Benny's Chop House
444 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago IL 60611 (map); 312-626-2444; bennyschophouse.com
Cooking Method: Charbroiled
Short Order: Massive burgers come with more creative toppings than is typical for a steakhouse. These are a welcome option for downtown diners with big appetites
Want Fries With That? Definitely. These are some solid potatoes, but don't expect the toppings to wow.
Price: Classic Burger, Benny's Burger, and Chicago Style Burger, $10; Fried Egg and Truffle Aioli Burger, $11 (all include fries)
Notes: Burgers only available at lunch
A quick perusal of the AHT archives reveals that steakhouse burgers don't get all that much love on this site. I'm as guilty as anyone in that regard; it's been over two years since I last posted my sole report on a steakhouse burger, the masterpiece from David Burke's Primehouse. While I've had burgers from steakhouses that are clearly an afterthought, the fact remains that good steakhouses are stocked with quality beef and have kitchens full of cooks who should be masters of cooking meat.
I recently visited Benny's Chop House, one of a large handful of high-end steakhouses that have opened in Chicago over the last couple of years. I was drawn to Benny's, which only offers burgers at lunch, because executive chef Jonathan Lane offers four different burgers, including a couple with toppings that are far more creative than is the norm at steakhouses. I was rewarded with a good meal that, when considering the size and the price, is one of the better burger lunch deals around.
The first thing I noticed when the Benny's Burger was put down in front of me was the enormity of the patty. In my world, a half-pound burger is the perfect size; it's enough to fill me up and give me a couple extra bites for the kind of gluttony that makes me happy. This monster, which comes topped with Maytag blue cheese and port wine onions, weighed in at what had to be the high end of the 10-12 ounces that the restaurant says is the range of patty size.
My burger came out rare as requested, but featured a nice crust courtesy of the charbroiler cranking out beef in the kitchen. The sweet and acidic onions paired well with the moderately tangy blue cheese, and both flavors complemented the very juicy burger very well. The asiago onion bun was a flavorful, nicely eggy bread, but it had little chance holding up the massive juicy patty and no chance when the chopped lettuce and tomato were placed under the beef.
The Chicago Style Burger is even more daunting than the Benny's Burger. This one started with a patty marginally smaller than the Benny's burger (though still at least 10 ounces), but from the "well, why not" files, it was topped with a butterflied Italian sausage. Rounding out this over-the-top concoction were some grilled red peppers and onions along with a horseradish sauce.
Once again, the kitchen delivered exactly what I requested, medium rare in this case. Even with the extra bit of time under the broiler, this was also one very juicy burger. While the beef had a fairly strong flavor, the strongly seasoned Italian sausage was the predominant flavor, even up against the large quantity of beef. The sausage also ensured that even without the same lettuce and tomato, the bun was destined to disintegrate.
Each of the four burger offerings comes with a different style of fries, though diners are free to change their assigned fries. The Benny's Burger was supposed to come with truffle fries, but since I'm tired of those things I switched in the black pepper-bacon fries that typically come with the Fried Egg and Truffle Aioli Burger. The Chicago Style Burger is served with Parmigiano-Reggiano fries. The strengths of both fries were that the hand-cut potatoes were cooked to crisp exterior and soft interior perfection and delivered a solid potato flavor accented with a healthy dose of salt. The weakness of both fries was in underdelivering the additional flavors. There was virtually no bacon mixed in with the first set and the taste of the cheese in the second batch was barely noticeable.
It's not often that I think of a $10 burger as being a particularly good value, but considering that the burgers at Benny's weigh in around three-quarters of a pound and come with a full order of fries, there's definitely a case to be made. Of course, if you finish your meal, there's a good chance your afternoon will be entirely unproductive.