You can probably blame it on the recession, or at least a major shift in how we eat. Why else are we seeing the Four Seasons and the Peninsula shed their fine-dining restaurants, while in the last few months alone, we have the Burger Joint, the Burger Point and 25 Degrees plus two new concepts emphasizing grass-fed beef and heirloom potatoes.
The art of flipping burgers has been elevated lately. At Grange Hall Burger Bar in the West Loop, they bill themselves as a "farm-to-table operation emphasizing responsibly-sourced ingredients."
"When you come here it's like you're going back in time. You're going to be reminiscent of the old west...the classic Midwestern meal," said Maura Clement, one of the employees at Grange Hall.
If that means a hand-crafted cocktail so be it. All of the beef burgers here are grass-fed, served on excellent, buttered and toasted buns from Highland Baking.
"Their cattle are on pasture their whole life. They graze in communal groups, which is how cows like to eat... and naturally should. It's leaner,it's higher in vitamin A, vitamin E, it has a better balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. And it's a higher source of dietary protein," said Clement.
Since grass-fed cattle are leaner than corn-fed, best to get them medium or medium-rare. They also have veggie and turkey burgers as well. Condiments are top-notch and the thick Idaho russets are hand-cut and fried to a golden brown. Tempura-fried onion rings are also tasty. There's plenty of homemade pie too - pumpkin is in season now - and if you get cheese on your burger, don't be surprised if it arrives unmelted; it's part of the plan.
"When the cheese is unmelted and you let it slowly melt on the burger you get to experience the texture and the flavor more," she said.
In Lincoln Park, chef Allen Sternweiler is done doing frou frou food, and has moved into the burger camp as well, with Butcher and the Burger on a busy stretch of Armitage.
"It's a unique, fun burger restaurant that also provides a small retail counter so that you could take some products home with you," said Sternweiler.
Lots of options here: from salmon burgers brushed in a sweet soy glaze served on lettuce "buns" to lean elk and fattier prime beef. You choose a seasoning - say, grandma's onion soup mix or backwoods game mix - then choose toppings, condiments and even bun styles - the split-top butter egg and pretzel are two of the best. For fries, they use a variety called Kennebec, hand-cut and fried to a crisp, and Sternweiler says he has much more on the agenda.
"We throw in the fact that we're gonna have a charcuterie program and a retail meat program. We're gonna have our frozen custard program, we're gonna be open for breakfast. And we provide a seasoned burger that you can choose and build the way you want to eat a burger," he said.
The list goes on and on: Tom and Eddie's in the suburbs, Edzo's in Evanston. DMK Burger Bar in Lakeview - all building a better-for-you burger. The thing you're going to start seeing more of is that grass-fed option, along with better quality condiments.
Grange Hall Burger
844 W. Randolph St.
1 312 491 0844
Butcher and Burger
1021 W. Armitage Ave.
Some other notable burger joints in the area:
Tom & Eddie's
348 Yorktown Center, Lombard
1042 Commons Drive, Geneva
740 N. Waukegan Rd., Deerfield
Vernon Hills Town Center
1260 S. Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills
1578 Clybourn Ave.
DMK Burger Bar
2954 N. Sheffield
Edzo's Burger Shop
1571 Sherman Ave., Evanston
1449 Indianapolis Blvd.
2555 W. 75th St., Naperville
517 S. State St.
666 W. Diversey Pkwy.