We’ve been thankful and humbled by the great press we’ve received over our first three years. Lately, it seems that an unlikely menu item has finally been achieving some of the acclaim our regulars have been bestowing upon it since day one.
First TimeOut Chicago listed it as one of the 100 best things they ate in 2010 and now, TimeOut Chicago’s Restaurant Editor, David Tamarkin, weighs in on Eater’s Burger Week, with some very nice things to say. That makes us want to say thanks to David Tamarkin and Eater’s Chicago Editor, Ari Benderski.
In a recent blog post, I explained how an unlikely menu item such as a burger wound up on our menu in the first place, and from the beginning it was such a hit that it’s stuck around and isn’t going anywhere. It has, and is however, undergoing some changes.
Since we stopped using Tallgrass as our beef supplier, we went with Niman Ranch for more than a year, and found their beef to be of supreme quality. Since we’ve gone 100% whole animal (more on that in a soon-to-be post) with pigs from Gunthorp Farm and are no longer using Niman’s pork, it wasn’t practical for us to continue making large minimum orders just for beef to grind for burgers, even though it sells really well. We started looking more locally for beef at that time, and have really liked Mint Creek’s beef, but we’ve also used Q7 Ranch grass fed beef from The Butcher and Larder and a little from both Slagel and Dietzler. Since we print menus almost daily, the menu will tell you where it’s from, and we expect to be settling on a longer term supplier soon.
I can tell you we loved the flavor of all of the beefs we have tried, but especially the Mint Creek and Slagel, the Slagel being unlikely because they have a steady grain ration (in addition to pasture) and we’ve tended to favor grass fed since becoming addicted to the intensely beefy flavor of Tallgrass. I continue to think on the subject, and do some research, and at this point I think it is either alfalfa or silage in the cattle’s diet that is the culprit in imparting a vanillin-like, almost corny flavor to some beefs. It’s a flavor you also find in really good moonshine, and I have yet to put my finger on it exactly. I know Niman and Tallgrass both pretty specifically specify native grasses and that may be why I’ve settled on a taste for beef that has that certain tang. I used to think that vanilla-like taste was from corn, but Niman is corn finished and lacks that flavor, and Q7 is grass fed and has it. This isn’t to say Q7 and Dietzler are lacking – they are both supreme quality beefs and have a pure, clean taste that I’d order and enjoy in a heartbeat in another restaurant, or buy for home. My concern here is maintaining the flavor our customers have come to identify with our burger.
When Mr. Tamarkin remarked how we put a lot of things on our burger – nothing earth-shaking or terribly innovative, but well integrated and still allowing the beef to shine through, I thought wow what a great metaphor for our cooking in general. It’s true our cooking is very forward-thinking in many ways, but it’s also very much based in history, tradition, and a deeply rooted culture. I have always prided myself most on my ability to layer flavors, and integrate complex recipes involving many things. That’s probably why I so enjoy making gumbo.
Anyhoo, another change, this one big, is in store for our burger. We’ve griddled it since the beginning because I thought it let the beef speak for itself without the added complexity of the char grill, knowing other ingredients would add complexity in addition, and while I wanted a lot of different flavors on the burger, the char grill would be too much. Well, in a couple of weeks we will have a brand spanking new wood grill and it will surely mean a new chapter in the life of our burgers. Die hards will always want the original style, which we’ll always be happy to prepare because we love it, but a wood grilled burger is soon to be. Exciting times.