Chicago: Get Solid Burgers at The Wiener's Circle (But Late Night Visits Are Not for Everyone)
The Wiener's Circle
2622 N. Clark Street, Chicago IL 60614 (map); 847-699-8590
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The focus on the late night antics overshadow the fact that Wiener's Circle puts out a more than solid burger
Want Fries With That? The fresh-cut fries are very good on their own but irresistible with some Merkt's on top
Price: Cheddarburgers are $4.75, Double Cheddarburgers are $6.95, Cheddar Fries are $3.60
Notes Cash only
Local joints typically gain national attention either by putting our some truly spectacular food or by sticking around long enough that people finally have to take notice. The Wiener's Circle in the Lincoln Park Neighborhood in Chicago has gained fame for reasons that have nothing to do with the food and everything to do with the loud and often offensive banter hurled back and forth late at night between overwhelmingly white, often drunk customers and the group of black women who work there. Here's a fascinating piece that former Chicagoan Ira Glass did for his Showtime series, This American Life:
Some are horrified by what goes on at The Wiener's Circle and others see it is as the primary reason to go there. But what gets lost in the controversy is that this place puts out some very good food. On my recent visit, I headed over there for lunch with AHT commenter extraordinaire, Fart Sandwich. (Fart Sandwich's words will be in italics.)
Hi everyone, I'm Fart Sandwich. I never thought that getting black-out drunk, going on the internet, and picking the username "Fart Sandwich" would ever get me anywhere in life, but here I am, somehow guest-starring on A Hamburger Today. I've lived in Chicago for a long time now and avoided the place because of the shenanigans Daniel mentioned above, thinking it wasn't worth the trouble. Despite the reputation of the place, and its name sounding like a specialty adult video title, they do serve up some solid char-grilled food. And sass.
Like most of the top burger and hot dog stands around town, the patties at The Wiener's Circle are cooked on a grill where bursts of flame are encouraged so as to impart some extra char around the beef. Where this place differs from most is in the toppings as the burgers are almost treated like Chicago-style hot dogs, but with the option of ketchup and without the celery salt. We passed on the ketchup and took our onions grilled on both burgers.
The patties, which are cooked to medium, are not going to blow anyone away. But the industrially-produced ground meat has solid flavor and, given how much they're cooked, a nice amount of juice. Having sport peppers and sweet relish on a burger can be a bit confusing to those of us who associate the related flavors with hot dogs, but the sweet and spicy combination works just fine on a burger.
Getting a Chicago-style hot dog in burger form and on a toasted sesame-seed bun seemed a little strange at first, but I ended up enjoying it. The sweet neon relish really cut through the pre-formed beef, maybe a little too much. For me the main problem was that the bottom half of the bun was soaked by the wet condiments and eventually disintegrated into a soggy mess. Shoveling fries into my mouth like Kirstie Alley at a Chinese buffet didn't help, because I let the burger sit for a little too long, but that's my own fatass fault.
We had Merkt's cheddar on the single and American cheese on the double; I preferred the Merkt's due to its sharp savory flavor. If you're not from the Midwest, Merkt's cheddar is basically this thick sharp cheese spread that tastes like God's toejam. Which is a good thing, even if it sounds like a terrible description (I am Fart Sandwich, after all). The American cheese is good too, but it didn't stand out nearly as much.
Dan and I tore through the fresh-cut fries covered in that glorious Merkt's cheddar. Sometimes, in my wildest fantasies, I wish I was a french fry covered in that stuff, surrounded by prancing and singing unicorns. Even when the cheese got cold, it was still good. I watched Dan eat them for five straight minutes, muttering to himself. That's what Merkt's cheddar does to a person.
In the end, this isn't a fancy place. The regular burger is less than five bucks, and the entire place is coated in a thin layer of sticky oil. I mean, David Hasselhoff would probably choose to eat here after a three-day bender. But for the money, you get a big fat meal that goes straight to your ass. Which is good.