16 August 2011

Kuma's Corner, Chicago – Restaurant Review

Monstrous burgers, Jack Daniel's on tap, and the feeling you're on the set of Wayne's World; Chicago's Kuma's Corner has them all. The lure of this holy trinity was just too much for me to resist, so when Mrs. Nibbler and I were in Chicago recently we found ourselves making the trek to this small grungy restaurant and bar located about 6 miles northwest of the city centre.

We arrived for lunch just before noon on a weekday and were seated at the bar straight away. Be warned though, Kuma's takes no reservations and I have been told that such is its popularity the queues can be insane (even Lady Gaga's had to wait for a burger here), with waiting times of 2 hours or more a not uncommon occurrence. Sure enough, about fifteen minutes after we were seated, a growing queue (well, more like a scrum) started to form.
"Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?"
From the bar we had a good vantage point to survey the room and watch the heavily tattooed staff at work. Even though it was just before 12pm, the speakers inside Kuma's were blasting out thrash metal riffs at ear bleeding volume. This is certainly not the place to come if you're gently nursing a hangover – in fact it's probably the place where hangovers are made – but what an electric atmosphere Kuma's has.

Food at Kuma's is all about burgers. Great, big, unholy patties of ground beef. There are a few token appetisers and sandwiches, and there's even a vegetarian "garden burger" on offer (stop sniggering at the back), but the main attraction here is Kuma's selection of 22 beef burgers, all named after heavy metal bands. As tempted as I was by the modern sounding "Goatwhore" burger, I went for the more classic "Led Zeppelin" burger ($13). What arrived was almost 300g of medium-rare ground beef, topped with smoky pulled pork, cheddar cheese, pickles and, for good measure, some crisp bacon. The whole thing was served in a soft pretzel roll. Schwiiing!
"Do you smell bacon, Garth?"
Earlier there had been a momentary lapse in my British-American English translation skills when I mistakenly ordered "chips" to accompany the burger. Of course, I realised my mistake as soon as my plate arrived with a disappointing side of potato crisps! However, this was probably a blessing in disguise as the burger itself was simply obscene in size, and the last thing I needed was lots of potatoes to go with it.

As I wondered how to go about eating it, I almost decided to venture into sacrilegious "knife & fork" territory but quickly thought better of it. My only concession was to cut the beast in two before grabbing one half firmly with both hands and trying to eat it as best I could. Hardly very metal.

The beef was of good quality, tasty and well seasoned. I loved their use of pretzel rolls; they add more flavour and a lovely soft texture. The only disappointment was self-inflicted, as I felt the addition of pulled pork was totally unnecessary; its sweet BBQ flavours threatening to overwhelm the beef. As far as burgers go, the simpler the better. You live and learn, I suppose.

Mrs. Nibbler chose the simpler "Kuma Burger" ($10), which came with bacon, cheddar, and a fried egg. This was a much better combination, which she proclaimed as "one of the best burgers I've had". And, unlike me, she had remembered to say "fries" when ordering. These were fresh, local, hand-cut fries and although they were fine, there wasn't really anything that special about them.
"I definitely smell a pork product of some type"
And because we just couldn't resist, we also ordered a side of macaroni cheese. At Kuma's you're invited to "make your own mac and cheese" by choosing from 14 different ingredients. For $12 you get to pick two of these ingredients to be mixed in with your mac & cheese; we opted for bacon and garlic. What arrived was a comically large plate of delicious molten garlicky macaroni cheese laced with pieces of salty bacon and topped with chopped spring onions. I particularly loved the way the cheese pulled away satisfyingly in long strands as you scooped up forkfuls of the al dente macaroni. It was gorgeous!
No Way!
However, we were stuffed after the burgers and only managed a few bites of the mac and cheese before admitting defeat and sheepishly asking for a deli container to bring the rest home with us.
Kuma's also has a pretty good selection of local beers, including the rare and very popular Three Floyds Gumballhead wheat beer on tap. Then there is also the infamous Jack Daniel's on tap.
Asphinctersayswhat? The toilets at Kuma's Corner
Kuma's might not have the best burgers I've tasted, but it probably has the most unique and fun environment in which I've eaten them. I also suspect that the vibe here would totally change in the evenings, making an already buzzing place positively come alive. I probably wouldn't make a special trip from downtown just to eat here or wait for long in line, as for my money I think there are better burgers to be found in Chicago. But if you're in the area and are in a raucous sort of mood then put on the spandex and black leather, crank up the Slayer and go visit Kuma's Corner. It literally rocks!

Food:          7 / 10
Service:       8 / 10
Ambiance:   9 / 10

Kuma's Corner on Urbanspoon

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