Edzo's Burger Shop
1571 Sherman Ave., Evanston IL 60201 (map); 847-864-3396; edzos.com
Cooking Method: Grill and Griddle
Short Order: Throwback burger joint with some new school twists is definitely worth checking out.
Want Fries With That? Absofreakinglutely. The hand cut, twice fried skin-on potatoes are great plain or with one of nine different toppings.
Price: Double smashed burgers and half-pound char burgers, $4.39; cheese and toppings are extra.
I first came across Eddie Lakin last year when he was an out of work chef blogging about random things related to food in Chicago. He wrote about restaurants he'd been to, bacons he'd tried, a missive against people buying cooking gadgets for chefs, and, starting a little over a year ago, his quest to open a burger restaurant. In May, he launched a second blog, Chicagomatic, devoted to documenting nearly every detail of his then-forthcoming restaurant.
On the new site, the culinary school grad—with stints in the kitchens at Spruce and Tru—took his readers along as he scoured Craigslist for restaurant equipment, searched for employees, and sought menu inspiration. Thanks in large part to the openness of his blog and his active participation on the influential LTH Forum, when Lakin opened the doors to Edzo's Burger Shop in Evanston last October, the place immediately took off. Of course, pre-opening hype only carries a place so far. If Edzo's was going to thrive, the food was going to have to be good.
Edzo's offers two kinds of patties: half-pound char burgers cooked on a grill and quarter-pound smashed burgers cooked on a griddle. All of the burgers are made from chuck that is ground in-house every morning. Lakin holds court at the cash register à la Doug Sohn at Hot Doug's (reviewed here on Serious Eats), taking orders and chatting it up with everyone who walks through the door. In the meantime, a well-trained staff executes the menu perfectly.
Up first was the char burger topped with cheddar. The burger was cooked to medium rare perfection. It had a nice crisp exterior and was flooded with juice inside, and the meat was well-salted without being overseasoned. The bun, from Highland Baking Co., had some brioche elements, but suffers neither from the excess butter nor sugar that so often causes a brioche to ruin an otherwise pleasurable burger experience.
I also tried a double griddled burger. As with the char burger, customers have the option of Dietzler Farms beef for an upcharge of $2 per four ounces of meat. I decided to stick with the factory farmed beef on both my burgers on this venture to Edzo's, but I definitely applaud Lakin for offering the choice. The griddled patties were very good, though not quite as crispy as I like.
The griddled burgers come on a soft roll that's billed as a kids' bun at Highland. The choice of a lighter bun to go with the thinner, more well done griddle burgers is emblematic of what is so good about the burgers here. In general, people are happy if a burger joint puts out a well-executed burger. Edzo's does two different styles of burger very well, offers them made from two different levels of beef quality, and even takes the time to make sure the bun is the appropriate choice for the style of burger. That is more than enough to put the place in the upper echelon of the burger scene. But the kicker is that the burgers weren't the best things I had on my visit.
The variety of and thought put into the burgers at Edzo's is nothing compared to the fries. The hand-cut, twice-fried, skin-on potatoes are simply perfect. They are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside and loaded with potato flavor. If they were only offered as plain fries, I would not have a word of complaint, but Edzo's goes one better—actually, nine better. In addition to regular orders of fries, diners can get nine additional versions. I opted for two of the simpler ones: cheese fries, which come topped with Merkt's cheddar, and an order with truffle salt and Parmesan. They were both great, but in the interest of research, when I return I'll get either the buffalo fries or the Taylor Street fries that are topped with Italian Beef gravy and sweet and hot peppers.
Despite the extensive fry collection and other menu innovations like peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, Edzo's remains, at its core, a throwback burger joint. And no such place would be complete without some outstanding shakes. The "$5 milkshakes," which actually cost $4, come in the standard flavors along with the widely reported on and much beloved Nutella shake. I had no doubt I was going to go with Nutella the entire time I planned my trip, but when I walked in the door and saw the specials, I called an audible. The Spicy Mexican Chocolate Shake, which has been offered on more than one occasion, is made from a disk of Mexican hot chocolate along with a variety of chili powders. The sweet chocolate shake with layered heat on the back end is so good it could inspire Tom Tancredo to learn Spanish.
Edzo's has deservedly been a huge success since it opened a little over six months ago. Lakin could easily stay open later than 4 p.m. and do very well, but he's made a decision to spend the kind of time with his young children that so many in the restaurant industry miss out on. For Chicagoans with 9 to 5 jobs, that makes getting out to Evanston to try Edzo's a bit more difficult, but it's definitely worth spending some valuable weekend time on the effort.
That said, it's possible that night time burger eaters might get a shot at Edzo's in the future. Nothing is imminent, but Lakin has begun exploring the possibility of a burger truck. Given Chicago's absurdly restrictive food truck laws that have thus far prevented a decent street food scene from developing, it will likely be a while before Edzo's nonexistent truck makes it into the city. Still, as good as this place is, it's a dream worth holding on to.