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. So we hit all the places that are nicer than fast food, but not quite a restaurant.
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.
We have our own scoring system of various food things on a scale of 0-5. We could go into detail about that, but history tells us that is incredibly boring. So bottom line: Scoring is from 0-5, with the burger score accounting for 75 percent of the overall score and fries the remaining 25 percent. Ambiance counts for nothing, because this isn’t an issue of Chicago magazine you’re flipping through at the Jewel checkout.
Who is the Burger Champion? We’ll find out over several weeks and increasingly strained video game references.
Level I: Bareburger
3357 N. Lincoln Ave.
Motto – “Organic & All-Natural Burgers, Snacks, and Shakes”
Locations – 44 in five countries
Beer – Draft and Bottles/Cans
This is where we have to admit to fucking up the very first time out. Bareburger is a sit-down place that, at least on our visit, was just monstrously popular with the Patagonia-clad Lakeview crowd. There were strollers there worth more than John’s truck. But we were already there, and the burger was priced about the same as our other places, and the draft list was impressive, so we forged ahead.
When a place goes on and out about the fresh ingredients, pure as the tears of a virgin albino calf, it’s usually code for “we don’t really season or cook it all that well, but you’ll feel better about yourself.” But, shockingly, these faux-hippie types do a fairly mean burger. Their standard (helpfully/confusingly called The Standard) comes with Colby, stout-cooked onions, dill pickles, and special sauce. The meat is seasoned well, given a nice sear, and served on a brioche bun that lost points for being a little too bready. Ever feel like you’re eating through the bun to get back to the burger? Like that a bit. But the stout onions are fantastic enough to make up for both that and a pretty generic burger sauce.
Also a nice surprise: the flavor of the pampered beef is the star of the show, which made for a pleasant departure from any place that feels the need to blanket their burger with ladles of sriracha/mayo/chipotle/special sauce.
We ordered a fries/onion ring combo basket, which is an option every single restaurant ever should offer. Despite phenomenal onion rings – Ken dubbed them “vegetable donuts” – the whole thing was dragged down by some of the worst fries we’ve ever eaten. Soggy, wet, limp, and tasting of despair (and light salt).
We were given four sauces to do with as we pleased and preferred them in this order: habanero mayo, smoke/BBQ, curry ketchup, and more special sauce. Next time, skip the flight and just give us a gravy boat filled with the habanero mayo.
Lose the loaf of bun and shoot those accursed fries into space and you’ve got a really solid burger combo. We’d consider it for a workday lunch if this was in fact the fast casual place we assumed from the website and not the mom-in-yoga-pants/dad-in-vest family sit down joint it turned out to be.
Final Rating: 3.16
In the menu’s compliance-department-mandated fine print, we found quite the gem: a warning that even though the gluten-free menu featured foods completely absent the Demon Protein, those items were not recommended for those with Celiac disease, since they were prepared in the same kitchen. So in essence, they’ve fine-printed it into being a Gluten Fakers Only Menu.
Want to see the rest of our burger adventures?