Chicago: Excellent Fusion Burgers at bopNgrill
1903 Church Street, Evanston IL 60201 (map); 847-733-7102; bopngrill.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Quality griddled burgers feature the great combination of freshly ground beef and innovative toppings
Want Fries With That? The fries come from frozen and are largely flavorless, but thanks to some outstanding toppings, they're addictive
Price: Kimchi Burger, $6; Loco Moco, $6; Kimchi Fries, $4.50; bNg Fries, $4
I'm not sure what it is about Evanston, but burger fans in that Chicago suburb live a pretty sweet life. There are about 75,000 permanent residents and a bunch of Northwestern students, so it's far from a small town. But the place was doing quite well with two truly top notch burger joints in Wiener and Still Champion and Edzo's when bopNgrill opened last year.
William Song trained at Le Cordon Blue and worked at some higher end restaurants before striking out on his own. The first space he eyed was in downtown Evanston, but by the time he was ready to pull the trigger, Edzo's had signed a lease. Song then turned his sights away from downtown and opened shop is a less desirable part of town just across the street from Evanston Township High School. After a slow first few months, bopNgrill has established itself among the top tier of burgerias in the Chicago area.
Like each of the eight specialty burgers at bopNgrill, the Loco Moco (named after the Hawaiian dish) starts with a quarter-pound ball of freshly ground beef that is pressed down onto the hot griddle. As the burger finishes cooking, it's doused in a short rib demi-glace before being put on the bun along with bacon, cheddar, grilled onions, and a fried egg.
The burgers are cooked to medium well and the thin patty definitely benefits from the extra shot of juicy beef the demi-glace provides. The bacon, cheese, and onions were all standard fare and went well with the burger. Normally, a fried egg works wonders on a simple burger like this, but for some reason the yolk bath proved to be just a little overwhelming. It ended up being the worst thing I had at bopNgrill, although still a very, very good casual burger.
The Kimchi Burger, on the other hand, was the best thing I tried. The burger features kimchi that Song's mother still makes at home and buries in her backyard until it's sufficiently fermented. The kimchi is balanced out by a mess of shredded regular cabbage, along with fried egg and bacon. The whole concoction is amped up with gochujang aioli, which comes across as a peppery version of a really good Thousand Island dressing.
The Kimchi Burger is a stellar combination of flavors and personifies much of the Korean burger joint theme that makes up most of the menu (there's also a Hawaiian-influenced plate lunch section I have yet to experience). Even though this burger didn't get the demi-glace bath, the beef shined through better than in the Loco Moco, likely because the yolk was cooked a bit more on the egg. The bun, a soft roll not nearly as dense as it might appear, held up fine on both burgers.
bopNgrill is a spartan shop with a tiny kitchen. When the place first opened and things were slow, there was time for fresh cut potatoes. As things got busier, Song switched to frozen spuds and he says customers haven't complained much. After eating the kimchi fries, I understand why. Frozen fries are the bane of my burger eating, but I couldn't stop forcing these things down my gullet. Topped with more of mom's kimchi, chopped-up bacon, and a big pour of melted cheese product, these things make for a pungent, salty, fatty, meaty pile of awesome.
Almost as successful are the bNg fries topped with a pile of jalapeño and grilled onions, along with bacon, Parmesan, and a generous dollop of goopy cheese. The jalapeños were a bit toned down, which was probably a good thing given the quantity of the peppers, but meant that I didn't get quite the hot punch I was expecting. Once I readjusted my Scoville expectations, I dove into these fries almost as enthusiastically as I did the kimchi fries. If bopNgrill returns to using fresh potatoes, both concoctions will rank among the area's best.
While Edzo's and Wiener and Still Champion are, so far, content to stick to Evanston, bopNgrill, the youngest of the bunch, is proving itself to be more ambitious. A few weeks ago, Song opened up a second, significantly bigger location on the far north side of the city in Rogers Park. Thanks to a bigger kitchen in the new spot, Song has plans to expand his menu and possibly get his mother more involved with new Korean offerings and some catering. I just hope he leaves a little room for someone to come in and hand cut some potatoes.