Serious Eats: Chicago
Standing Room Only: Half Pound Burger Worth the Wait at Mustard's Last Stand
Mustard's Last Stand
1613 Central Street, Evanston, IL 60201 (map); 847-864-2700; mustardschicago.com
The Short Order: Solid hot dog stand near Northwestern with great burgers.
Want Fries with That? The thin fries are worth ordering.
Seats? There are sort of stools by the counter, but it's very, very cramped.
Mustard's Last Stand is one of a number of hot dog joints in Chicago with a questionably funny name. Though this time it also functions as a fair warning. Sure, it proudly announces our city's love of the yellow condiment over its more famous tomato-based cousin. But more importantly, this is also your last chance to fill up before catching a football or basketball game at Northwestern University in Evanston. That certainly explains what I was doing waiting in line with all the forty-year-old grads in purple gear back to relive a simpler, and more intoxicated time. (Not that it matters, but I was rooting for Butler, my wife's alma mater.) Every college deserves a stand to nourish those desperately in need of solid food, and Mustard's Last Stand does the job admirably and with some serious character.
Mustard's is, as I found out the hard way, quite small. When busy, the line snakes all the way to the back and then curls around, leaving little room patrons attempting to eat at the small counter. Cramped and chaotic, it's the first stand in a while where I actually felt claustrophobic, something that I never usually have to worry about.
But how could I leave and miss the show? The veteran cashier held sway over the scrambled crowd, refusing to get worked up over anything. Amid the yelling and joviality, he made sure each patron get what he wanted. Not exactly the most polite person I've ever encountered, but that's part of the charm.
True to his word, the food eventually did find its way to us. Though Mustard's hot dog ($3.00) uses a skinless Vienna Beef dog, it's beefy enough to not distract from the whole. Luckily, the rest of the Chicago-style toppings are all accounted for, and even with the genuine rush before the game, each was carefully applied. It all added up to a satisfying dog, and certainly better than any you'd find at the concession stand.
But what really floored me was the Wildcat Burger ($7.99). Only after I placed my order was the half pound of fresh beef tossed on the gas grill. There it battled the flames, developing a blackened crust along the way, before joining a caramelized onions, hot peppers, cheddar cheese sauce, and barbecue sauce on a sesame seed bun. Though no one asked, the meat was cooked to medium rare, making it extra juicy. Sure, it's unwieldily, and probably has a few more toppings than is necessary, but it's exactly the sort of thing I'd crave before or after a serious bout of cheering.
Though under salted, the thin cut French fries ($1.75, small) were decent enough. Honestly, after devouring the burger in a gratuitous five-minute pig out session, I didn't have much of an appetite. Go figure.
I do wonder what Mustard's is like without the theatrics of the crowd. Would a civilized line be as much fun as one that yelled randomly and smelled of booze? Hard to say. But as long as they continue using fresh ground beef and cooking it to order, that burger is worth stopping for any day of the week.