue, Chicago IL 60614 (map); 773-697-3735; butcherandtheburger.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Ambitious new burger shop makes great burgers
Want Fries With That? Oh yeah, these are some fresh-cut and well-salted Kennebec heirloom potatoes are top-notch
Price: House blend of beef, $8.50; grass-fed beef, $9.50; fries, $2.50
Notes: Also open for breakfast; yes, burgers can be had early in the morning

A quick glance at the choices at Butcher & the Burger and it's immediately clear a lot of thought went into the menu. A more thorough review reveals that a lot of thought is needed to decide what to order. Chef Allen Sternweiler, who's had a long career running kitchens in Chicago restaurants, including Duchamp and Allen's, has put together perhaps the most wide-ranging burger menu in town. Diners have their choice of four different buns, 10 different patties (three beef, five other animals, and two veggie), 11 different spice blends that are mixed into the patties, and a whole mess of options for toppings.

The tiny shop opened its doors at the beginning of November and is already operating smoothly. The burger side of the operation is a fine-tuned machine, with as many as four cooks crammed into the miniscule open kitchen who somehow manage to avoid getting in each other's ways. The butcher side of the ampersand is coming along—a series of butchering classes, held on Monday nights, has already begun, and eventually the butcher case will be filled with raw patties for sale along with a variety of specialty meats.

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Much as I wanted to try out one of the more non-traditional burgers (elk!), I decided to keep things simple for AHT purposes. With the first burger, that meant grass-fed Wagyu beef seasoned with just sea salt and cracked pepper mixed in, topped with a fried egg, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and ketchup, all served on a pretzel roll. Cheese, and traditional condiments are all included in the base price, but toppings like eggs and bacon are extra. Also, the pretzel roll, from Turano like all of the buns, will cost you another 50¢.

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This half-pound patty was grilled to rare as requested. The beef—which isn't ground in-house, but is delivered fresh daily—was very nicely seasoned with salt and pepper and was surprisingly juicy for grass-fed beef. The fresh pretzel bun was, like all of the buns at Butcher & The Burger, toasted.

The only flaw was that the egg was on the "very easy" end of the over easy spectrum while the order was for over well. Given that the harder yolk was my dining companion's preference and I prefer a runny yolk, I appreciated the mistake. Bottom line: I really liked everything about this burger.

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Unfortunately, my second burger wasn't nearly as successful. I went for the patty made from "local natural house blended beef," a proprietary blend that remains a closely-guarded secret. For toppings, I opted for cheddar cheese, Benton's Tennessee Mountain Smoked Bacon, and wasabi mayo. The cheese was good, as was the mayo, even if it was barely present, and the bacon was truly exceptional. The problem with this burger was the spice blend, called umami glaze, which is a blend of ginger, garlic, scallion and sweet soy sauce.

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The seasoning didn't overpower the beef, which was cooked precisely to medium-rare as requested. But the umami glaze didn't complement the beef well at all, which distracted me from what was some excellent beef that I strongly recommend over the pricier Wagyu. Just like the first patty, this one was properly cooked and came with a really nice sear.

Although I didn't like the umami glaze, I'm not ready to write off the other seasoning blends offered. On a previous visit, I tried a burger with the Chicago Steakhouse spice mix and liked it a lot, and I'm very intrigued by the "Burger Meets Sun," which includes ghost peppers.

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I first learned about the potential greatness of fries made from heirloom Kennebec potatoes a couple of months ago when I visited Abigail's. At Butcher & The Burger, that potential was realized: These are some of the best fries around. These well-salted fried potatoes come with a crisp exterior and tender interior, and are some of the most flavorful fries I've had in a while.

Given that the only thing I don't like about Butcher & The Burger is the umami glaze, which is the most out-of-the-box seasoning blend in the place, I'm obviously a fan. I do worry a bit about the traffic that could overwhelm the place; the combination of small space, great burgers, and a whole lot of hungry Lincoln Park shoppers is sure to make for some long lines, especially in the summer. It seems the team behind the restaurant might be aware of that given that the website for this month-old establishment indicates they're already looking for partners for future development partners.

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