Last time GNRs were being renewed there were complaints that there were not enough places representing the South side. The list as it stands so far this time includes north shore hot dogs, north shore Jewish steaks, north side old school pizza, north side Indian vegetarian, northwest suburban Uzbeki... but my friends, I have come with the solution to your troubles, like a mountain stream bringing cool water to the parched.
This time people have nominated a fancy schmancy hamburger at a hip west town spot. I'm sure it is a fine one, as Kuma's creations are. But where does the hungry working man, who can't afford $8 for his saketini, go for an honest working man's burger? Is he to wander the earth forever, hungry? My friends, come unto me and sit, I will grant you succor.
I have said before
, my friends, that Chicago is, for all the millions of cattle turned into meat in this town, not
a burger town. My theory is that, like Pharoah, the frozen patty established economic dominion over the peoples, forcing the fresh-ground burger out into the desert. This much seems true for the north side; the fresh-ground burger, so common throughout the plains states and in Okie-settled Southern California, is almost unknown there. Yet go to the far south side and fresh-ground burgers exist in numerous places-- Hand-Burgers, Schoop's*,
and above all the place generally, and to my mind, rightly acknowledged to be the best old school burger in the Chicagoland area, the most aptly named restaurant in Chicago, Top Notch Beefburgers. Your wandering days are over; deliverance is upon you. Go into the light!
The original Top Notch was on 79th for about a decade; unlike many other South side white ethnic food establishments, they actually moved well before riot-era white flight kicked in, which is probably why (unlike, say, Cunis Candies) they only got as far as 95th. The neighborhood of Beverly is one of those charming small towns within the city, the strip Top Notch sits on has the kinds of businesses you'd find in a small town-- a dressmaking shop, a little gallery-- and the feeling inside is pure small-town welcome, as locals and waitresses catch up on the latest gossip. I could wish that Top Notch was a gleaming, vintage art deco burger palace, like Winstead's
in Kansas City, but it isn't, it's homey and plain (and the Oak Lawn version, with Muzak and plastic plants and dusty rose-colored vinyl booths, has soulsuckingly drab strip mall anti-atmosphere). But it's thoroughly genuine, and despite its lack of visual charm, you'll be charmed all the same.
But are you here for architecture? You are not. You are here for daily-ground ground round, fried in its own juices so that it tastes extra-beefy. Specifically, you want the 1/4 pounder basic beefburger. Though larger than the archetypal 30s-style burger (usually something like 10 to the pound), it is still thin enough to achieve a proper exterior, which the 1/2 pounder is not; it will get a bit soggy cooked the same way. If you must have more, order two. You want grilled onions, and you want the basic because who the hell would put mayonnaise and lettuce on a work of art?
By the same token, even an inveterate cheeseburger eater like myself might consider going commando with no cheese next time; it is truly gilding the lily. What you will not have to order is the perfectly toasted bun, which has exactly the lightness to complement the freshly cooked meat, rather than smother it in styrofoamy breadiness.
You will of course want fries, since they are cooked in beef lard and certainly among the five best French fries in Chicago.
And why wouldn't you finish the classic American triumvirate with a chocolatey shake, pure American chocolate flavor, none of those Belgian or French notes, just classic Eisenhower-era chocorifficness. We named this one "Donnie Darko."
There are three locations (see note below), all run by the original family; I have been to both of the ones on 95th and they are indistinguishable except, as noted, the atmosphere at the older one is homey, and at the newer one, nursing-homey. As I was looking for the address, I ran across this
Chicagoist post by Chuck Sudo, which sums up my feelings next to fancy bar burgers exactly:
Thanks largely to the ubiquity of the Food Network, everyone dabbles a bit in gourmet these days. Even bars that one would think should only cater in standard pub grub are going out of their way and dressing up their burgers with buns and sides our grandparents wouldn't dream of when they were our age. We're not knocking it, mind you. We're just saying that sometimes we just want a burger to just be a burger.
Top Notch Beefburgers has never thought of being anything else.
2116 W 95th St
Chicago, IL 60643
4720 W 95th St
Oak Lawn, IL 60453
[ORLAND PARK LOCATION CLOSED/DELETED]
LTH mentions:My second try pays offC8W mostly agreesGleam plans your day,
and praises Top Notch again"you can do no better""another place that doesn't get its full share of LTH love"Order the basic next time, Ronnie Suburban!Evil Ronnie knows his cooking oilsUniAddict's favoriteHarry V
pays tribute; so does Erik M.Bat-Boy approved.
* By the way, did anyone know about this?
Last edited by Mike G
on September 22nd, 2008, 1:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.