Archive for the ‘Lake and State’ Category

Jeff and MumHamburger Hop signMe and Jeff

The Hamburger Hop 2013 on the Harris Theatre Rooftop Terrace was the opening event of Chicago Gourmet billed as the pre-party for Chicago Gourmet,. Apart from the delightful possibility of munching down on 15 different hamburgers from some of Chicago’s top chefs and resturanteurs, our personal highlight was being slightly Star-Struck Food Network style when we got to meet Jeff Mauro aka the Sandwich King. We had seen that he was going to be participating and we have to admit arriving with some slight bias in whose burgers we may be favouring.

Serious judgingFlipping Burgersmore mayor

Apart from relaxing with a cold beer courtesy of Blue Moon brewery and watching all the chefs grill up those burgers made from Allen Brothers Beef we got to see the Mayor wandering around the party too. As the Mayor walked past us on the steps he paused to say hello to my Mother, who was happy to meet the “bloke who was on the Great Food Truck race” the previous week. I spent a while watching the judges attempt to eat their way through 15 burgers. I wish that I had watched them before I started eating as they had the right idea just taking a small mouthful of each sandwich, yes I was to find that it was pretty much impossible to eat a whole piece of every single sandwich.

I was quite excited to see Graham Elliott who I love watching on Masterchef, he was much taller and thinner in real life than he appears on the Telly (that sounds a bit mean, sorry Graham, it’s that goddam camera I am sure) sadly I never got the chance to ask him why Grahamwich closed. I recognized Hubert Keller having seen him as a judge and a contestant on Top Chef Masters, the other judge I knew of was Yoshi Katsumara who I learnt was a former winner of the Hamburger Hop in 2012.

Hamburger Hop Beer

So apart from consuming a whole load of complimentary beer what else did we find at the hamburger hop?

Perhaps there are some hamburgers to tell you about?

Howells & Hood

Howells Menu

Howells and Hood Burgers

Scott Watson from Howells & Hood was serving up a rather interesting combination of toppings on his brisket and chuck burger patty. It was topped off with Kimchi and Carrot Bacon. I wasn’t really sure how well that was working but everyone on our table said it was really good, and as it happened the judging panel also agreed as it was voted the best burger of the evening. I am sure that they must have known what they were talking about but personally I would have been happier with the burger from the H&H menu the H & H BURGER which is an “8oz Pat LaFrieda aged beef patty, Carr Valley white cheddar, beer battered onion rings, dill pickle, shredded iceberg lettuce, vine ripened tomato, in a soft white bun”

Howells & Hood on Urbanspoon


The Sandwich King

OK so that was the judges choice, but what about the People’s Choice? It probably was not too much of a surprise that this award went to the home town favorite Jeff Mauro. We voted for him by throwing our voting token a ‘Blue Moon Bottle Top’ into his bucket, and when we did it was already getting full so we figured he was probably going to sweep this award. Did I really vote for the best burger I tasted or for my favourite person? I can’t answer that, but I will say that I thought there was one other who might have got the vote from my taste buds.

Jeff Mauro Board

Mauro Sign

Mauro Burger

The Sandwich King had provided us all with prime ground chuck patty topped with Jalapeni Havarti, that’s  a spicy soft Danish Cheese (flødehavarti) made from Goats Milk to you and I. He also added some cherry peppers and engine sauce, despite my best efforts I still don’t know what is in that sauce. I really did like this burger, it had just the right ratio of topping to patty and it was still early enough in the evening for my stomach to appreciate the efforts of the chef without groaning with burger overload!


The Gage

Gage Sign

gage burger

OK so I Did mention that there was one other burger that might have taken my People Choice token, and that was the effort from Peter Coenen at The Gage. It really was quite good and I would not be surprised if he had come in second on that vote

In common with many of the burgers on offer at the Hop this one from the Gage was a little too much on the rare side for my personal taste, and that was probably the deciding factor in picking Jeff’s burger instead. In fact I think I saw a few of the burgers running away across the park towards the Bean. There were some really good flavors in Peter’s burger. The highlight was the Zucchini Pickle relish, which had a really good tang, at first I had though that it was some type of cilantro relish and I had to go back over to the Gage stand to confirm what it was. It could have been the Green Dragon sauce as well that was adding that tang.

This was one of my favorite bites of the evening mostly due to that relish, and was enough to tempt me to check out their menu and plan another visit there. Currently at the Gage you can get your hands on “The Regular” Burger which is your standard offering topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and cheese. I would however be more tempted by “The Gage Venison Burger” which comes with “melted onion, smoked gouda, fried jalapeno, woodland mushroom, pickled onion, red wine ketchup and mustard aioli.” 

