Chicago, IL: Kiss Your What, Poag Mahone's?
333 South Wells Street, Chicago IL 60604 (map); 312-566-9100; poagmahone.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Great char, but mild on the beef flavor.
Want Fries with That? Neither are all that great.
Price: Cheeseburger $11; Stockyards Burger $12; BLT Cheeseburger $12; add $1 for sweet potato fries
Back in 2006, GQ's food critic Alan Richman unveiled a list of The 20 Hamburgers You Must Eat Before You Die. Poag Mahone's is seated at #18 on the list, which isn't too shabby for a place who's name loosely translates into "kiss my ass" in Gaelic. And now, I finally have a reason to say "kiss my ass" in a review without getting in trouble. Dreams do come true! Wait, was 2006 really six years ago? Damn, I'm really late with this review.
Coincidentally, I happen to work across the street from Poag Mahone's (affectionately called Poag's, at my office), and we drop by a drink or five after work now and then.
One of the signature burgers on the menu, and one of my favorites, is the Stockyards Burger ($12) featuring grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, and Thousand Island dressing. The 70/30 patty comes from grass-fed beef, and thanks to the helpful waitress, I learned that it's supplied by a company creatively named, well, American Grassfed Beef. It's pre-ground, but always fresh and never frozen, and the patties are hand-formed in-house.
Ours was ordered medium well, and it came out right on the mark. There's an impressive char on this beef with some serious hatch marks from the grill, imparting a pretty serious crust. Since the grind is a little tight, and the meat is packed pretty tightly as well, there isn't much room for excess juice in the patty. But somehow, the meat stays moist without being terribly juicy. The mound of grilled onions is sweeter than it looks, and the sautéed mushrooms add a bit of extra savoriness and moisture to each bite.
The BLT Burger ($12) is exactly what it sounds like: a hamburger patty with bacon, lettuce, and tomato, with the addition of American cheese. Come to think of it, it's just...a bacon cheeseburger. It was ordered medium rare and came out slightly overdone (it looked medium, but tasted much closer to medium rare despite the picture).
Throughout both burgers, the beef flavor is muted and just doesn't pack that deep meaty punch in the mouth I crave so much when it comes to red meat. Another common problem is that the bottoms of the very lightly toasted pretzel buns were nearly disintegrated by the time we started mowing down the burgers, which explains where all the juice went.
For the spud portion of your burger food pyramid, you've got your choice between flaccid and soggy sweet potato fries, which is a misfortune I see served all too often, and regular crinkle-cut fries, which manage to be both crisp on the outside as well as dry and mealy on the inside. To be fair, I've had some much better burger experiences after going to Poag Mahone's more than a few times over the years—maybe it was just an off day. But the fries have never been all that great.
So would I kiss an ass for a burger at Poag Mahone's? Perhaps the better question is, would I kiss an ass? Maybe not for this burger, but if you're in Chicago's Loop neighborhood for lunch and you're craving a standard burger, it's not a bad place to give it a crack. A crack! Okay, I'm done, I'm done.
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.