25 Degrees Chicago
736 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654 (map); 312-943-9700; 25degreesrestaurant.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: It's all about balanced toppings that aren't too strong, so go for the Number Three.
Price: Number One, $12; Number Three, $12; fries, $4; onion rings, $4
25 Degrees is actually a worldwide burger chain, albeit a small one—they've got four outposts, including Bangkok, Los Angeles, Huntington Beach, and, of course, Chicago. According to their website, they're "named after the precise temperature difference between a raw and well-done hamburger." Although I'm not sure those temperatures are entirely correct, at least they're sticking to a burgery theme.
For a restaurant that prides themselves on burgers, their signature burger selection is relatively small—there are four of them, and one of them is made of tuna. I know you diehards would turn me into a verbal punching bag if I even called the tuna concoction a burger, so I steered clear of that one. You know, so I don't end up crying in bed reading the comments later. But I do appreciate that they focus on a few rather than, say, 25 variations (because that's 25 variations that they could potentially screw up).
I'm going to go straight for my favorite, the Number Three ($12). It's decked out with Mezzo Secco Jack cheese, green chile, avocado, and chipotle sauce. I'm usually happy with traditional toppings like, cheese, grilled onions, and sometimes bacon, but I'm glad my curiosity got the better of me. It's a very balanced burger, with the slightly bitter cooked chiles helping cut through the natural richness of the beef. The avocado adds its usual velvety-smooth texture and buttery flavor, but the cheese and the chipotle get lost in the mix. This is a burger I'd happily order again, mainly because of the chiles, most of which aren't too spicy, though there are a few landmines in there.
The Number One ($12) is much better on paper than it is in practice. It's topped with caramelized onions, creamy Crescenza cheese, gorgonzola, arugula, and Thousand Island dressing.
The main problem is the cheese. The gorgonzola hijacks pretty much every flavor in the burger, including the beef. If you're a blue cheese lover, then it's definitely the burger for you. Otherwise, the normally welcome flavors of sweet caramelized onion and herby arugula get steamrolled pretty quick.
Each burger features a nine-ounce patty made of grass fed beef with a medium grind. The medium-rare burger came out to temp, but the one ordered medium came out closer to medium-rare in the very center. The meat isn't salted aggressively, nor does it have much crust, but it's still a flavorful patty nonetheless. The bun is of the soft, puffy brioche variety, and it's toasted, but that doesn't stop the thing from disintegrating pretty quickly from the patty's juice. Oddly, they all come out pre-sliced in their paper diaper.
The french fries are fast-food style, the slimmer blonder kind, and they're a touch inconsistent. Most of them are crispy and well salted, but I did catch a few soggy ones in the batch. As a side, $4 is also pretty steep.
The onion rings ($4) are a better bet. The batter is crisp and crunchy and doesn't perform "the slip." You know, where you bite into the ring and the nude onion slides out, ashamed of itself. The onion is a touch too thick, however, and still retains a fairly firm texture, but is cooked enough to have lost its fresh acrid taste.
There is one thing that really strikes me about the menu: the cheese list for the "build-it-yourself" option is impressively large, with a total of 14 choices. Damn, son. You burger architects will have a field day with them. Or you could cause some trouble and order...all 14 of them on one burger. Let me know if you do that, because I will come watch you eat it, and I'll heckle you the whole time.
If you're in the neighborhood and you're craving a burger, 25 Degrees puts out a reliable option. And, pssst, try the Number Three.