Wiener and Still Champion
802 Dempster, Evanston IL 60202 (map); 847-869-0100; wienerandstillchampion.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Incredibly juicy and well-seasoned patties are delicious
Want Fries With That? Oh yes; the hand cut fries are fried twice in beef tallow and are outstanding
Price: 1/3 pound burger with cheese (includes small fries), $6
When I was invited to tag along with Ed, Robyn, and Carey when they were in Chicago last week to do important research for the Serious Eats book, I leapt at the chance. Ed has plenty of experience eating in Chicago and Carey had done some excellent research before coming, but over the course of our magical three days of eating, I managed to sneak in a couple stops for food I thought might be considered "bookworthy." Among the places I foisted upon them was Wiener and Still Champion, which has been satisfying Evanstonians since 1975, but has reached new heights since owner Gus Paschalis took over in 2005.
Wiener and Still Champion might be one of the more innovative burger and hot dog stands around. And that's not even taking into account specials like the Luther Burger (bacon cheeseburger with a doughnut bun) and the weekly innovative dipping sauces ranging from Candied Ginger Balsamic to Spring Dill. But as appealing as the specials are, the regular menu is so diverse and exciting, there's little reason to even get to the specials.
Of course, for the purposes of this review, the focus is one of the more basic items on the menu: the burger. The patties, which are pre-formed and billed as being made from freshly ground beef, weigh in at 1/3 of a pound and are well seasoned with their "Special Seasoning mix." The burgers are grilled and served on toasted buns from Alpha Baking Company, a local manufacturer that also makes the much better known hot dog bun from S. Rosen's. The buns are soft and bready and stand up to the burger quite well, but without getting in the way at all.
I ordered the burger medium rare and it was delivered right at the requested temperature. The beef, which I assume is chuck, was remarkably juicy and the supremely beefy meat was a hit with all who tried it. I got it topped with Merkt's cheddar, a gift that Wisconsin has been giving the world since the 1950s. I requested grilled onions and their delivery summarizes how great the service is at Gus's. Sliced onions would fall through the grill racks, but rather than deny a customer's request, the cook on duty went to the back to grab a pot, put some oil and a massive pile of onion in it, and put the pot on the grill. The result was I got an exceptional affordable burger precisely as I wanted it—an ideal burger-eating experience.
The fries at Wiener and Still Champion are simply extraordinary. The hand-cut skin-on beauties take two baths in boiling beef tallow before getting wolfed down by appreciative customers. There is no question that Gus and the rest of the team are fully aware of how good the fries are, as they give them out not just with the burger, hot dogs, and virtually every other main course, but also with some of the sides. In addition to the many servings of regular fries, we also sampled the Argentine Fries, one of eight specialty fries offered (in addition to nine dipping sauces). Those fries are served with what is basically an extra oily version of chimichurri, which is to say an extra delicious even if the pool of oil at the bottom of the pile of fries was a little troubling.
Speaking of the sides, we tried what I would like to call the country fried sampler platter of deliciousness. The fried pickle chips, fried gyros, and fried bacon were all dipped in the same heavily seasoned batter. The pickle chips were good, though I think I would have preferred bigger pieces of cucumber (admittedly, I might have been overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of fried foods). The gyros were allowed to sit in the fryer a little longer, leaving a batter that was extra crunchy. I had never had them before and doubt I'll order them again. Not because they were bad, but more because there's so much on the menu that was better.
Unquestionably deserving of future orders is the fried bacon, which was outstanding. The bacon is raw when dipped in batter before frying. I would've thought that by the time the bacon cooked, the batter would be way overdone, but that was definitely not the case. This was crunchy, well-seasoned bacon that was essentially infused with extra fat. There's just no way to go wrong with that. Nor is there any way to go wrong with a trip to Wiener and Still Champion.