Review: Spritz Burger
3819 N. Broadway 773-868-9866
Rating: 3 (out of 4)
I, the Great Burgerelli, do believe that the hottest circles of hell should be reserved for charlatans such as Guy Fieri. I thoroughly appreciate those who can communicate their passion for food on television without acting like gross caricatures, and this is why I have long since been an admirer of Steve McDonagh and Dan Smith, also known as The Hearty Boys. Unlike that peroxide-spill victim Fieri, Chicago's own unambiguously gay duo of Dan and Steve showed America that you can be successful in food by being funny, smart and most importantly, sincere. Along the way, I have enjoyed their restaurants, their catering company and their cookbooks ("Talk With Your Mouth Full," "The New Old Bar"). Now that they were joining forces with pastry chef Gale Gand (Tru), another genuine TV veteran ("Sweet Dreams" on Food Network) to open Spritz Burger, a burger-focused reincarnation of their old restaurant space Hearty, my pure beef heart went all a flutter. I expected this trio would produce the burger of my dreams. Would they? Read on to find out.
The burger: The patties at Spritz Burger are made from grass-fed beef provided by a small New Zealand farmers' cooperative. "It's pre-ground, but the grind was really important to us when we researched our meat purveyors," McDonagh said. "We needed to find a grind that has texture, not finely ground so that when we packed the burger we wouldn't get tight patties. We do next to nothing to the beef other than salt and pepper." Since I was hand-fed my very first burger by my nonna as a bambino, I have believed that more local the beef and the fresher the grind, the better the burger. And yet, the Spritz Burger—an ultra-thick patty that even a hungry Chicago Bears linebacker might cut in half before taking the first bite—has shaken my faith. For, though it has been pre-ground and it comes from a land down under, the Spritz Burger has a loose pack and a bursting juiciness like few burgers I've eaten in the last few years.
The bun: There are a few bread options at Spritz Burger—-including rye toast for the patty melt ($10)—but the basic brioche-style bun has a deep brown crust and a golden chewy interior with just the right softness and richness that I desire in a burger bun. Most surprising to me was the savory bread pudding bun used for the open-faced Madron burger ($14). The custard-larded square had a touch of sweetness and a thick heartiness that stood up to the onslaught of red pepper hollandaise sauce ladled over the burger. The bun tasted like dinner and dessert at the same time. Delightful!
The fixings: Speaking of the Madron, it was a glorious mess featuring that thick, juicy beef patty topped with a jammy thicket of caramelized onion, a drippy sunny-side-up cage-free egg, an oozing slice of havarti and crispy Spam. Though I always keep a ration of prosciutto di parma on hand, you will never, ever find Spam in The Great Burgerelli's pantry. And yet, this salty and crispy shingle of ham was quite glorious as a crunchy counterpoint to the gooey sauces and that luscious burger. As such, I now doff my hat to Hormel Foods Corporation for creating such a versatile processed pork product. Let me also compliment the Amish farmers of Cambria, Wis. for their Smokehaus Blue cheese, which encrusts the Spritz Burger known as the Amish B&B ($13). The smoky cheese offers a creamy contrast to the thick candied planks of bacon topping this burger. And notably, though I did not have the sufficient appetite to try it, there is also a curious-sounding poutine burger ($13) topped with fries, cheese curds and sage country gravy.
The spritz: Spritz Burger has an extensive menu of housemade spritzes, aka sodas served with and without alcohol. Drinks are mixed at the bar and then topped off with carbonated water at one's table, courtesy of a soda siphon-equipped server. The flavors of these drinks are quite magnificent. I especially appreciated the mingle of sharp citrus, soft honey-like agave syrup and bright green herbs de Provence flavoring the Mandarin Orange spritz ($3). The bright cherry, bitter coffee and chocolate notes in the Dark Cherry ($3) reminded me of a sophisticated Cherry Coke. One sip of the Salted Caramel Egg Cream ($9) filled with dulce de leche, weizenbock (a strong unfiltered German wheat beer) and a generous pinch of vanilla salt conjured images of neon signs, stainless steel trim and soda jerks. Despite the creative flavors, every drink except for the egg cream tasted disappointingly flat and watered down. The siphons were not charged enough and the amount of water discharged was far too much relative to the flavorings, throwing off the balance of ingredients.
The sides: Since my palate had experienced the glory of Spam, which I once thought a pedestrian ingredient, I forged outside of my comfort zone and tried a dish called Mac & Cheeto ($3 as a side, $11 as an entree). This turned out to be a great folly, as the crumbled crust of Cheetos was slightly burnt and the bland cheese sauce had a dry, pasty flour-like finish. On the other hand, Spritz Burger's French fries were well-salted, hot and featured a nice puffy potato center (included in price of burger or as a side dish for $4, or $5 with truffle oil). The tater tots, which you may order showered with parmesan and black pepper or truffle oil, would make Napoleon Dynamite weep. McDonagh said, "We tried that [making homemade tots] at HB, but now we figure housemade tots are, as Gale puts it, 'too fancy-pants' for us …" Chef Gand is a keen cook, as I can not imagine how a tater tot would taste much better than the ones I consumed.
The sweets: Perhaps the most surprising fact about Spritz Burger is that the desserts undermine Gand's reputation as an elite pastry chef. I appreciated the option to order a trio of tasting portions of any of the six desserts on offer for only $9. But, of the three I tried, only the velvety butterscotch pudding topped with a cloud-like dollop of cream and spicy peanuts was something I could imagine returning for. The chocolate devil dogs—a peanut-shaped whoopie pie filled with marshmallow stuffing—featured a dry cake crumb, and the blueberry-ginger hand pie possessed a heavy crust and not enough filling.
Bottom line: Until the servers ascertain how to properly work their soda siphons and the kitchen executes Gand's recipes consistently, I would warn you to stay away from the spritz and sweets. For the moment, focus entirely on the thick, juicy grass-fed beef burgers topped with inventive and delicious toppings.
The Great Burgerelli is a fearless seeker of fine burgers. firstname.lastname@example.org