The Gage on Urbanspoon


What else did we sample?

Rockitt Bar & Grill

Rockitt burger

I had been really quite hopeful about the burger from the Rockitt Burger Bar and Grill as I have eaten there a number of times and have not been disappointed. Tonight however I was not blown away, I was treated to a warm welcome and lots of enthusiasm at their stand and really hoped that I was going to be considering dropping my token into their bucket, but it was not to be. I was a good solid effort and perhaps it was just too straightforward on the night to be truly memorable.

Even though I am saying that I do have to say that do serve really good burgers at their restaurants especially The Rockitt burger which is a rather decadent effort comprising of “wagyu kobe beef, melted brie, fried shallots, medjool date aioli, red onion brioche bun, served with truffle fries”

Rockit Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon


Rosebud Steakhouse

Rosebud Burger

Rosebud did themselves proud with the presentation, all wrapped up they certainly stood out visually from the crowd. Unlike a few other offers at the hop this sandwich was almost 50:50 meat to toppings. It was another pretty rare burger and it was helped out by the toppings which added some crunch back into the bite. It had good flavours and it did Rosebud proud. I especially liked the bacon jam and the layer of caramelized onions.

Rosebud on Rush on Urbanspoon



Keefers Menu Sign

Keefers burger

The Seoul Burger from Keefer’s restaurant was a really good looking burger and you did actually get a whole burger in slider form instead of a quarter slice of burger. It had a really good taste, but it wasn’t a very solid bite, it was kind of a bit mushy which did put me off a little bit. I really wanted to like this one a lot, but it wasn’t in my top three taste wise, but visually it probably was up near the top. having said that we all know that it is taste and bite that counts.

Keefer's on Urbanspoon


Benny’s Chop House

Gage and Cortlands Garage Board

Bennys Burgers

About half way through the evening despite being exceptionally full I headed over to sample of the burger sandwiches from Benny’s Chop House on a recommendation from  a fellow Hamburger Hopper who I was talking to at the bar. He told me of a burger over in the corner with shrimp and some sort of really tasty sauce. I wandered across and checked out the menu at Benny’s. They had taken prime brisket and chuck to form the patty and topped it off with grilled shrimp and a Fu Man Chu mayo, using a sesame Kaiser bun. The topping was excellent, and if I had not been quite so full I might have appreciated the whole sandwich a little more.

At Benny’s Chop House there is no burger on the dinner menu, but at lunch you can get a simple Cheeseburger, or a Benny’s Burger with blue cheese and port wine onion for around $10. In all honesty the best deal is on the Children’s Menu where you can get 2 mini burgers with a small salad or fries. Personally I would be ditching the burger and having a steak.

Benny's Chop House on Urbanspoon


The Park Grill

Park Grill Burger

I was quite appreciative of the effort from The Park Grill. They served up their burger in a toasted rye bread sandwich with Gruyere cheese, bread and butter pickles, caramelized onions and red wine mustard. It was a good bite and I liked the rye bread a lot. I also like sitting at the bar at the park Grill, but I let that thought pass me by on this occasion. If I was at the Park Grill I suppose that the most interesting burger would be the “Calistoga” ‘a grass fed burger’, topped with ‘Petaluma Creamery jack cheese, avocado, marinated tomatoes, bread and butter pickles, preserved lemon aioli, red wine mustard, potato bun, sweet corn and local sorrel salad, and homemade ranch’ although to be honest I would be happier with the Old School Patty Melt which is grass fed beef, Butterkasse cheese, Wisconsin grain mustard, caramelized onions, spiced pickles, foie gras spread, on rye bread. Then again that is $10 More so it should be good.

Park Grill on Urbanspoon


Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap

Stanleys MenuStanleys burgers

The Stan Burger by Radames Lugo at the Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap was another decent effort, if I am totally honest it was quite a safe entry in that there was nothing weird or wonderful in the toppings or the bite. On the flipside after having sampled some of the other chefs burgers it was quite nice to just get a bit of cheese and tomato on my burger. I do have to recognize though that this was the only burger combination that I saw replicated on the menu at the host restaurant. Note that the Stan Burger is the “Official Burger of the Chicago Cubs & Featured at Wrigley Field”
a simple affair topped with cheddar and American cheese, skt secret sauce, lettuce, tomato & red onion.

