Editor's note: Please welcome Dennis Lee (perhaps better known as Fart Sandwich), one of our new regular Chicago contributors! He's been around the burger block before, but only sparingly. From now on you can expect to get his burgery views once a month.
Lockdown Bar and Grill
1024 North Western Avenue, Chicago IL 60622 (map); 773-451-5625; lockdownbar.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The toppings here are strong, but the beef just can't bring the noise. At least the toppings bring the funk.
Want Fries with That? The hand-cut fries are, sadly, soggy.
Price: The Lockdown Warden, $14; Hawaii 5.0, $13 (both w/one side)
Hi everyone! Chicago correspondent Dennis Lee, reporting in for duty on A Hamburger Today! Before I launch into things, I'd like to send a shoutout to my man, Daniel Zemans. Just over a year ago, he let me tag along on his review of The Weiner's Circle, which is fitting, considering my huge affinity for weiner jokes (yes, I am a perpetual 12 year old, except I'm allowed to drink whiskey), and his reviews, whether they be about pizza, burgers, or sandwiches, never steered me wrong. Thanks, Daniel. You rock.
The reason why I picked Lockdown Bar and Grill as my first burger review is because more than a few of my friends recommended this place. A few of them even dared to say that it's better than Kuma's Corner, which I like to think of as the Hot Doug's of hamburgers. And of course, that's a bold statement, considering Kuma's Corner is excellent. It's hard not to draw comparisons between the two places; they're both laced with heavy metal, and the burgers all have irreverent names and menu descriptions. But how about the food?
The signature burger at Lockdown is the Lockdown Warden (see the jail theme?). Officer, cuff me now and toss me in the cell with the 10 ounces of fresh pre-ground beef! The coarsely ground meat is blended with bacon, garlic, and shallots. It's stuffed with Merkt's cheddar, which I can never seem to get enough of, and it's topped with frizzle-fried leeks and shallots. As you can see by the picture, this is a grilled burger. And unfortunately, you can also tell that when ordered medium rare, the meat doesn't come well-crusted.
The burger arrived medium rare as requested, which I imagine is a tricky task for a stuffed burger. It's positively oozing Merkt's cheddar, which is tangy and delicious, and what really stands out are the fried leeks, which pack a ton of concentrated green oniony flavor. They're well salted and tossed with a minimal amount of truffle oil. The restraint pays off, and at no point does the truffle oil overwhelm. While the slight edge of the pretzel bun indicates that it might have seen the grill, there was no toasting that I could see or taste, but it stands up particularly well.
But the main problem is the beef itself: It's not particularly flavorful or juicy, and the exterior lacks salt. The lack of crust makes for a mushy patty, and that fact is hard to overlook. The bacon, shallot, and garlic infused in the beef is nearly nonexistent, making me wonder if it's even there in the first place.
Don't kill me for this one, guys, but my girlfriend, no matter how much begging or pleading, only orders her burgers well done. And you know, it's okay with me—it's her meal anyway, as much as some of you might cringe. If she's happy, I'm happy, and I tell myself that so she doesn't stab me in my sleep.
And that's how we received the Hawaii 5.0, well-done, topped with pulled pork, grilled fresh pineapple, raw red onion, and barbecue sauce. This bad-boy sports a good crust, but, as expected, is bone dry when cooked well done, and the lack of salt on it is too much to overlook. And the pulled pork was also dry and just too ropey. What helps, however, is the sweet and juicy grilled pineapple, making me wonder why I don't have pineapple with meat more often.
The hand-cut fries are soggy, most of them limp, so if you're into flaccid fries, you'll be in heaven, but otherwise, they aren't that great.
So is Lockdown Bar and Grill a Kuma's killer? Not quite, and the comparison is superficial at best, but I can't stop thinking about those fried leeks. They can arrest me anytime. Hey-o!