Owen & Engine
2700 North Western Avenue, Chicago IL 60647(map); 773-235-2930; owenandengine.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Simply one of the best burgers in Chicago
Want Fries With That? Why yes, yes you do
Price: Burger w/fries, $14; w/cheese, +$2; w/rashers, +$3
Notes: On Tuesdays, get a burger, a beer, and a bourbon for $15
Twice in recent weeks, people have emailed AHT editor Robyn regarding the need for a review of the burger at Owen & Engine, the year-and-a-half old restaurant on the outskirts of Logan Square that is too good and too creative to be referred to merely as a British pub. Readers' suggestions are always appreciated, but in this case I was almost a little embarrassed. See, I've long known that Owen & Engine serves one of the best burgers in Chicago, and the lack of a review was a stain on my body of burger work. That ends now.
Bo Fowler was doing just fine as a Chicago restaurateur via Fat Willy's Rib Shack, a rib joint that has done well since it opened about nine years ago. But when the property next door became available, Fowler jumped at the opportunity to do something entirely different. Physically, everything about the completely redesigned space evokes memories of classic English pubs. Dark woods abound and little details like the working fireplace and the worn Persian rugs all serve to make anyone comfortable in this den of hipsterdom. But what really makes Owen & Engine special is the detailed attention Fowler, who also serves as Executive Chef, paid to every aspect of the menu. From the selection of cask beers to the commitment to high quality products and making as much as possible in-house, the food at Owen & Engine is destination-worthy.
But I'm not here to talk about some of the best fish and chips or chicken wings in Chicago; I'm here to talk about the sensational half pound of ground beef that every burger lover owes it to themselves to go check out. The beef is a 60/20/20 blend of chuck, short rib, and brisket, all from Slagel Family Farm. It is an unfortunate flaw of the English language that there is not a better word than "beefy" to describe beef. Because calling this unspeakably delicious blend of quality meat extremely beefy does not begin to do justice to the flavor that fills my burger-loving soul with every bite.
Without optional add-ons, the burger comes topped with nothing other than a heap of impossibly tender caramelized onions that add a complementary burst of restrained sweetness. The patty is served on a toasted house-made potato bun that restaurant should really consider selling to other burger purveyors in the city. And that's it for the burger. It is as basic as it is delicious.
Of course, a well-designed burger only gets you so far. If the kitchen can't deliver the meat as ordered, then the whole experience can get thrown off kilter. Under the leadership of Chef de Cuisine Kevin Church, execution has never been a problem for me at Owen & Engine. I requested this burger rare and got exactly what I was hoping for—pink, warm, and incredibly juicy on the inside but with a decent crust around the outside. If I'm going to be extremely picky, I'll point out that a little more crust would have helped out in terms of texture. That said, the added crunch from the toasted bun made that problem easy to overlook.
As good as the regular burger is, with a couple of additions it gets even better. There's one choice of cheese at Owen & Engine, a one-year-old cave-aged cheddar from Barber's in England. I would love to complain about the fact that the cheese costs $2 extra, but given the combination of the flavor and melting quality, I have to instead acknowledge that it's among the better cheeses I've had on a burger.
A second must-add for the burger, which isn't listed on the menu but is always available for $3, are their house-made rashers. This crisp and chewy thin slice of cured pork back won't make you question its much more common brother known as bacon, but it will make you realize that a pig has more to give your burger than just its belly.
I ordered this burger medium rare and got something somewhere between medium rare and medium. But it's a testament to the quality of the beef (and the cheese and rashers) that the extra 30 seconds or so on the griddle was inconsequential. This was almost as juicy and flavorful as the rare version.
Given how good the burgers are, I really wouldn't care if the fries sucked at Owen & Engine. But such qualifications are moot because these hand-cut potatoes are addictive: crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, well-salted, and served with a wonderfully tangy malt vinegar aioli, I actually had to dump mine on my dining companions plate to stop myself from inhaling them.
Every now and then I look back at the list of my favorite burgers I wrote not long after starting this AHT gig two and a half years ago. The onslaught of quality burger purveyors that have opened since then, along with my consciously diving a lot deeper into the burger scene, have rendered that list, other that David Burke's Primehouse (reviewed here), completely useless. I'm not sure that Owen & Engine would make my current top five, but there's no question it's in the discussion.