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Au Cheval Burger Review: Chicago 2015
Food in Layman Terms by Sean Alvarez The Burger Edition Circa 2015
When it comes to cuisine that I hear about from some journalistic food reviews and most self- proclaimed foodies who post their experiences on Facebook I am often informed but seldom amazed. There are people and publications whose opinion I truly respect. They know who they are. Nevertheless, many people have their own perspective of what they think is good based on previous experiences so it’s always interesting to hear feedback whether I agree or not. The important thing is to expose your mind and palette to more this world has to offer. Those who know better do better.
After reading a local publication’s Best of Chicago feature I was inspired to give my account in an unbiased, educated, non-payola influenced, tastefully done way of what I consider to be the best as well. Throughout the next few months I’ll be giving my top recommendations of what I believe to be the best food, drinks, restaurants, and things to do in Chicago and some places beyond. Years ago when living in the ATL I did a pretty extensive Best of Atlanta that received much positive critical acclaim. Hopefully this will be received the same way.
Today’s topic of conversation is burgers, in particular Au Cheval’s highly heralded cheeseburger. If you’ve ever had my homemade hamburger back when in my college years or my veggie burger present day you know me and you know the detail that goes into my food preparation. I don’t really do turkey burgers unless I’m barbecuing and it still is not anything major for my standards unless I’m prompted to do something special.
Recently I strolled into Au Cheval to try what Food Network considers to be the No.1 burger in America. That’s high praise. This burger was also rated No.1 by Bon Apetit Magazine a few years ago and has been consistently appearing on many top 5 lists of other publications. I have been curious and have been anticipating tasting this burger for quite some time after hearing such favorable comments from foodies in which I come in contact. There are times I have been disappointed with food recommendations of some foodies and publications proclaiming certain entrees or restaurants to be “the truth” only to later discover they don’t deserve the props they receive in my opinion. However, I was pleasantly satisfied with this one. This is a very good burger and I can only say good things about it. After having it once, I wouldn’t necessarily say it is my No.1. I have a conditioned affinity toward Burger Bar as 1A and Fuddruckers as 1B, but an argument could definitely be made in Au Cheval’s behalf.
The simplicity of this burger is what makes it really dope. There is a good balance between the bun, meat, and yellow American cheese while the other ingredients give it a special personality and flavor. With a restaurant named Au Cheval I would have to guess their theme has somewhat of a French influence. The burger comes with house-made dijonnaise and does not have ketchup (The French don’t really eat ketchup) which along with dijonnaise was another indication that this may be French influenced. They get props on this for giving an American classic subtle French personality (if my assumption is correct). Two nuances that make me even consider catapulting this burger to my No.1 status are the pickles and diced onions (special onions). These are two major ingredients I use when creating burgers at home and the pickles have to be just right. Their pickles are sliced very thin yet amazingly very crisp, and still give off a small but noticeable hint of cucumber flavor. These are hands down the best pickles I’ve ever tasted on a burger. Also, the chef/creator of this dish did a brilliant job of creating a nostalgic quality with the diced onions that likely would trigger an emotional response (good for selling food to the masses) for many who grew up eating McDonald’s or White Castle.
I began eating this burger the way the chef intended it to be served… without ketchup which was good but, eventually I decided to add ketchup to enjoy it the way I prefer. It would’ve been dope if they had a house-made ketchup as opposed to the restaurant standard but nothing on the menu requires ketchup so that may be reason to not make this. Also the French theme prohibits this. The simplicity of this burger makes me wonder whether the influence came partially from a McDonald’s double cheeseburger. It comes with 2 or 3 thin patties (depending on what you want), yellow American cheese, diced onion, pickles and dijonnaise, served on a toasted bun. You can also get it with a fried egg or bacon or other extras.
I did want to try it with bacon so I requested it on the side and added a little bit to the burger. The bacon is very thick and is peppercorn and maple flavored. It almost reminded me of a soft gourmet jerky. It was good and added a tasty and different element to the burger but I did prefer to keep it simple and finish the rest of my feast without bacon. I also tried a small piece of my friend’s burger which had egg on it. I’m not an egg fan but it wasn’t terrible. I just don’t see the point, considering egg doesn’t have much flavor plus I don’t really like its texture.
As I continued to dig in with only remnants of my burger remaining some of the patty was naked on the outskirts of the bun and I could get an uncoupled taste of it as the unexpected yet simple and delicious taste of black pepper resonated in my palate. The only thing missing was Johnny Walker Black neat to sip while finishing this dish.
The fries are a good size/cut and texture and come with a very delicious garlic aioli (mayonnaise) for dipping (I even put some on the burger which made it taste even more special). Once again no ketchup here. I actually don’t do ketchup on my fries most times and prefer dipping them in mayonnaise instead.
Here is my issue with this dish. Some gourmet/higher quality restaurants and diners tend to have a heavy presence of pork ingredients when in my opinion it makes the flavor of the food less desirable to a large population who don’t eat pork (obviously) and is sometimes unnecessary in my opinion. I eat a primarily plant based diet with mainly seafood & poultry and tasted pork for the first time in 20 years last September at a Food Network event (what I had didn’t taste like pork)
For someone who doesn’t fool with pork like that I could instantly smell and taste that they were cooked in something other than vegetable oil and presumed it was pork when they arrived at our table. Since I seldom eat beef and almost never eat pork I’m not used to it which means I can smell it like a bird can sense a storm approaching miles away. Now, because I was already going beyond my limits of eating things I typically don’t eat I didn’t ask until after my meal because the fries were perfect in every other way (minus the slight animal fat smell and taste) I wanted to eat them without having my presumption confirmed which may have lessened my dining experience. Of course my instincts did not fail me. It was pork fat. Nevertheless, I would’ve preferred the fries be cooked in something other than pork fat because I’m not a fan of the aroma but the texture and size of the fresh cut fries were second to none.
Please note: If you are reading this in 2019 or later, Au Cheval no longer uses pork fat to cook their fries.
To sum it up Au Cheval’s burger in layman’s terms it reminds me of a much bigger, much better, higher quality gourmet version of a Mickey D’s double cheeseburger with no ketchup but dijonnaise instead. If you haven’t had Au Cheval’s Cheeseburger I would strongly recommend it and suggest you let your taste buds and sensibilities determine if it deserves its No.1 ranking.
For those who enjoy a good burger I would also recommend Burger Bar Chicago (Create your own, Shrimp Burger, or most burgers on the menu), Promontory’s Lamb Burger, M Burger’s Turkey Burger, Bandera’s Veggie Burger, Rockit’s Lobster Burger, and of course Fuddrucker’s if you can find one. Since I have been more open to eating beef (every blue moon) I am looking to trying Kuma’s, Edzo’s, Unami Burger (Their truffle cheese fries are dope) and a southside classic, Top Notch Beef Burgers within the next year.