Great Burgers, Better Buns at Labriola Bakery Café in Oak Brook, Illinois

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Labriola Bakery Café

3021 Butterfield Road, Oak Brook IL 60523 (map); 630-574-2008‎; labriolabakerycafe.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Great 1/2-pound burgers loaded with butter and served on incredible pretzel buns
Want Fries With That? The hand-cut fries are very good, but the homemade chips are even better.
Price: $9.99+

Labriola Bakery Café jumped to the forefront of the burger portion of my brain in late August when Kevin Pang announced that the year-old restaurant put out a better burger than the deservedly lionized Kuma's Corner. Pang, a writer at the Chicago Tribune, had established himself as a top-rate chronicler of cheeseburgers at the time through his video series, The Cheeseburger Show. A couple of months after making his bold declaration, Pang announced he was all burgered out and was taking an indefinite leave of absence from eating cheeseburgers. That left me wondering whether Labriola was really that good or if Pang was suffering from the early symptoms of whatever disease eventually turned him off from burgers.

Labriola is inconveniently located way out in Oakbrook, less than three miles from McDonald's world headquarters. I put off making the trek until I realized that the place makes two kinds of pizza (which I reviewed on Slice) in addition to their highly acclaimed burgers. The verdict: I don't think Labriola's burgers are as good as Kuma's, but they do put out a very good burger that is definitely worth checking out.

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The first burger I tried at Labriola, the only one that is always on the menu, is the Richie Burger, named after company founder Richie Labriola. The burger, a half pound patty of chuck that is ground elsewhere, comes with white cheddar from Black Diamond along with lettuce and tomato.

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I ordered mine medium rare and it arrived a pinkless medium, a flaw that was largely alleviated by the fact that it bastes in a couple of tablespoons of butter as it cooks on a griddle. The meat itself was lightly seasoned (other than the use of butter) and incredibly juicy. It is a rare day that I do not put mustard on a hamburger, but the flavor on this burger needed no vinegary condiments.

While I did like the burger a lot, I had a couple of problems with it. First, there was absolutely no charring at all. I understand that it's tough to get a really good char on a thick burger cooked rare or medium rare on a griddle, but this burger was medium and there was no char. For those who want nothing crisp on their burger, Labriola's patty is exceptional. My only other gripe, which is nitpicking, is that with a butter burger that thick, I would have liked more cheese.

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On the day I visited Labriola, they had a special burger on the menu, a Maytag blue cheese burger. In addition to the cheese, the burger came with caramelized onions and a few large thick pieces of Neuske's bacon, Wisconsin's greatest gift to the world.

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As was the case with the Richie Burger, this burger came a little more well done than ordered, as I got medium rare instead of rare, but given the two tablespoons of butter, that oversight was fine. Once again, there was a noticeable absence of char, but in this case some of that extra texture I wanted came in the more of some incredible bacon. The flavor from the bacon and the Maytag blue cheese, while both on the stronger side, complemented the patty well without coming close to overpowering it.

As good as the burgers are, the real star may be the pretzel bun. It was rich and sturdy without being dense, and had wonderful hints of sweetness and saltiness that really added to the burger. According to Labriola, the special flavor comes from the use of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide), a chemical commonly used in making good pretzels. Fortunately for those of us in the Chicago area, northeast Indiana, and southwest Michigan, Labriola Bakery products are available at a number of stores. I don't know if they all carry the pretzel buns, but I can vouch for HarvesTime, which sells them in bags of four for $4.

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The fries that come with the burgers are hand-cut and freshly made with the skin still on. My batch was not particularly crisp, but they were still very good. Better than the fries were the homemade potato chips, seasoned with salt, pepper, Parmesan and parsley. The very crisp chips were particularly had enough flavor and texture to pair very well with the soft, rich burgers at Labriola.