Stanley's Kitchen and Tap on Urbanspoon


RL Restaurant

RL burger

The best burger chopping of the night was with the RL restaurant, when I looked at the knife being used to chop the burger into quarters I almost felt obliged to drop my peoples choice token into their bucket. I was strong though, Jeff’s token was safe in my pocket. Ryan Pitts had put out what he was calling the Purple Label Burger which had a really good set of listed ingredients, bourbon bacon jam, jalapeno relish, wild rocket, grana padano, and some other bits that I cannot recall. This was probably in my top five bites of the night. It was one of the few that were really memorable and if I tell you that it was simply that bit of rocket added a peppery crunch to the bite, then you can see how something really small can tip the difference in a burger competition. It actually is probably better than the RL standard offering at the restaurant the RL Burger Prime Angus, Challah Bun, with Fries. But then again it is a clothes shop.

RL on Urbanspoon


Harey Caray’s Italian Steakhouse

Harry careys menu

Last but by no means least was The Drunken Burger from Joe Rosetti at Harey Caray’s. Even though I was totally stuffed I just had to try one. It was pretty good and had a good mix of flavor from the Basil and the Arugula, the pickled onion added tang, but I was just too full to appreciate it. Sorry Guys.

Harry Caray's Italian Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Hamburger Hop Panorama

Overall I have to say that The Hamburger Hop was a lot of fun and even though I had not really appreciated that it would be impossible to eat every burger I would still do it all again. I was sad that I missed out on a few of the chefs, but by the end we really had to pick the menus that looked the best and the burgers that looked tastiest. It was brilliant to meet Jeff Mauro, who was generous with his time letting everyone have photos, and I was really happy he was the peoples choice, and to Peter Coenen at the Gage, sorry we didn’t pick you, if we are honest yours did taste the best but you need a really good tagline for next year then we will give you our tokens “You can make any meal into a sandwich, and any sandwich into a meal.”

I know that this is a somewhat potted rambling review of the Hop, but at least you can see that I was actually there and unlike a number of reports and reviews I have read I did a bit more that just tell you where it was and who won. I was actually there, Just saying like 🙂



Under normal circumstances I would not dream of including a review of somewhere that sells Popcorn in the El Stop Food Hunt Project, but somehow I find that I can easily justify talking of my experiences with Garrett’s Popcorn. It has been as much a part of my food encounters in Chicago as my flirtations with Italian Beef and Chicago Style Hot Dogs.

Garretts Loop

The first encounter was during an Open Top Bus Trip around the city,  I believe that this is almost always the best way to learn about a new place and get orientated with it;s major sites and locations. On the trip I went on there was a voucher for a free sample sized bag at Garrett’s, and the rest has been history.

On that occasion the sample was of a mix of caramel crisp and the cheese flavoured popcorn. The caramel crisp was a winner, I did not like and still do not like the cheese flavoured one, it is right up there with those damn pickles as something I actively will avoid.

Cheese PopcornCaramel Crisp Corn

Since then the sampling of Garrett’s Popcorn has coincided with visits from my Mother to the city, so about 3 bags a year. But today I actually went in and bought my first bag with my own money. It was a small bag of the Cashew Caramel Crisp. I like this one the most, sweet, crispy, crunchy, nutty, sticks in your teeth and makes you fat. Excellent!

Garretts BagsGarretts Popcorn

I love the generous sized bag sizes in the place. In my mind the small bag is actually equivalent to a Jumbo bag. I could never even contemplate getting a bag bigger, except for on that brief moment when the last piece of popcorn has been consumed and all the Garrett shops are shut.

garretts near TJ Garretts Plymouth Street

There are quite a few Garrett popcorn chops in Chicago and over the last few years I have frequented all of them, albeit only on those rare occasions that I mentioned before. I was slightly perturbed though on a recent visit to New York city to find a branch close to Madison Square Gardens. Some things should not be allowed to travel out of state. My fave stores to take visitors from out of town to are the one at Navy Pier, just because I love an excuse to go down to the pier, and the ones in the Loop as they are easy to get to from any of the lines.

For Navy Pier 600 East Grand Avenue, get off at either the Chicago Red or Chicago Brown line stops and catch a bus over to Navy Pier.  For the shop at 26 West Randolph Street get off at the Lake Stop, For the shop at  27 West Jackson Boulevard go to the Jackson-Blue, or the Jackson Red stop. On Michigan Avenue just get off at Grand or Chicago and look for a long line.

Garrett Popcorn Shops on Urbanspoon Garrett Popcorn Shops (West Jackson) on Urbanspoon Garrett Popcorn on Urbanspoon