Everyone knows about Chicagoland’s high end food destinations; the inventive food of Alinea, the refined elegance of Charlie Trotter’s, the upscale Mexican at Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, and the playful cuisine at Graham Elliot. Chicago is also fmous for casual, inexpensive eats such as the Chicago Style Dog, Italian Beef, and the Deep Dish Pizza. On a recent visit I did none of these things yet ate very well, and in every case for around 10 dollars. I was able to hit the Evanston trifecta of casual, tasty, and inexpensive eats; Edzo’s, Bop n’ Grill, and Weiner and Still Champion.
First up was Edzo’s (1571 Sherman Avenue) You can find the back story in most articles about the restaurant, but to sum it up Ed Lakin worked in some high-end restaurants, wanted a change so he can spend time with his wife and young family. Opens killer burger spot in Evanston that is only open during lunch, place is super popular so his gamble of not being open for dinner worked. This burger was the best one I ate in 2011, hands down. It was absolutely perfect. A nice 1/3 lb fresh ground, hand pattied burger cooked to a rosy medium rare with some cheddar cheese and some onions. It reminded me of burgers of my youth. Beefy, flavorful, and char grilled, it was pure burger perfection. No fancy sauces, obscure toppings or a detailed pedigree (though Edzo’s does offer options for those who desire grass-fed or local beef). The Buffalo fries were equally spectacular. Double cooked crispy hand cut fries, tossed in buffalo wing sauce, sprinkled with bleu cheese crumbles. The Nutella Shake was also incredible. Just the right amount of the chocolate hazelnut spread was added to the ice cream for a unique taste.
Buffalo Fries from Edzo’s
The next day it was on to bop N grill (6604 N. Sheridan Rd). This small place just west of downtown Evanston can be best described as a Korean burger joint. The night before a guy I met raved about the Umami Burger, calling it the best burger he has eaten in a long time. A 1/3lb patty is covered with a smoked gouda cheese, mushroom duxelle with some truffle oil (or salt possibly), togarashi mayo (a peppery Japanese spice blend) and smoky bacon, with an onion and tomato confit. It lived up to its name as the first bite was a super-rich flavor explosion. It was delicious, though I’ll admit towards the end of the burger I was really jonesing for something acidic to cut through the layers of rich toppings. It was almost too much. The fries were forgettable frozen variety which is pretty sad given the level of attention paid to everything else they serve. The inconsistency of fries at bNg has been discussed over at the LTH Forum. It seems they fluctuate between fresh and frozen. I think they would have been better had I upgraded to the Kimchi fries.
Umami Burger at bopNgrill
The last stop was Weiner and Still Champion (802 Dempster St.). This small Evanston joint just south of downtown has been featured on Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives, Serious Eats, and a number of other media outlets and has received accolades from just about everyone who eats there. This place is the mecca of deep-frying. They even serve deep-fried gyros and bacon. I had a deep-fried, bacon-wrapped dog with tomatoes, onions, and Merkt’s Cheddar sauce. Deep frying crisped the bacon and made it shrink up a bit making it cling to, and become one with, the hot dog. The tangy Merkt’s cheese sauce just added to the awesomeness of this delicious concoction. The fries were extraordinary, some of the best I have ever had anywhere. No place in Milwaukee is serving fries this awesome. Then again nobody is cooking them in beef tallow either. I also ordered a Dippin Dog, which is a hand battered corn dog with your choice of an insane number of dipping sauces. I tried the sweet bacon ketchup and the spicy mayo. Both were really good with the corn dog and the fries. The sauces come in a larger container so you won’t run out.
WASC’s Dippin’ Dog
Each visit to these small, counter service restaurants was a revelation. The attention to detail and perfect cooking technique at Edzo’s, the out-of-the-box approach to burgers at Bop n’ Grill, and the fearless approach to fried foods at Weiner and Still Champion make Evanston this suburb a must-visit for anyone who loves inexpensive and impressive food. We need more joints like this in Milwaukee.
My visit to Chicago happened to coincide with the announcement that that Michael Nagrant was named the Chicago Sun Times new food critic. Nagrant has been one of my go-to sources for all-things Chicago for over 5 years. First through his Hungry Mag blog and podcasts where he interviewed up and coming chefs like Graham Elliott Bowles (Graham Elliot, Master Chef on TV), Doug Sohn (Hot Doug’s), and Ben Roche (Moto) then through other media like Chicago Magazine, New City Resto, and CS Magazine, found in many hotel rooms in the City. He’s one of those great food writers who is just as comfortable reviewing places like the three joints in this post as he is reviewing a 22 course tasting menu. He writes with a unique style with obscure pop culture references and a unique point of view. He represents new media approach and how our generation likes to eat. It’s refreshing to see someone like him get an opportunity like this. Congratulations!