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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Chicago Cut Steakhouse

300 North LaSalle, Chicago, IL 60654 (map); 312-329-1800; chicagocutsteakhouse.com
Cooking Method: Broiled at 180° F
Short Order: 12 ounces of prime, dry aged beef is every bit as good as you'd expect
Want Fries With That? Crisp, soft, potatoey, but focus your energy on the burger
Price: Burger or patty melt (w/fries), $14; onion rings, $9
Notes: Patty melt only available at lunch

I've never fully understood why so many high end steakhouses are content serving mediocre burgers. After all, the chefs certainly know their way around beef and have access to high quality meat, so it ought to be easy for them to deliver outstanding burgers. Now, I've certainly had excellent burgers at steakhouses. David Burke's Primehouse, one of my first posts on AHT, still serves my favorite burger anywhere. But for the most part, the upper end of steakhouse burgers are on the level of the ones I had at Benny's, which is to say good but not great.

A few months ago, during the tremendous adventure that was Burger Day 4, I stumbled a great burger at Chicago Cut Steakhouse, one of the city's newer fancy beef emporiums. Because that post was not conducive to full coverage of the burger, I knew I had to get back. So when I came to the conclusion that my days as a regular contributor to AHT had to end, I decided to go out with a bang and write about the beast of a burger at Chicago Cut. It turns out the burger I sampled several months ago was no fluke: Other than my beloved Primehouse, Chicago Cut is putting out the best steakhouse burgers I've had.

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Made from three-quarters of a pound of meat, the beef in this burger—a blend of dry-aged prime ribeye, strip, and filet mignon—is about as in-your-face as it gets. Thanks to 35 days of aging, the intensity is upped a couple of notches, though it was not quite as funky as I had expected.

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The patties are broiled at 1800°F, virtually guaranteeing that every burger is going to come with a wonderful crust. This medium rare burger was no exception to that rule. Other than cheese, there aren't opportunities to dress up this burger, but with beef like this, that's probably a good thing. I opted for cheddar and got a glorious melted mess from Widmer's Cheese Cellars, an appropriate amount for balancing out 12 ounces of beef. All of this was served on a toasted brioche bun, made in-house, that not only avoids the overt sweetness that too often plagues that style of bread, but is somehow able to hold together under the weight of the giant patty.

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The patty melt was not quite as successful, though for reasons that had nothing to do with the patty itself, which was identical in every way to the sensational one described above. The appropriate parts were all there: rye bread packed with caraway seeds from an undisclosed local bakery; a wonderfully gooey blend of Swiss and cheddar cheese; and a heap of sautéed onions and mushrooms.

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But for a patty melt to work as the burger gods intended, the parts have to come together just right. If they don't come together to form a cohesive whole, diners are left a burger on a really strange bun. And unfortunately, that's what happened here thanks to three errors in execution. First, the onions were not cooked enough. They were soft enough, but there was no caramelization at all. The second and third problems both involved the bread. A properly prepared patty melt has bread that's buttered and toasted on both sides. This bread, while very good, was only toasted on one side, and if buttered as the restaurant claims it is, was not done enough for me or my dining companion to notice.

That's not to say the patty melt wasn't delicious. The meat, cooked rare as requested, was truly outstanding and demanded that I keep eating well after I was full. And each individual element was really good, even the barely buttered bread. But the execution mistakes left me without the visceral satisfaction that comes with a properly made patty melt.

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The fries, made from russet potatoes, are an extremely solid rendition. They hit all the key winning characteristics of excellent fries: soft on the inside, crisp on the outside, full of potato flavor, and well-salted. But with 12 ounces of burger to eat, these are really just gilding the lily. While your afternoon is probably shot from the burger alone, if you polish off these fries as well, hours of zero productivity are virtually guaranteed.

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The massive onion rings, covered in a mixture of breadcrumbs and parmesan, were fine, but largely unmemorable other than for their size. The flavor was good, but they got soggy way too quickly.

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Looking back over three years of covering the burger scene in Chicago, I can't help but get a little misty-eyed over how much progress my hometown has made. When I started, Chicago was a fine burger town, but today it has to be one of the nation's best. When my first review went up, there was no Edzo's (which has only improved since my first visit), no Owen & Engine, no Bad Apple, and no BIG & little's, just to name a few of the new shining stars. Fortunately for all of us, the list of new places with highly regarded burgers seems to grow every week, and I look forward to reading about them on AHT. As for me, I'll pop up from time to time when I find burgers in my travels, but for the most part, I'll be enjoying my burgers without a camera in my hand. Thanks for reading.

About the author: Daniel Zemans is bidding adieu to A Hamburger Today, at least as a regular contributor. He babbles in 140 character increments @zemanation.

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