In Search of Chicago's Truly Local Burgers
Turns out hamburgers are destroying the world. Because cows consume exponentially more than they ultimately produce in meat, all the while they're spewing methane into the atmosphere, now the beloved hamburger is coming under fire.
What's a burgervore to do? Well for starters, there's significant green cred to be had when it comes to the component ingredients of the sandwich — whether you're a ketchup-only or an avocado-mayo-bacon-and-a-fried-egg kind of person, once you factor in the bun, the meat, the cheese, the condiments, and all the toppings, you're biting into something that could easily trace its origins back to a dozen producers in as many countries. But the real meat of the matter is, well, the meat — where's the (local) beef?
We checked in with a couple of burger purveyors known for their allegiance to local sourcing and in-house preparations, and it turns out it's harder to find a truly local burger than you might think.
Our first stop was Province, Randy Zweiban's eco-chic restaurant that's so committed to being green that the structure is LEED-certified. As for the burger? While the ketchup and pickles are made in-house and the cheddar's from Wisconsin, the brioche bun and the beef both come from what Chef Randy Zwieban described to us as "midwestern suppliers" — which we're thinking is code for Mega-Agribusiness Factory Farms. We're left guessing on that one, though, because Zweiban wouldn't disclose any names or locations.
Given Chef Paul Kahan's vocal enthusiasm for local heritage pork, we hoped that the Blackbird chef would be able to point from the restaurant's front window to the farm where they get their burger meat. But while the condiments and toppings are all made right there in the kitchen from ingredients sourced locally, and the lamb used to make their famous lamb burger is deboned and ground in-house, the animal itself comes all the way from Colorado.
We don't tend to think of Fulton's On the River as a locavore destination, but we figured we'd have a sure bet with their "Localvore prime bacon burger," which declares itself right there on the menu. While the cheese is from Wisconsin and the bacon is from old reliable Nueske's, a call to the restaurant reveals that the beef is ground from steaks that come from Arkansas. Scandalous!
Feeling discouraged at Fulton's culinary misdirection, we got in touch with Rob Gardner, who blogs about his attempts to live a fully locavore life at The Local Beet. He replied, "Have I not tweeted Vie’s burger enough?" A few days a week the Western Springs restaurant serves off-menu burgers ground from their Dietzler Farm cow. The beef is minimally accessorized with pickled ramps and house-made ketchup, and comes with a pile of potatoes French fried in tallow from the selfsame steer.
Rob also points us to the grind at Hot Chocolate, which chef Mark Steuer tells us is made from Heartland Beef (available at the Green City Market) which he grinds in-house, served on a homemade brioche bun with local bacon, local pickles, and Wisconsin's own Widmer cheese. Rob calls this burger "very good" and "somewhat under-appreciated," and given its hyper-local pedigree we're inclined to agree on both counts.
Similarly committed to grinding up hometown cows is The Bristol. Chef Chris Pandel tells us his burger is "straight chuck from Slagel farms," served on house-made made buns with house-made ketchup, garlic aioli, pickled tropea onions, greenmarket lettuce... it's all either made in the kitchen or comes from within a stone's throw thereof.
Of course, this whole exercise rests on the fundamental assumption that you want to green your burger — but we don't see why you wouldn't. The choices here are meaty, delicious, and virtuous enough that the environmental good karma offsets any effect their consumption has on your waistline.
[Photos: The Bristol's burger, with cheddar and onions (top), via RIA; Hot Chocolate's burger (top right) via The Chicago Burger Project]