Serious Eats: Chicago
Lunch in the Loop: Peppers
Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
Happy Day-After-Memorial Day! I hope all of you have had your fill of grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and heartburn. But if you haven't, I've found a burger and dog joint just for you. I've noticed a sore lack of Lunch in the Loop posts covering local Chicago hot dog and hamburger joints, so I'm going to break that losing streak by showing you guys a little place called Peppers.
Peppers used to be owned by an older Korean couple; the wife was always up front manning the register, and her husband faithfully slapped frozen burger pucks on the grill. The occasional times I'd drop by, I got to practice my lame-ass Korean skills, and I'd come back to the office with a paper bag spotted with grease from the double cheeseburger wrapped up inside. The place has since changed ownership, and the new owners have changed things up a bit.
I've always had my doubts about food items with the word "ghetto" in them. Using the word ghetto to sling food seems to allow restaurants to pile any number of strange ingredients on a dish. At first glance, the Ghetto Burger ($5.25) seems to follow that rule, but upon closer inspection, it's actually just a chili burger.
The Ghetto Burger uses a quarter pound patty of fresh beef that is grilled and then topped with bacon, American cheese, grilled onions, chili, and mustard. If you're in corporate sales and you wear nice clothes to work, you may want to invest in a bib, or a really fashionable tarp. It is a really messy beast, but it packs a ton of impressive flavor, mostly thanks to the deeply flavored Coney-style chili. The bacon and grilled onions get lost in the chili, but the yellow mustard is a perfect foil to the heavier components, coming through with a slightly vinegary bite that polishes the whole thing off.
The Bacon Blue Burger ($5.25) also uses a quarter pound of grilled beef, but this time it's topped with bacon, blue and American cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and ranch dressing. This one doesn't work too well. The blending of American cheese and blue cheese is like trying to mix Celine Dion with hardcore gangsta rap. Who wins that battle, anyway? (Hint: Nobody wins when Celine is involved.) With the addition of bacon and ranch dressing, the flavors get even more confusing, which, honestly, isn't a good thing.
If the Ghetto Burger doesn't work for your delicate sensibilities, the double cheeseburger ($5.50) can be your go-to. This beauty shimmers like Snooki in a tanning bed, and is a perfect gut-bomb if you're hungover at work. Ordered with everything, it comes with the usual lettuce, onion, tomato, pickles, mustard, and ketchup, but this also came with pickled jalapeños (sport peppers are advertised). They added a spicy pickled kick to the charred and beefy patties.
The Italian Sausage ($4.25) is advertised as house made, which piqued my interest. But the grind is a little too tight, and the sausage came out overcooked and slightly dry. It has the requisite flavor of fennel, but the spices couldn't quite rescue it. The fries are fast food-style: pale, blond, and crisp.
Overall, I'm impressed with Peppers. It reminds me of the playful menu from Wiener and Still Champion up in Evanston, and on special days, they serve clam chowder and crawfish bisque, which I'm definitely coming back to try.
211 West Van Buren St, Chicago, IL 60607 (map)
About the author: After a failed attempt at starting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.