Rev Burger

The jalapeno and onion burger at Rev Burger in River North (Kaitlyn McQuaid / July 31, 2014)

Review: Rev Burger
22 W. Ohio St. 312-846-1094
Rating: !! 1/2 (out of 4)

There are many hazards that come with my occupation of searching for Chicago's greatest burgers. The hefty amount of grease and fat I consume yearly means that I, The Great Burgerelli, spend a great deal of time devising Rocky Balboa-esque workout routines to maintain my fitness. Vanity and its maintenance has almost become a full-time occupation, one that threatens to impede on the time for my one true love of burger-tasting. And so, when I heard about Rev Burger in River North, the second outpost of a burgeoning franchise from entrepreneurs William and Wendy Spatz (the first opened last year in west-suburban Carol Stream), I was thoroughly intrigued. Though they do not go so far as to call it a healthy burger, it is one of the rare burger establishments where one can devour a burger, fries and milkshake for less than 800 calories. I wondered if I could have my beef and eat it too?

The burger: The patties are hand-formed and made from non-GMO, hormone- and antibiotic-free lean, grass-fed beef. They're broiled, not griddled, ensuring as much fat drips out as possible. The beef is never frozen, but it is not ground fresh in-house. While I appreciate the socially conscious and healthful approach to making a burger, flavor and texture is paramount.

Though the owners are clearly trying to create a healthy alternative to the usual fast-food burger suspects, Rev's basic char burger ($3.75 for a single, $5.65 for a double), with its dense packed meat, thin patty and very light caramelization, reminded me most of McDonald's basic patty. Though it had more flavor than a McDonald's burger—I detected a toasted-grain essence, if you will—it did not have the addictive char and lip-smacking juiciness that I crave in a great burger.

I was intrigued by Rev's blended burger, which features the same grass-fed meat of the basic burger blended with different toppings such as jalapeno and onion; I opted for the Italian, which included a mix of Italian beef ($6.99 for a single, $10.99 for a double). "In today's world of fast-casual, the new hot item is a burger with stuff piled on. We wanted to put the toppings in the burger," William Spatz said. "There was this place on Oak Street in the sixties called Acorn. They'd cook onions, green pepper and seasoning in with the burger. … We were inspired by that."

The blended Italian beef burger was a little heftier, but it also felt more chopped and formed, similar to a salisbury steak from the frozen TV dinners I ate at my friends' homes as a bambino (Mama only fed me fresh steak florentine at home). At $6.99 for a single, this feels like a pricey patty.

The fixings: The buns, baked locally and delivered fresh daily, have a brioche-style egg custard-like flavor (though they are not true brioche, Spatz said, to cut down on calorie count) and a pleasing puffiness. But tragically, the burger attendant who assembled my burgers ended up smashing the buns so they were quite dense by the time I unwrapped. The proprietary Adobe Rev sauce—a spicy, creamy barbecue-like concoction slathered on many of the patties—was an admirable peppery departure from the basic mayo-and-ketchup special sauce blend you find everywhere else. One can add caramelized onion, a gluten-free bun, blue cheese sauce, bacon and even a broiled pineapple ring to any burger. In my experience, I have found caramelized onion—even more so than bacon—to improve any given patty; however, at the time of my visit, the kitchen had run out.

Fries and things: Both the french fries ($1.95) and sweet potato tater tots ($2.35), which are frozen and pre-made by an outside vendor, are "fryless," which means they are baked. The round sleeves they are served in unfortunately crowd the potatoes, resulting in soggy tots within thirty seconds of arrival at my table. The fries did not suffer the same fate; they had a preternatural crispiness as well as a thick seasoning coating. The salty, peppery and sweet flavors of the fries were nicely balanced, and yet, the texture of the fry reminded me of Burger King's failed new fry experiment from years past. Fries that repel water more sufficiently than a rain slicker are cause for serious concern.

The milkshakes: I had assumed my caramel shake ($5.95) was a typical milkshake, for it was as creamy, satisfying and sweet as any ice cream-based shake I've ever slurped. But, holy tomatoes, I almost fainted when I found that the shake was made with organic fat-free frozen yogurt. While it clocked in at just under 400 calories, that was at least a few hundred calories less than a similarly sized milkshake at most places. Revolutionary, indeed!

Bottom line: While the milkshakes are quite good and the socially conscious and healthier approach to building a better burger is admirable, the burgers at Rev Burger, which are now fairly forgettable, are less than revolutionary.

The Great Burgerelli is a fearless seeker of fine burgers. gburgerelli@tribune.com