This month, as we conclude our "First Fridays with Fries" segment - at least for awhile - we visit two restaurants where the burgers are not necessarily the stars. But have slowly taken the spotlight away from some of the other dishes on the menu.
Beef may be the star at the new Ajasteak, inside the Dana Hotel downtown. But at lunch at least, the stars are burgers, not steaks.
"We decided to design an interesting burger menu, taking into consideration some local ingredients, but really flavor combinations; what flavors go well," said Joshua Linton, of Ajasteak.
Linton uses both a wagyu beef (that's the domestic version of Japanese kobe) as well as one that's USDA Prime. His Southwest burger begins with the grilled wagyu, but he adds a chipotle mayo to his bun, plus lettuce, cilantro, homemade salsa and ripe avocado. A mound of thick-cut, homemade fries is the perfect companion.
"Ripe avocado, a salsa and the chipotle mayo is great with a good burger, period," said Linton.
His mushroom burger begins with lemon mayo slathered on the bun, as well as crisp watercress; the Prime burger is topped with caramelized onions and smoky, roasted mushrooms, topped with pecorino Romano cheese and saddled next to some lightly-fried onion rings. In both cases, the vertical architecture is mitigated by the fact you can press down on the buns, making these burgers easier to eat.
In Bucktown, the burger has taken over the eclectic menu at Duchamp, which has decided that culinary innovation can take a break, as long as the ingredients are top-notch.
"It's kind of like a Starbucks I feel. It's like a luxury item that's not too expensive. Ya know, it's just like 12 bucks and you get this amazing burger," said Duchamp Chef Michael Taus.
Taus' burger has a ratio of about 80 percent beef to 20 percent fat. He first grills the patty, places a slice of havarti cheese on it, then finishes it off in the oven.
"It's a good ratio of fat so it's not too lean, but also we grind it a couple times so it also has a really good texture," Taus said.
His homemade dill-flavored buns are truly one-of-a-kind; they're spread with a tomato-remoulade, and that's it. Homemade fries are tossed with Romano cheese and chives, and a micro-brewed beer from their extensive list makes a fine companion. Taus says with a large outdoor patio ready to go, he and the staff are ready for summer.
"I think this summer's gonna be crazy. Once we have a big grill outside and slappin' them on there," Taus said.
The burger craze isn't letting up either. Even three-star chefs like Michael Kornick, owner of mk the restaurant, are slated to open up a fancy burger joint later this year.
660 N. State St.
2118 N. Damen Ave.
Previously featured on First Fridays with Fries:
1449 Indianapolis Blvd.
2555 W. 75th St., Naperville
Five Guys Burgers & Fries
1115 Lake St., Oak Park
2140 N. Clybourn
15100 LaGrange Rd., Orland Park
5400 N Clark St
517 S. State St.
666 W. Diversey Pkwy.