Burger review: Au Cheval

Au Cheval
800 W. Randolph St. 312-929-4580
Rating: !! (out of 4)

Hailing from the land of culinary refinement that is New Jersey, the Great Burgerelli spent many formative burger-consuming years perched atop a diner stool. From this vantage point, I became an expert on the anatomy of a properly thin griddled burger, and also learned to appreciate my satisfied reflection in the gleam of a chrome jukebox. But there is neither chrome nor a Bruce Springsteen soundtrack at Au Cheval, a diner of sorts on Randolph Street from a local restaurateur by the name of Brendan Sodikoff. While I found the tufted leather booths, dim lighting and lack of neon confusing at first, the presence of not one but two burgers on the menu quickly put me at ease.

The burger: What a pleasant surprise to find that my single cheeseburger ($9.95) arrived with two 6-ounce griddled patties, while the double cheeseburger ($11.95) arrived with three. I tip my hat to the chef for the extra beefiness, though I wish each moist patty had packed a bit more salt and seasoning. Pressed thin in the classic diner style, the patties retained an impressive juiciness even when cooked through

The bun: The brioche bun is a weary warrior, fighting to stand up to the onslaught of juice produced by two or three patties. Eventually, though, both top and bottom buns abandon their heroic quest and beg me to go on eating the burger without their limp assistance.

The fixings: Melty cheddar and Dijon mayonnaise result in slippery, sloppy goodness. The server asked if I'd like my burger "au cheval," (with the addition of a fried egg for $1), which does enhance the flavor, if not the texture, of the sandwich. Pickles are abundant, with sweet bread-and-butter pickle chips providing a slight crunch to the burger, while a pickle spear on the side counters with some needed acidity. I did find myself pining for the crispness of a lettuce leaf.

Everything else: Crispy fries with aioli ($6.50) are, I am told, the same addictive variety as those at Sodikoff's other establishments, Maude's and Gilt Bar. Not realizing that pickles would arrive both on and beside my burger, I foolishly ordered a side of bread-and-butter pickles for $4. One would be better off putting those dollars toward the libational curiousity that is The Pickleback ($6.50), a shot of whiskey and pickle brine that made my mustache quiver, though pleasantly so.

Bottom line: To reinterpret a "diner" as a restaurant so stylish requires boldness on Au Cheval's part, but unfortunately, this boldness does not extend to the patty¿s flavor or the bun's fortitude. A pricetag of close to $20 for a burger and fries is tougher to swallow than a too-thick milkshake.

The Great Burgerelli is a fearless seaker of fine burgers. gburgerelli@tribune.com