Serious Eats: Chicago
Deep Fried Chicago: Kuma's Corner
By now everyone has been to or at least heard of Kuma's Corner. The excessively long lines, conversation killing death metal soundtrack, and oh yeah, the burgers. The mythology of the place is the only thing that looms larger than the bedazzled beef itself: a weathered, destination-worthy stalwart of the foodie first wave, fallen from its former glory on a Sisyphean trudge toward the unattainable bovine Elysium in the sky. Sure, I'll take my burger with a side of pathos. I've already written about the Jalapeño Poppers, a version whose Chicago equal I've yet to encounter. But just like heavy metal itself probably warrants a closer look from yours truly, it's time for a headfirst dive into Kuma's deep fryer.
Essentially a Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives version of Southern sausage balls, the Hot Sausage Grit Fritters ($12.00) don't just toe the line of excessiveness—they trample it with abandon. The molten cheddar and parmesan center, in tandem with the unctuous Italian sausage, renders the accompanying piquant red pepper puree too little too late in bringing any sort of restraint to the dish.
Though still a high scorer on the excessiveness spectrum, the BBQ Pork Fries ($12.00) are more successful. The pork is moist with just the right amount of crusty exterior, while the fries were certainly crispy before the cheesy porky ambush that has befallen them. However, most of the dish's flavor comes from the generously applied BBQ sauce, which while tangy, has a sweetness that tends to overpower the other players. A spicy, vinegary component, perhaps in the form of pickled jalapeños, would provide a welcome contrast to the richness of the dish.
The Hate Beak ($12.00) is a buffalo chicken sandwich, accompanied simply with melted Monterey jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and red onion. The chicken was moist, the sauce was applied with restraint, and the side of bleu cheese added funky richness. Only the heavy pretzel roll seemed out of place, with its overwhelming density muting the otherwise balanced flavors.
Kuma's knows its way around the potato. The Fries (side option for burgers and sandwiches), when not doused in a healthy pile of pork and cheese, are tender-crisp and rich. Extra points for the nice level of salt.
Even better, though, are the House Made Chips (side option for burgers and sandwiches). Sliced thin enough to pass the most rigorous of window pane tests, these are fried to a shattering crisp and properly salted. They have a little bit of a Pringles thing going on, which is in no way a slight. Can I say "once you pop, the fun don't stop" without having to pay somebody? I'll take my chances.
For the record, I finally got around to trying a burger this time. Bacon on bacon on cheese on bacon or something. It was just fine, but too over the top for this slider and fast food style aficionado. Kuma's shines brightest when its dishes are executed with even a modicum of restraint; which, rather surprisingly, most of its deep fried output is. And while "restrained" is not your typical deep fried modifier, Kuma's has, and never will be, your typical place.