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Where’s The Beef

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Where’s The Beef photo 1

Photo credit Tiffany O'Neill 

I’ve been in a very thoughtful place of late.  The loss of both John Hughes, the passionate chronicler of my adolescence, and Michael Jackson, who I loved right up until he lost his ever loving mind, and whose music defined my entire childhood, put me in a fog of nostalgia.  I see odd vestiges of my youth everywhere, and it isn’t always pretty.  Neon is making a weird fashion comeback, as are shoulder pads, and I really hope it is short lived.  Remakes of 90210 and Melrose Place are on the airwaves.  Hershey is now using Modern English’s anthem of teen longing “I Melt With You” to sell chocolate bars with almonds.  No, really.

It’s official.  I’m old.

Not wrinkly old, or walker old, or get excited about Al Roker old, just old enough that some pleasures are no longer worth the attendant discomforts.  Old enough that I have effectively given up on the adventures of my younger years and to be quite honest, I don’t really miss them.  Glad to have participated, happy for the memories, but not at all sad to be in a place to, in another reference to my past, Just Say No!

One of the places I find myself giving into adulthood is in my eating and socializing.  Once upon a time I wouldn’t think twice about waiting in lines for the hot new place, or squishing into a bad table on an off night just to say I had been somewhere.

These days are blissfully over.   I am, in my 39th year, secure enough in who I am and what I like to simply do what I want.  And luckily for me, most of my peers want what I want.  We entertain at home more than we go out, having gotten to a place where we all own enough chairs and plates to make such a thing possible, and enough skill in the kitchen to be able to equal if not exceed the pleasures of eating in restaurants.  When we do go out, we tend to find cozy and quiet places where you can linger over good food and have great conversation, instead of the hot ticket of the moment.  We have discovered the joys of lunch, especially long multi course lunches at fancy restaurants, where for half the price of dinner you can still experience the best of the kitchen, and then have the rest of the day to recover and not have to go to sleep on ten courses.  I find that the meals I share these days are in every way more comfortable and pleasurable than they were 10 years ago, and it is a lovely thing to settle into.

This became patently clear with a recent dining epiphany:

Every now and again, you need a burger.  Not just any burger, a truly great burger.  A drip juices down your arm can’t get your whole mouth around it burger.  The hottest burger in town right now is at Kuma’s Corner  at 2900 W. Belmont.  Kuma’s has a lot of things going for it.  It was recently named the single best burger in Chicago by Chicago magazine.  It has been featured on the Food Network.  It is five minutes from my house.  Usually this is the holy trinity of wonderful.  I made plans to meet a friend there for dinner, and got ready to have my burger world rocked.  And I have to say that the burger I ate there was probably the most spectacular burger I have ever eaten.  I got a Mastodon, a huge meaty burger with a BBQ sauce glaze, cheddar cheese, crispy bacon and topped with a mound of “frizzled onions” (essentially extra thin fried onion strings), on their signature pretzel roll.  And make no mistake, it was the burger to end all burgers.  And I am so glad I ate it because I will probably never have one again.

Where’s The Beef photo 2

Kuma's Mastodon

Why?  Because as good as the burger was, and is, and as fond a memory as I will always have of it, it wasn’t a good time.

Because I?  Am old.

Too old to want to have to wait outside sitting on a curb for over an hour to get a table at 6 p.m. on a Tuesday night.

Too old to want to wait another hour for a kitchen the size of a postage stamp to assemble and deliver the pinnacle of burger perfection.

Too old to want to scream at the top of my lungs to be heard by my dining companion over the endless shriek of heavy metal music.

Kuma’s clearly doesn’t need my business.  (One hour wait on a Tuesday!)  Neither of my tattoos are visible to the public, and all of my piercings are in my ears, so I’m not their kind of eye candy.  I could probably have given birth to half their clientele.  I drive a Honda Accord Hybrid Sedan, and am old enough to look at the string of motorcycles outside as the source of future organ donations and not as exciting transportation.

I am glad that they exist, I just wish they would open a Kuma’s Café for those of us over 30 who still possess most of our hearing and like to make reservations.

Kuma’s is an experience, and I have to say, I do recommend at least one visit for everyone.  In the meantime, if you are craving a great burger but like me, don’t want to devote three hours to the prospect, let me recommend the following:

Where’s The Beef photo 3

Four Moon Tavern  1847 W. Roscoe:  I know I’ve touted them before, but they satisfy my burger need with finesse, a lovely array of possible toppings, and better still, a juke box that doesn’t compete with conversation, and quick service.

Where’s The Beef photo 4

Athenian Room  807 W. Webster:  You might not think burger at first blush, being that this is a Greek restaurant, but theirs is juicy and meaty, and you can get it fancied up with feta cheese if you are feeling adventurous.

Where’s The Beef photo 5

Custom House  500 S. Dearborn:  Want a truly upscale burger?  Sidle up to the bar and dig in to Shawn McClain’s version with aged cheddar and shaved onions and fantastic fries.  Amazing.  And at $12, the best bargain in the place.  Glorious.

Yours in good taste,
Stacey Ballis

NOSH of the week:  Sweet corn is in, and you don’t need me to tell you how to grill, boil, steam or sauté it.  But my new go-to salad this summer is a combination of arugula, pea shoots, and raw sweet corn with a simple herb vinaigrette.  If you’ve never thought of eating it raw, now is the perfect time to try.  I love my Rikon corn stripper, available at Sur La Table for quickly getting the whole kernels off the cob with minimum fuss.

NOSH Food Read of the Week:  in honor of the new Julie and Julia movie, and since I have already recommended both the books the movie is based upon, let me recommend Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1, the cookbook that started it all, and a surprisingly compelling read.

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