Abigail's American Bistro
493 Roger Williams Avenue, Highland Park IL 60035 (map); 847-780-4862; abigails493.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Highly-regarded burger withstands recent onslaught of quality entrants into the local burger scene to remain one of the best around
Want Fries With That? Not really; mine were soft and tasted too much like oil
Price: $11 at lunch, $12 at dinner
Right around the time I started writing regular reviews for AHT in August 2009, Jeff Ruby at Chicago Magazine revealed what he thought were the 30 best burgers in the area. It was then and remains the single most thorough one-stop overview of the city's burger scene. But today, just over two years later, any credible ranking would look far different from that list thanks to the explosion of delicious burgers that have come on the scene recently.
Having said that, I was recently up in Highland Park, which is generally a disappointment food-wise but is also home to Abigail's American Bistro, the only place in Ruby's top ten I hadn't yet reviewed.
There's only one burger on executive chef/owner Michael Paulsen's menu at Abigail's, available at lunch and dinner, and it's worth ordering at each meal if you find yourself there twice in one day. The burger has few bells and no whistles: It's a half-pound patty served with Wisconsin cheddar cheese and red onion marmalade. The beef, ground in-house, is a well-seasoned blend of shoulder and dry-aged trimmings that up the beefiness quotient to a special level.
As usual, I ordered my burger rare and got something at the very rare end of the spectrum. It looked pretty much raw, but it was warm all the way through. And because the grilled patty had a really nice crust all the way around, there was enough chew to make the texture work as well as the flavor. The cheddar cheese was fine and the red onion marmalade, which I worried would be too sweet, added a subdued shot of onion and some extra moisture to each bite.
The second burger was ordered medium but doesn't fit most definitions of that temperature. But before the anti-rare crowd out there gets too up in arms, I should reveal that our server gave fair warning as to what the burger would look like and the kitchen delivered it on the money. The bun, which took on a little extra juice from this unrested patty, is a soft and eggy brioche from Highland Baking Co. that I think is one the better buns around.
The default side that comes with the burger are fries served with a truffle aioli. Unfortunately, they weren't close to being worthy of the pairing. The fries, cut in-house, were limp and tasted far more like oil that potato. Given that the chef is one of a small few who has volunteered what kind of potatoes he uses— Kennebec—I'm inclined to think my fries were an unfortunate anomaly.
An alternative to the fries, not mentioned on the menu as such, are the housemade barbecue chips made of potatoes that are cut, fried and seasoned on site. I appreciated the effort, but not the flavor; these salt bombs with an over-the-top barbecue seasoning blend went largely untouched at my table.
Because I care far more about burgers than fries and because my waistline benefits from not overdoing it on the fried potato front, it's easy for me to overlook subpar fries. And that's especially true when they're paired with a burger as good as the one Abigail's puts out. There may be a host of new players in the Chicagoland burger scene, but this place is holding strong to a spot among the best.
About the author: Daniel Zemans is so devoted to Chicago that he covers pizza for Slice and burgers for A Hamburger Today. When he's not focusing on expanding his waistline, he works as a lawyer on behalf of employees and tenants.