1725 W Division Street, Chicago IL 60622 (map); 312-266-2277; theanthemchicago.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: The Jucy Lucy isn't quite the real deal, but it's fun. Regular burger is mushy.
Price: Jucy Lucy Slider, $3.99; Jucy Lucy, $10.99; regular burger, $9.99; fries, add $2
I recently took a road trip—the kind where you quietly pack a few things, tell a few loved ones that you're off, and you just hit the pavement looking to see if you can find the place where the road intersects with the sky. Nobody knows all the places I've been, but the fact that I tried the original Jucy Lucy at Matt's Bar should be a dead giveaway for one leg of my trip.
The original Jucy Lucy is a cheeseburger stuffed with cheese (originally American cheese) rather than having the cheese on top. Easy enough, right? But simply put: The Jucy Lucy I ate at Matt's Bar was one of the best burger experiences I've ever had. They're patiently churned out on a tiny griddle behind the bar, and everyone waits eagerly in anticipation for their little bundle of beef love to finish cooking. I got mine with grilled onions and pickles along with a fair warning to let it cool off before you eat it, otherwise you'll end up with a blistered mouth. I don't know what it was—maybe it was the perfectly crusted beef, the hot liquified cheese, or the concentrated bits of onions, all washed down with a cold beer. Or maybe it was the fact that I'd been biking through the streets of a city I barely knew, sitting with strangers by myself, that made the burger so damn good. I thought I was going to lose my mind, I enjoyed it so much. I've been thinking about it ever since.
Ever since the The Anthem opened in late 2011, their version of the Jucy Lucy ($10.99) has been on a lot of "Best Of Chicago" lists, and I hadn't been that interested in it—until now. I wanted to chase the dragon I inhaled at Matt's Bar.
After my first bite, I could tell this version of the burger is much different from the original. It's on a puffy, fancier bun, and it rests on a mix of chopped bread and butter pickles and grilled onions rather than the whole pickle slices they serve at Matt's. It also comes pre-punctured for some reason, resulting in a cheese preview of what's to come. But the two biggest differences are the way the beef is handled and the type of cheese inside.
Instead of American cheese, The Anthem uses Velveeta. Don't get me wrong, Velveeta has its merits—like in that crazy addictive chili and salsa cheese dip you gobble down at Super Bowl parties—but inside a Jucy Lucy, it adds a strange uniform texture as well as that extra processed flavor accented with unmistakable savory flavor enhancers. The beef is handled differently as well; it's thicker and much less crusted, resulting in a gray band around the circumference of the beef patty. It's cooked to medium by default, but the beef that's directly surrounding the Velveeta comes out rare. My guess is that the processed cheese product keeps the meat in direct contact with it a lot cooler, slowing down the cooking process in the center. The end result isn't bad, but it's definitely not a grilled ground cow sandwich I'd put on a top ten list. I have friends that swear by this burger, so you might want to keep that in consideration.
For those of you with burger commitment issues, they serve a slider-sized Jucy Lucy ($3.99). It's kind of cute, and it's still somehow bigger than you might think. My buddies remarked that the gray band is more noticeable on the little Lucy and that it's not necessarily an appealing appearance. The sibling is pretty much the same as its big sister and could make a pretty good bar snack by itself.
The regular cheeseburger ($9.99) topped with blue cheese isn't much to write home about (not that I'd write my parents a handwritten letter about a burger); a medium-rare request came out medium, and the beef is somewhat mushy in the center.
All orders of burgers come with chips unless you upgrade to the waffle fries. The thick-cut chips come out tinted with a golden-dark color while still maintaining a satisfying crunch.
Upgrade to the waffle fries, even if it is a few bucks extra. They look pale, but they're actually surprisingly crispy and well-salted. We demolished the living hell out of them.
Before you guys say anything, I realize I came into The Anthem hoping for a lot more than just a stuffed cheeseburger. I knew before going in that it was stuffed with Velveeta, too, so that wasn't a surprise. Overall, it's a decent novelty burger worth trying if you're watching a game on one of the projection screens while pounding down malt sodas with your bros. It's just that The Anthem's burger is just a ripple of a memory I had in a place far away from home, a variation on a theme, that doesn't quite strike the same chords as the original thing.