Chicago: Gussied Up Burgers at The Peasantry
2723 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60614 (map);773-868-4888; thepeasantry.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Upscale twists make for some very flavorful burgers
Want Fries With That? The pre-cut waffle fries are just not good enough for this restaurant
Price: Beef and bone marrow burger, $13; lamb burger, $12; waffle fries, $3.50; triple truffle fries, $6
Chef Joe Doren brought fine dining to the proletariats a little over two years with his menagerie of homemade sausages at Franks 'n Dawgs (covered on Serious Eats: Chicago). Now the alum of highfalutin spots including Blackbird and Sixteen is expanding his reimagination of common fare at The Peasantry. From Pigs in the Blanket made with housemade chorizo to a pork belly gyro to a few favorites borrowed from Franks 'n Dawgs, the menu is loaded with enticing options billed as "elevated street food." When it comes to the humble burger, the elevation consists of three different meats, each of which is topped with a combination of flavors I've never seen anywhere else.
The Peasantry's beef burger features a patty made from a blend of hanger steak and bone marrow. This combination of a woefully underappreciated cut of beef (at least in the U.S.) and an increasingly celebrated fatty treat makes for a seriously beefy burger. Mine came medium rare as requested and came with a truly impressive crust. Although the meat was a little dense for my liking, it wasn't a big deal considering the intense beefiness present, and the texture may have been necessary for incorporating the marrow.
I suppose the inclusion of bone marrow is enough to qualify this burger as "elevated," but where Doren really steps up his game is in the topping, which include a mound of shallot marmalade along with arugula, manchego cheese, and some pickled cauliflower. The bits of pickled cauliflower are the standouts among this bunch, but the sweet, soft marmalade provides the necessary balance for the tangy and crunchy vegetables. Throw in some nutty manchego and the peppery freshness of the arugula and this makes for mixture of flavors and textures that improve an already delicious patty. Add in a soft, toasted bun and you've got a very, very good burger.
The other two burger choices at The Peasantry are lamb and duck. While the duck burger (with coriander, dried apricot, orange marmalade, mustard greens, tarragon and foie gras torchon) sounded good, I went for the more savory onion lamb burger. As was the case with the beef and bone marrow patty, this one was delivered at the medium rare requested and featured a tremendous crust and some intense flavor from the protein. The toppings, a combination of olive aioli, green garlic and asparagus pistou, and red onion, were not as varied or exciting as the mixture on the beef burger, but they complemented the rich lamb nicely.
The ciabatta bread the burger was served on was a fine piece of bread, but it was not something I liked as a burger bun. The tough and chewy bread is a challenge to incorporate in any sandwich, and I didn't think it worked here. This was not a bad burger by any stretch, but it paled against the beef and bone marrow option and isn't something I'd order again.
If top-notch waffle fries exist, I haven't had them. Sure, when cooked properly as they are at The Peasantry, they can have a great texture thanks to the extra surface area that crisps up. But these Yukon Gold potatoes, cut long before they arrive at the restaurant, were not delicious. The fries come plain and in a triple truffle version (borrowed from Franks 'n Dawgs), which are coated with truffle oil, truffle butter, and truffle salt as well as some freshly chopped herbs. For truffle fans, I suppose these could be a winner, but the fancy stuff does not elevate the mediocre potatoes to being worthy of inclusion on the menu.
"Elevating street food" is a trend that Serious Eats fully embraces. And it's nice to see a restaurant in a part of Lakeview where, frankly, there aren't many great dining options of any variety, that devotes itself so thoroughly to celebrating some of America's favorite and most basic foods. I already started planning a return trip with my dining companion for a communal meal that would give us the ordering power to try out a substantial portion of the rest of the menu.
About the author:< a href="http://www.seriouseats.com/user/profile/Daniel%20Zemans">Daniel Zemans covers the Chicago burger scene for A Hamburger Today. He babbles in 140 character increments @zemanation.