Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A closer look at Chicago magazine's best city burger: Hot Chocolate

Posted By on 09.22.09 at 01:37 PM

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  • Rachel Kekstadt
This week's Reader offered 11 good bets for mostly quick-service burgers. On another scale entirely, the September issue of Chicago magazine ranked the 30 "greatest" burgers in Chicago and the Chicago suburbs. The Top Sirloin Burger at Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook was deemed the top patty. Burgers at restaurants in the city rounded out the top five: #5 Marc Burger, #4 Custom House, #3 Kuma's Corner, and #2 Hot Chocolate, Mindy Segal's Wicker Park boite. I recently tried the silver-medal winner.

Here's what author Jeff Ruby said about it in the rankings:

"It's pretty small by America's Lipitor-busting standards, maybe six or seven ounces tops, but every element of Mindy Segal's gourmet cheeseburger sings. The Heartland Farms beef, ground in-house every day, is so loose and flavorful it sizzles on your tongue for a moment, then promptly melts. The Carr Valley aged Cheddar is sharp and pleasantly tangy; the Gunter Farms bacon, uncannily crisp. Heck, even the house-made garlic bun is breathtaking. The whole juicy package makes me wonder if Segal—an accomplished pastry chef—missed her calling as an upscale burger slinger."

The $13 creation is definitely one of the best Chicago has to offer. I chatted with executive chef Mark Steur, the burger's inventor, and with Luke Lefiles, the restaurant's beverage director and my bartender that visit. Here are some details not mentioned in the magazine blurb.

How it appears on the menu: "HAMBURGER House-ground Heartland beef, organic bacon and Widmer 4-year aged cheddar, Mark's dill pickles on a garlic toasted bun, $13, served with a fried farm egg, $15."

What you get: the burger, potato chips, a side of coleslaw in a cute aluminum cup, a short stack of horizontally sliced pickles, and a little condiment tray with mustard and ketchup—all on a rectangular white plate with a knife, fork, and a linen napkin.

The burger. The beef comes from Heartland Meats, based in downstate Mendota, where they raise a Piedmontese breed known for producing a lean and tender meat, without hormones or animal byproducts. When possible Steur picks up two cuts—which ones remain a secret—from their booth at the Green City Market in Lincoln Park. He says it took him awhile to find the right ratio.

And though Hot Chocolate's official cheese recommendation is the Widmar cheddar from Carr Valley, Wisconsin, you can order any one of the cheeses from their artisan list. Currently offered: Ursinus Gouda, Otentique, Mary's Peak, Pennslyvania Noble cave-aged cheddar, Grand Cu Gruyere (Lefiles says a buddy always has the burger with this), Grayson, Bridget's Abbey, Red Hawk, Black Ledge Blue, Ader Kase Reserve, Roxanne (from Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Champaign), and roasted garlic chevre—all selected from around the country.

The extras. Steur says he gets most of his produce from Nichols Farm & Orchard, based in downstate Marengo and also represented at the Green City Market. Including: the potatoes for the chips (fried in vegetable oil); the cucumbers for the pickles (pickled in a light, white distilled vinegar); and the white and red cabbage, carrots, and red onions for the cole slaw (made with red wine vinaigrette, honey, and "a little" Hellmann's mayonnaise). The mustard is Roland's Dijon, and the ketchup is Heinz.

Pairings. Lefiles thought the rankings would've benefited from recommended beer pairings. For their burger his pick is Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier from Germany. Steur's is De Regenboog Wostyntje, a Belgian mustard ale.

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