Another Round in Burger World

Hopefully you’ll recall that I offered you my thoughts on the basic burger last year when we did a taste test of the three most popular quick service restaurants sampling Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s. Our biggest challenge was literally trying to find the same style of sandwich at each restaurant. A quick review had Burger King in a weak 3rd place, Wendy’s was pretty good and McDonald’s to my surprise, really presented a tasty sandwich and good Diet Coke, which does not factor into my overall sandwich rating but it does make me happy.

The burger craze in America has shown no signs of slowing down and while there aren’t any new local outlets there are some solid contenders. This time around we’ve gone up a notch to quick service restaurants whose claim to fame is based on a more upscale burger experience. This means we’ve also gone up in the cost of our meal but we are expecting better quality and more distinctive taste and overall we really weren’t disappointed.

I made my initial selection of restaurants by Googling “best burger in Forest Park”. That brought up a number of restaurants some of which were rated more for their overall menu and atmosphere than they were just for burgers. For example there is a restaurant in Forest Park that has “burger” as the second half of its two word name but reviews start out with a mention of the fact that they have new carryout containers and talk about the general service and menu of the restaurant only casually mentioning their burgers, we chose not to sample them.

The tasting panel again was challenged by trying to match burger for burger and in this case we went with the standard order of two patties instead of one, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo. My error here was including the vegetables which had a tendency to make the sandwich a tad sloppy and cover the subtle taste of the beef. That being said we ordered a single sandwich cut in half, a small fry and a small drink. Our final scores were based on a simple 1 to 10 scale from two tasters.

Following is our rating from lowest to highest with taster comments and some information provided by the restaurants.

Burger-BossBurger Boss in Elmwood Park gets 4.5 stars from Google. Maybe this was a bad day for them as we were truly disappointed in this presentation for taste and overall flavor; we’ve had better food there

The 1/3 of a pound beef patty had a decent taste to it but was almost lost in the rather sloppy toppings and the beef flavor did not come through. The beef patty had a soft texture and the flavor did not jump out, there was no flavor evident from the cheese, though we did like the brioche bun (possibly from the custom commercial Highland bakery). The fries appeared to be a smaller cut than we have experienced on prior visits and they also appeared to be overcooked and had an odd taste possibly caused by being fried in the same oil as the sweet potato fries and tater tots also offered on the menu, good standard Coke machine. Food and drink cost – $11.08

Score was a disappointing eight out of 20. Attempts to contact Burger Boss for comment received no return call.

Burger-Big-GuysBig Guys on Roosevelt in Berwyn got 4 stars from Yelp; sometimes you find good burgers in unexpected places like this odd little take out sausage shop shack that was featured in a short-lived TV series that featured celebrity chef Bobby Flay helping startup restaurants.

The 6 ounce beef patty had big beef flavor, a good balance of toppings and was very flavorful. “It tastes like a good charcoal broiled burger from somebody’s backyard”, was an interesting remark from a member of the tasting panel. It was a tasty sandwich with a good heavier beef grind. We wanted to like the skin on fries but they had no flavor. Really Bad RC drinks.

Score was a decent 12 out of 20 for third-place. Attempts to contact Big Guys for comment received no return call. Food and drink cost – $10.45

Five Guys in Oak Park and Melrose Park gets 4 stars from Google and Yelp and is Zagat rated

The burger and fries come in a plane brown paper sack and even though we ordered a small serving there were enough skin on fries for two or maybe three people. “We always throw in an extra handful or so,” says Molly Calatano, a spokesperson for Five Guys, “We want everybody to have plenty.” She told me that the beef blend is 80-20 chuck and sirloin and that each Patty weighs 3.3 ounces so a two patty sandwich is 6.6 ounces which she claims is because they handball each patty.

Burger-Five-guysI questioned the amount of lettuce and tomato on the burger that made the sandwich messy. Calatano explained that the lettuce is hand torn and that each sandwich gets two slices of tomato, still seemed like a lot of lettuce torn or not.

As to the burger a tasting panel member simply made the mmmmmmmmmmm sound for quite a while. Other thoughts, the burger tasted like real food, not fast food.  The beef had good texture and the tasty cheese was nicely melted into the patty with good pickles. A panel member commented, “I would come back”. Terrific free peanuts and an all flavors Coke machine.

Score was a solid 15 out of 20 for runner-up. Food and drink cost – $14.56

Scratch Kitchen in Forest Park gets 4.5 stars from Yelp and is Zagat rated

Although not a true quick service restaurant, Scratch gets the highest marks from social media websites.

The burger, on a lovely potato bun, gets a “wow lots of flavor” comment and features good cheddar cheese on a burger with huge beef flavor and a big loose grind. “All that comes to mind is flavor, very satisfying”. The fries must be cooked in good oil and are really tasty.

Burger-Scratch-KitchenThe burger blend is chuck, brisket and short rib, “That’s where the money is”, says head Scratcher Patrick O’Brien. ‘We grind it course so there’s a little air in there along with a little onion, Worchester sauce and a secret seven spice blend that gives it a bit of a meatloaf style, we make comfort food from scratch,” O’Brien positively states. He worked with Highland bakery to develop all but one of their hamburger buns and says, “They cater to our needs”.

Score was a top rated 18 out of 20. Food and drink cost- $16.78

We did a blind re-tasting the following day with the same results. I wish I’d had an opportunity to talk to someone from Burger Boss to better understand why we were so disappointed the day of our tasting.

A final thought for this edition regards fast food burgers. It’s not available all the time and currently is gone “for the season” I was told. If you’re in a Culver’s and it’s offered, take a chance on the “Pub Burger”, two patties, mushrooms, Swiss cheese on a toasted onion bun, it’s the best fast food burger I have ever tasted, seriously.

That’s my whine…and I could be wrong.