Entertainment Restaurants Bars

Burger review: Chef's Burger Bistro

Burger review: Chef's Burger Bistro
164 E. Grand Ave. 312-374-3092
Rating: 2 (out of four)

I, the Great Burgerelli, have eaten burgers here, there and everywhere. I have eaten them in the finest of restaurants, in the northern woods of Wisconsin and from a Styrofoam box sitting on the hood of my ketchup-red 1960 Alfa Romeo Spider. But until my visit to Chef's Burger Bistro in Streeterville, I had never had a burger presided over by a certified master chef. To earn that honor, chef/partner Edward Leonard endured a grueling ten-day cooking trial demonstrating his proficiency across a variety of cuisines for the American Culinary Federation. He is, in fact, the only chef holding this distinction in Chicago. Clearly Leonard is a master, but would his burger be masterful?

The burger: Leonard told me that his beef mix, which is ground fresh in-house daily, was developed with some "German butcher" friends and is a bit of an "old-school" blend, which has roughly an 80 percent beef to 20 percent fat ratio. "I know everyone wants lean nowadays, but you need some of that fat to get a juicy patty," he said. I wholeheartedly agree, but though I requested my patty medium-rare, his cooks had left the patty in the Spanish-style Wood Stone charcoal broiler oven a little too long. In fact, both of the thick patties I tried were bereft of juice and had only a touch of pinkness. The meat had a nice mouth-coating beefiness and an earthy, mineral-rich flavor; however, I did not detect a single grain of salt on this under-seasoned patty. I should also mention that patties are available in two sizes: 115 grams (approximately 4 ounces) and 230 grams (roughly 8 ounces) and noted as "hand-forged" on the menu. Why Leonard insists on these idiosyncratic labeling choices, I cannot fathom. Perhaps he fancies himself a European blacksmith?

The bun: Leonard—who said one of the best burgers he ever had came from a little cafe in Dijon, France where the chef ground the meat fresh, made the pickles in-house and the brioche roll from scratch—said he thinks most hamburger rolls are too soft. As a result, he worked with a baker in San Francisco to develop the harder, glazed brioche-style roll used on many of burgers at Chef's Burger Bistro. I admire Leonard's discipline and agree that some buns out there are too soft; however, I do believe that sometimes great chefs overthink things. Leonard's hefty bun was a good size to stand up to the thick patty, but it was also dry and heavy.

The fixings: The extensive choice of toppings—which includes interesting gems such as crab, mortadella, foie gras and pecorino—is befitting of a master chef. One can even order a slather of peanut butter! As a burger expert, I do often like to build my own burger ($6 for the 4-ounce burger or $8 for the 8-ounce, plus 50 cents for cheese, 75 cents for veggies and $1 for luxury ingredients such as foie or crab) but in the hands of a master chef, I decided to defer to Leonard's expertise and his pre-selected topping combinations. While I have groused about the overcooking and the harder bun, Leonard is a master when it comes to orchestrating flavors. His chicken-fried burger ($7 for 4-ounce; $10 for 8-ounce), a fat patty fried in a tempura-like batter slathered with gravy, sauteed mushroom and onion jam, would harden the arteries and capture the heart of the most jaded Waffle House-loving southerner. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit this, but the rich pepper- and mushroom-filled gravy has since inspired a few illicit dreams involving heaping portions of beef stroganoff.

Likewise, his Paris burger, ($7 for the 4-ounce burger, $10 the 8-ounce), topped with sweet onion jam, fondue-like brie, curly frisee greens and candied tomatoes is a revelation. To make these wondrous tomatoes, the skins are removed and they are then coated with vanilla bean paste, tellicherry black pepper and olive oil, and slow-roasted for hours. The sweet, juicy tomato flavor that results might just be the best invention since bottled ketchup.

The fries: I don't want to give away too many of my secrets, but the fact of the matter is, The Great Burgerelli likes to sit close to the kitchen whenever possible to keep a close watch on the preparation of my burger. Unfortunately, at Chef's Burger Bistro, this also allowed me to watch as my glorious batch of duck fat fries ($4) sat underneath a heat lamp for almost ten minutes waiting for my burgers to be cooked. By the time the mahogany-skinned hand-cut fries had arrived at my table, they were soggy and limp. My friend's regular fries, which were cooked to order, were crisp and perfect.

Everything else: A batch of buttermilk onion rings ($4) spent less time under the heat lamp than the duck-fat fries, but they were also a little gritty and unmemorable. Disappointed with the overall meal, I decided to drown my sorrows in a bloody mary ($9) and some house-made doughnuts. The peppery, fresh tomato juice spiked with bright notes of celery salt and crisp, cold vodka was one of the best bloody marys I have ever had. Unfortunately, there was not enough of the cocktail to block the memory of the heavy, dense doughnuts ($3). The fillings, including a chocolate custard and strawberry jam, were almost nonexistent and could not combat the dryness of the dough. The dining room—with its tall silvery banquettes, Sputnik-like modern chandeliers, melting-red tulip pendant lamps and Warhol-like murals of soup cans—-has a splendid '80s feel. I, the Great Burgerelli, am a child of the '90s, and therefore appreciated the soundtrack punctuated with songs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana.

Bottom line: I do not doubt the skills of Leonard, and the flavor combinations on his burgers are exquisite. But, in a restaurant of this size, a master chef simply cannot cook all the burgers; he must rely on others. Leonard must find a way to bring his cooks up to speed, so that all the effort he spent developing his burger repertoire doesn't result in overcooked meat.

The Great Burgerelli is a fearless seekers of fine burgers.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Burger review: Leadbelly

    Burger review: Leadbelly

    Fresh-baked buns, high-quality toppings and and special extras make Portage Park newcomer Leadbelly worth the trip

  • 'Great team effort' by joggers saves man in Lake Michigan

    'Great team effort' by joggers saves man in Lake Michigan

    During an early morning jog along Lake Michigan with his wife and children Tuesday, John Corba spotted a man struggling in the water nearly 30 yards from the shore.

  • Grateful Dead drummer dishes dirt, drug dependency in new book

    Grateful Dead drummer dishes dirt, drug dependency in new book

    As a founding member of the Grateful Dead, Bill Kreutzmann watched the world change from behind his drum kit, shoveling coal in the wildly tribal rhythm section as the Dead went from San Francisco underground curio to ground-breaking indie outfit, then progenitor of the improvisation-based rock...

  • Book comes out ahead of Grateful Dead farewell concerts in Chicago this weekend

    Book comes out ahead of Grateful Dead farewell concerts in Chicago this weekend

    The cliché that colors every good rock star story is “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll." For the Grateful Dead, the trailblazing rock band known for its improvisational style, revelatory live shows and dedicated fanbase, there was that and so much more.

  • 10 best movies of 2015 so far

    10 best movies of 2015 so far

    The year’s half over! How did that happen? No idea. With six months of a good year of movies in the books, let’s see how the Top 10 list is looking, with a quote from each respective review. Note: There are a few I’ve seen that I really like that haven’t yet opened in Chicago, and those aren’t...

  • If you make less than $50,440, proposal could increase overtime pay

    If you make less than $50,440, proposal could increase overtime pay

    Nearly 5 million more Americans would qualify for overtime pay under new rules proposed Tuesday by the Obama administration, a long-anticipated move expected to affect a broad swath of salaried employees from store managers to social workers to restaurant shift supervisors.