The Famous Kuma's Burger at the original location of Kuma's… (Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune )
Burger review: Kuma's Too
666 W. Diversey Parkway 773-472-2666
Rating: !!!! (out of four)
It is a widely held belief that the best burgers in Chicago are found in a heavy metal bar on the far northwest neighborhood of Avondale serving patties named after Pantera and Black Sabbath. The place that I speak of, dear burger fans, is Kuma's Corner, and it is also notorious for its no-reservations policy and hours-long waits.
Truth be told, I, The Great Burgerelli, have never shared in Kuma's enthusiasm for death metal (I much prefer Morrissey, The Smiths and the occasional dose of underground French dance music, if you must know). But blaring soundtrack aside, I have long adored its burgers, so I relished the chance to sample this recently opened spinoff location in the decidedly un-metal neighborhood of Lincoln Park.
During my visits, I detected a culture clash of sorts. I have never encountered a stroller in the foyer of the original Kuma's, nor have I seen parents inquiring about whether the menu features a children's meal. Nor have I overheard two middle-aged women ordering glasses of chardonnay ("We just have a white," the bartender offered in response) and a glass of ice to chill it with. I am unsure whether they had mistaken this location of the burger mecca for a wine bar, but I digress.
However un-Kuma's-like these events seemed to me, I must point out that they are not technically in violation of Kuma's Too's rules, which one can find encased under glass and displayed in the hallway near the facilities. Allow me the pleasure of detailing a select few.
"You will not be seated unless your entire party is present."
'Tis true. My burger-eating companions and I were quoted a wait of 45 minutes to one hour at 4 p.m. on a Saturday. We were seated in a mere 25 thanks to several parties ahead of us that were incomplete. Additional rules pertaining to wait time include: "We will NOT quote the wait over the phone. Tell your friends," and, "Large party? Bring a book and some binoculars." I must admit that I became slightly perturbed while watching two tables go unfilled for upwards of 10 minutes while plenty of hungry burger lovers hovered around the bar and entrance waiting for their name to be called; however, no one dared to complain for fear of being denied.
"We are in the business of creating a great burger. Let us do our job, and we'll let you do yours. No substitutions, please."
There is no plain hamburger here. The Famous Kuma's Burger ($12) is as basic as it gets, served on a pretzel bun topped with bacon, cheddar, fried egg, onion, tomato and lettuce. It is truly a beauty to behold. This is the burger that so many purveyors seek to emulate, and it remains a finely crafted specimen—and at a decent price, I might add. The 10-ounce beef burgers are supremely juicy, and the sturdy pretzel bun provides a solid base. The burgers that I ordered medium rare and medium arrived perfectly cooked, and in my opinion, are the optimal temperatures at which to consume a Kuma's creation. The powers that be here must agree, because the menu reads that "well done" means "burnt." Indeed, one who plans to commit such a heinous act of disrespect toward burgerdom should perhaps take their dreadful tastes elsewhere.
"Waffle fries will NEVER appear on our menu in any incarnation ever again. Ever. Again."
Many a Kuma's fan has lamented the loss of the waffle fries, which were eliminated from the menu some time ago. It is best to avoid heartache and think only of the current choices: house-made chips, hand-cut fries or a salad for $2 additional. I much prefer the fries--crispy, salty and delicious--over the chips. I, for one, have never witnessed any diner ordering the side salad. Which brings us, my fellow burger lovers, to the next rule …
"Are you joking? No. There are no vegan options."
In fact, most everything at Kuma's is the polar opposite of vegan—the burger menu is a shrine to animal products in multiple forms. The Lair of the Minotaur matches creamy slices of brie with salty pancetta and slices of bourbon-soaked pear. The High On Fire juxtaposes salty prosciutto with sweet grilled pineapple, joined by roasted red pepper, sriracha sauce and sweet chili paste. Though the Neurosis has no additional meat components, it doubles up on cheese (cheddar and swiss), which melts admirably alongside sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onion. I must admit the slather of horseradish mayonnaise was a bit sparse for my liking, but that was my sole complaint. All specialty burgers are $13, with the exception of The Slayer ($15), a thoroughly sloppy signature plate of fries and a beef patty covered with chili, andouille sausage, onions, jack cheese and Anger—the latter of which, I might point out, refers to a beer with an ornery name, not the emotional state of the kitchen staff.
Bottom line: For all of the reasons one may abstain from the original Kuma's—too far, too crowded—Kuma's Too offers a beefy alternative. Though the experience is not identical—this Kuma's feels lighter, brighter and shinier—the burgers are indeed delicious. If a statement to the tune of "No, we do not have chardonnay," is added to the list of rules in the near future, I would not be the least bit surprised.
The Great Burgerelli is a fearless seeker of fine burgers who reviews new burger restaurants. firstname.lastname@example.org