Its Sun’s Out, Buns Out in the Windy City as I attend the annual Roscoe Village Burger Fest. I’m sampling four of this year’s top vendors – Kuma’s Corner, Select Cut Steakhouse, Big Bob and Fritzy’s, and Mrs. Murphy & Sons – to find out who’s top dog at this year’s meat-up. Four burgers will enter (my mouth), only one will win.
Before I dive into my rankings, let’s level-set a bit: I’m not implying that my experience here is a holistic view of any of these burger joints. I doubt they’re accustomed to grilling up thousands of burgers in 90 degree weather. I reserve the right to visit these establishments in the future and revise my review (don’t like it? Start your own blog). That said, the playing field is level and this is the goddamn Roscoe Village Burger Fest, so I’m not cutting anyone slack or handing out participation trophies.
You’ll notice all of these are single patties, usually on the thinner side — out of concern for both my wallet and my girlish figure, I chose to go with the “sampler” burger at each restaurant (split with my infinitely patient girlfriend/style coach).
With all this in mind, let’s get into my rankings from worst to first, starting with…
Fourth Place: Mrs. Murphy & Son’s Irish Bistro
Offering: Bistro Burger Sampler (quarter-pound patty topped with white cheddar and bacon aioli)
“A picture is worth a thousand bites.”- Anonymous Food Blogger, 2017
One look and you can see why Mrs. Murphy & Son’s Bistro Burger ran away with fourth place. Right off the bat you’ll notice the burger-to-bun ratio is way off – I’m here for excess cow, not carbs. I have to thank Mrs. Murphy’s for being so considerate of the lactose intolerant, providing barely enough cheese for this to qualify as a cheeseburger. As for the patty itself, this half-cremated heifer had no noticeable beef flavor, and the texture was closer to saltine than sirloin. One bite of Ms. Murphy’s offering, and I immediately understood why Mr. Murphy left to get cigarettes all those years ago. The bacon aioli was the only redeeming feature of this burger, but wasn’t nearly enough overcome the carbonized cow cadaver. This is a terrible burger, but in some ways I appreciated the experience – its only when we see something ugly that we can truly appreciate the beauty in this world. Onward and upward!
Third Place: Select Cut Steakhouse
Offering: Steak House Burger (quarter-pound patty with American cheese, grilled onions and “signature” peppercorn sauce)
Unlike its paltry predecessor, Select Cut Steakhouse’s Steak House Burger actually came to compete. The black peppercorn sauce was more a gravy than a traditional condiment, but it paired well with savory sautéed onions. This combo helped elevate a mediocre (though thankfully not overcooked) patty. Critically, the bun held up against the moisture from the sauce. My major gripe with this burger was the single tone it struck from a flavor and texture standpoint– this is a burger that could really benefit from some fresh, crisp veggie toppings. True to their name, Select Cut served up authentic steakhouse flavor on a bun, but didn’t have enough “wow” factor to overtake the top two bovine blends.
Second Place: Kuma’s Corner
Offering: The Plague Bringer (quarter-pound patty with pepper jack cheese, fresh crushed garlic, fresh jalapeno, tortilla strips, house-made hot sauce and garlic mayo on a pretzel bun)
As the odds-on favorite going into this contest, Kuma’s Corner didn’t disappoint. The Plague Bringer was bursting with south-of-the-border flavor. The major note in this orchestra was the heat coming off the fresh jalapenos and hot sauce, accented well by the garlic mayo. The beef was solid, but didn’t stand out much against the heat and flavors of the other ingredients. The tortilla strips were a bit soggy by the time I got my mouth around this burger, which was unfortunate because the crunch would have been a nice addition. I’m not completely sold on the whole pretzel bun craze, but in this instance it worked well, providing a sturdy, salty base that stood up to all the ingredients and helped mellow out the heat. I wouldn’t have any problem handing Kuma’s the crown, if it weren’t for…
Champion: Big Bob and Fritzy’s
Offering: The Big Bob (single patty with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and sauce)
Coming out of the woodwork to steal the show, the Big Bob Burger from the newly opened Big Bob and Fritzy’s was a fine-tuned machine – the Ham-borghini of the Roscoe Village Burger Fest. The sharpest differentiator was the quality of the beef, which was juicy, flavorful, and even managed a hint of medium-rare. Unlike some of the other competitors, this patty has never seen the inside of a freezer. Paired with fresh, crisp veggie toppings and a subtle sweetness from house sauce (closer to mayo than a traditional thousand island), this is your classic diner burger done right. This dark horse champion was far and away most thoughtfully crafted burger of those I sampled. Kudos to this newcomer for putting on such a great show in their inaugural season. If their first showing at this festival was any indication, Big Bob and Fritzy’s has a bright future ahead of them. I’ll be back next year to see if they can pull of the repeat, or if some new challenger will emerge as King of Cow!