Tuesday, August 30, 2011

BIG & little's -- The Verdict

We stopped watching Gordon Ramsay yell at hapless Americans some time ago (though we still have fond memories of the BBC version of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares). Nonetheless, maybe we quit too soon since we missed "Chef Tony" in Season 6 of Hell's Kitchen. The Summertime $5 Burger Challenge really hit its stride at BIG & little's, Chef Tony's burger shack just North of Chicago Avenue. (We understand both BIG and little will be moving a couple of blocks down the road in a few weeks.) "A fantastic burger experience." "They keep it simple and nail it." What the joint lacked in seating, it made up in taste. Perfectly charred beef flavor and cooked-to-order, you'll get a juicy burger in your basket with waxed paper, served with an equally impressive basket of fries. I don't think Ramsay's decorators had much to do with the decor, but you'll be too busy wiping your fingers to notice. (Other items on the menu entice -- the smores bacon tacos and fried grilled cheese -- but are ultra vires for this blog.) Low of 76; high of 83; average of 79. Well done, Chef.

Exhibit 22 -- BIG & little's

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Portillo's Hot Dogs -- The Verdict

A burger . . . at a place with "Hot Dogs" in the title? Yes, we dare. And by doing so, we completely sidestep the running ketchup-on-a-hot-dog controversy that's the talk of the town these days. Our Summertime $5 Burger Challenge rolled on, with a trip to this popular Ontario Street location. How popular? So popular that, by the time we left around 1:00 p.m., it was so crowded it took nearly 5 minutes to get OUT the door. Anyhoo, how were the burgers? Well, the reviews where mixed, with a 26-point difference between low and high scores. What's to like? A thick patty; generous bacon; served hot and quick; with tasty fries. What's to hate on? Unimpressive cheese, to start. Further, the "old fashioned style bun" with little corn-meal-like grains that left our fingers grimy after each bite. Poor beef-to-bun ratios and messy constructions had us knee deep in napkins mid-way through our lunch. "I dub thee the Lady Macbeths burger," wrote one. Average score: 65.

Exhibit 21 -- Portillo's Hot Dogs

Billy Goat Tavern -- The Verdict

With a daily menu that includes a single burger for $2.85, and a double for $4.55, the legendary Billy Goat Tavern was a natural for our $5 Burger Challenge. Sometimes a famous tourist stop can get to a point where it's overlooked by the locals, and that was indeed the case for our crew -- it was the first time visiting the original Billy Goat location for half of our reviewers. In our defense, with their remote lower Michigan Avenue location, it's the type of place you only end up on purpose. And yet, it was packed, and it's definitely not hard to understand why. The staff is friendly and funny, the price can't be beat, and the cheeseburger, despite being served with absolutely no frills, is "surprisingly delicious." Served on a perfectly fresh kaiser roll ("hearty enough to soak up twice the grease" said one reviewer), it comes with (say it with us, folks) no fries, only chips, and a DIY toppings bar (only the basics). Our reviewers all raved about the insane value, and if you consider the fact that they basically handicap themselves on presentation, creativity, and sides (one reviewer: "Look, I get it, but I wanted fries."), the final score indicates that they rocked almost every other category. It's a classic for a reason, people. Low 70; high 74; average 72.

Exhibit 20 -- Billy Goat Tavern