By John Carruthers and Ken Haynes
We set out with a sacred duty – to find the best Kinda Fancy Burger (and fries) in our great city.
Here are the only rules:
- We order a place’s signature (or standard, if that’s the only option) cheeseburger and fries.
- We eat whatever else we want because Freedom.
Who is the Burger Champion? Probably not these guys. Read on.
Level 2: M Burger
100 W. Randolph (James R. Thompson Center)
Motto – “Creating memories one handmade burger at a time.”
Locations – Six (Four in the city, two in the burbs)
Beer – Nope
M Burger is the Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) take on the somewhat-upscale fast food burger concept. As for LEYE itself, they’re the local restaurant Voltron that does a lot of things really well – from Michelin-starred fine dining (Tru) to Hipster Tiki (Three Dots and a Dash) to wood-paneled supper club (L. Woods). Short story: they make a lot of good food that we dig. But can they do a burger and fries? Wellllll …
Sometimes you can do homage so effectively that it just kinda becomes the thing you’re referencing. We’re like 80 percent convinced that some M Burger decision maker became enamored enough with the nostalgia of a youth spent eating crappy fast food burgers that they went out and made what is in actuality kind of a crappy fast food burger.
Look at that bun. MMMM – crumbly!
The titular M Burger came with bacon, cheese, pickles, onions, and sauce. M Sauce, actually. M! The meat – usually the focus of these semi-upscale burger shacks – was as thin, grey, and characterless as one from the their McCompetitor just down the street. The bacon appeared to have been dehydrated for a long sea voyage, or maybe a mountain expedition full of courageous old British men who know they’ll never see their families again.
Everything comes on a cheap-ass drugstore-quality white bread bun that we were pretty sick of by the end. Despite close examination, it was impossible to tell if it was toasted or if the discoloration was merely from the grease, delicately applied like a junior high mustache.
We were split on the fries. John, already in the terminal stages of Hand-Cut Fry Fatigue Syndrome, liked the crisp, thin, and well-salted fast food style fries. Ken felt his bags of sad potato parts were an insult to everything he held dear – an opinion he pulled no punches in voicing as he angrily finished them all anyway.
There are no dipping sauces to be had here, but they’ll shovel packet after packet of Heinz ketchup into your bag or tray if you don’t stop them. Like some kind of reverse trash raccoon (they have hands just like people!).
It’s … fine. The beef is unremarkable, the toppings range from okay to sub-ok, and the assembly is pretty solid. But that’s “solid” in the same way you’d check a box labeled “no problem” on a form you get at your doctor’s office. Nothing terrible about it, but there’s a lot less attention to detail than most of the other places we’ve visited.
M Burger started as a back-to-basics burger joint back around 2010 when Shake Shack, Five Guys, and Smash Burger were expanding and making headlines. More than a half-decade on, it still feels like they’re still playing catch-up. The ingredients aren’t great, the service is Basement-Food-Court Surly, and the tiny menu seems to expand with whatever market research tells them is hot now. Sit for two seconds on their website and they’ll practically shout “SECRET MENU!” into your face. Chicken sandwiches, grilled cheese buns, “secret” grilled onions. Throw it all at the wall and see what sticks.
So it’s not as good at being Big Corporate Burger as the other chains we’ve had, and it’s not nearly good enough to remind us of Schoop’s, Redamak’s, or Edzo’s. It’s just kinda … there. Which isn’t nearly good enough with all the other options around.
Final Score: 2.37
If you look at the ceiling from the food court and relax your eyes, you can see a 3-D boat. Or a unicorn. Definitely a boat.
When the escalator at the Thompson Center breaks, you can’t get back to street level without using either the underground pedway or an elevator manned by an incredibly pissy security guard. Stairs, for some reason, were not part of Helmut Jahn’s grand plan. I can’t wait until that gargoyle in the governor’s office sells it off and someone tears it to the ground. We’ll hold a screening of “Running Scared” on the rubble.
Want to follow the rest of our burger adventures? INSERT COIN!