Illinois Bar & Grill
This year marks the 25th birthday of Illinois Bar & Grill in the Archer Heights neighborhood, not far from Midway Airport. Happy birthday, guys. Don't change.
Fork and knives aren't there for elegance; they're a necessity.
And when you look at the price, $8.60 for a bacon cheeseburger, this sandwich is one crazy deal.
The Angus patty (81/19 lean-fat) is thick and luscious, peppery and crispy, 14 ounces of cattle supporting itself on the bottom bun. It's lacquered liberally with ketchup and mustard -- too much of each. Still, the twines of sauteed onions are sexy and sweet, piled high on a burger that's already as tall as it is wide. And we haven't reached the bacon yet.
Oh, the bacon, four long strips of perfectly fried, thick and incomparably crispy pork -- no smokiness or sweetness, just salty, fatty strips that make diners coo.
The crown atop is a bun that measures 6.5-inches across, just sitting there, balancing on the bacon like a tiny hat on a fat man.
It's a wondrous sight to behold. And even better to dig your fork and knife in.
4135 W. 47th St., 773-847-2525; at 1131 S. State St. in Lemont, 630-257-0666; and inside Midway Airport, 773-838-8989; illinoisbarandgrill.com
Joe's Seafood Prime Steak & Stone Crab
Most civilians call this place "Joe's Stone Crab," not having the lung capacity for its full name. The atmosphere evokes dining of yesteryear, when maitre-d's donned bow ties and it was "sir this" and "sir that."
The stone crab, Gigantor claws as sweet as Valentine's, is the draw. But enough people have written in about its cheeseburger to warrant a non-seafood visit.
The cheeseburger ($10.50) reminds me of its counterpart at Gibson's on Rush Street, a rendition pared down to its most elemental: buns, cheese, meat and no more.
What they're saying is: "We're confident enough in our product that it doesn't need toppings and filler to be delicious."
The meat is a half-pound patty, a mix of prime sirloin and chuck with an 80/20 lean-fat blend. Ordered medium rare, the beef had a loose grain, its consistency finely ground.
The real highlight is the texture: to bite down on this is to bite down on air, so light your jaw muscles won't require assistance, simply close your mouth.
The juices flow, the essence of beef escaping from every pore like a wet sponge being wrung.
The seasoning was a tad light, though I'm told it's incorporated in the ground (better under-seasoned than over-seasoned). It needs one more thing -- is it bacon? Onions?
As is, the cheddar is seductively melted over the beef, with the bun providing a challah-like sweetness.
Also on the plate are tomatoes and lettuce, but why bother? Joe's believes in its burger.
60 E. Grand Ave., 312-379-5637; joes.net/chicago