One burger is synonymous with Chicago – Au Cheval. Even locals know that this is the place to get a burger in Chicago. Naturally, I spent my only meal in Chicago at Au Cheval. Getting here isn’t difficult – the restaurant is located a couple of blocks off Morgan Station on the Blue line, and is pretty close to the Loop. I heard that usually, the challenge is to get a seat here, and that became obvious as I walk in. There is a very long bar/counter seating, which mimics a traditional diner; and booths on the opposite side. The restaurant might feel big, but it does not fit many people; it probably is worse than it seems considering the popularity of the place. I’m surprised by the ease to get a counter spot, but that has to do with lady luck. The place becomes packed soon after I arrived, and everybody is standing around waiting for a table. Come early! (I went on a Saturday morning, so it is possible to get brunch here!)
Even though the restaurant is offering special Saturday brunch menu, my mind is set on the cheeseburger a cheval. I asked for mine with a fried egg, and a side of cripsy potato hash with duck heart gravy. PSA that’s too much food; in fact, it is a sin to eat this excessively, and I’m not religious at all. The amount of food is still ridiculous if you split the fries with another person. As I sat waiting, I watch the cook flipping patties and constructing new burgers, the entire time without stopping or slowing down. In some sense, how is this different from either a fast food chain or a machine that produces large quantities of meals? The vibe of the restaurant comes straight out of a hipster bar starter pack – a rustic look like most restaurants I frequent these days. I should go to some tacky place for burgers next time, just to change it up.
It took a while for them to prepare my burger, even at the speed they are going. In the meantime, I continued to people watch. There are more people now, and those who are waiting all have a drink in their hand. There is a party with children, probably grabbing lunch after little league or something, but aren’t allowed sit at the bar even though there are enough seats available. Too bad!
Amid the chaos, my burger appears. This is a large burger, and usually presented with a knife stabbing though the center of the burger. The chef couldn’t do that for mine because of the fried egg in that burger. The thick toasted bun is soaked with oil so much as that I could see myself reflected off the surface. (I’m not sure if it is exactly toasted. It might have been baked in the oven. But does that make a difference?) Melted cheese surrounds the patty. I take my pictures, and ruin the burger by plunging my teeth in it. The bun is chewy and not dense. The egg yolk breaks and made the entire creation very messy. The beef patty, which should have be the star of the show, isn’t very remarkable. It is definitely overshadowed by the seasonings added to the patty (I think it is mostly horseradish). There is bacon in the burger, but with so much flavor and texture going on that I totally forget about it. (For your information, a single burger has 2 patties, double has 3. I got a single. This makes absolutely no sense. Math is hard.)
As much as the burger looks and feels fancy, it is everything but. I’m not saying it is cheap; think about it this way, there are only a few components here – a bun, cheese, patties, bacon. The cheeseburger doesn’t even have lettuce, or thousand island sauce. The burger does not need any of these extra ingredients, and I’m just bringing awareness the paradox of simplicity. Au Cheval might just be good because there are fewer things that could go wrong in the burger. If I’ve any criticism, it is that the seasonings are too strong. I would have preferred to taste the beef and not the seasoning. Another paradox – the burger does not taste a single bit greasy, even though it is dripping with juice. Later on in the day, I became very thirsty, so there is a lot of salt and oil added to the patty. For the moment, the burger is simply delicious.
Remember the side I ordered with the burger? The fries I ordered thinking I needed the extra calories, which is also on my to-eat list. I kind of regret my decision after finishing the cheeseburger. Moreove, the hash is not as amazing. Unlike the burger, which was easy to go down, the hash is much denser. Au Cheval fried the hash brown until they were super crispy, and loaded it with duck heart sauce, which isn’t a good combination in my opinion. The duck meat are soft and tender, and lack the gamey taste. I appreciate this gesture, but it is very heavy, and the eggs just tip the scale to way too much. Do not attempt this challenge by yourself, share this with someone if you want to try something other than the cheeseburger. Me? I would probably not get it again- I just don’t really appreciate it.
This is going to sound snobbish, because I don’t think Au Cheval serves the best burger in Chicago. Well, I hope this isn’t it, and I believe that Chicago could produce a remarkable burger. Au Cheval’s cheeseburger is great and unique, but it is not amazing. There are better burgers, in my opinion, even in Philadelphia. Maybe I’m overcritical and picky in this case, but the truth sometimes hurts. I will and should try more places in town, and find the best one day. For now, by default…. Au Cheval is the best?
Visited: July 1st, 2017 @ 12pm.
Address: 800 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL