You know those restaurants that look promising when you drive past a dozen times, but never seem tempting enough to make you pull over and give them a shot? For me, that's Brothers Beef, a stripped down stand in the middle of Lincoln Park, which looks like the kind of place I might not love, but at the very least would respect. Yet I kept driving by, mentally reminding myself each time that I really should get around to it some day.
Part of my hesitation was due to the fact that not much has been written about the place, which is odd considering its very convenient location. So I knew that an exceptional Italian beef was probably not awaiting me there, but perhaps I'd encounter one of those dependable stands where you can score a solid hot dog or an Italian beef without a big fuss.
My hopes were raised when I entered the building, which consists of a kitchen area with counter along one side, and an extra room in the back with some tables but no A/C. The employees were nice and attentive, and it felt like I was on the verge of a real find.
But my hopes sank as I watched a worker assemble the Italian beef ($5.95), scooping a huge mound of sliced beef from the vat of gravy onto the bun. "Oh," I thought, "that's one enormous Italian beef." But he was not finished. Three huge scoops later, so much beef had been heaped on that I couldn't see the bun anymore. It took him four sheets of paper to wrap the monster up.
Now, I am not immune to the charms of greasy excess, especially when spicy giardiniera is involved, but this is one example where more is definitely not better. The grey and lifeless meat also happened to overcooked and dry, and when stacked three inches thick, its negative attributes only multiplied. I eventually removed three-quarters of the meat, but it was a lost cause. The bun had already dissolved into mush, and no amount of giardiniera could perk this up. What a waste.
So even though the hot dog ($3.75 with fries) was skinless, at least all the elements were in proportion. There are better options nearby, but if you're in need of something immediate, this will do.
Perhaps due to its Lincoln Park location, Brothers also has a selection of salads on its menu. I went with the Tex-Mex ($5.95), a collection of Romaine lettuce, corn, black beans, and cheese, served with chipotle ranch. There was way too much cheese, but considering most stands would never dream of having a salad on their menu, it's not bad.
The best item I tried, by far, were the fries, which came out blonde, slender, and crispy, rather like McDonalds. But they still aren't quite delicious enough to make up for the short comings of the rest of the items. I wanted to love Brothers Beef, or at least appreciate it. But sometimes it's better to just keep driving by.
723 West Armitage Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614 (map)