May Street Market
1132 W. Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60642 (map); 312-421-5547; maystreetmarket.com
Cooking Method: Pan seared
Short Order: Anyone who thinks a burger has to be made out of beef needs to try the duck burger at May Street Market
Want Fries With That? Yes, they are a fine example of the breed
Price: $14 without foie gras, $19 with, but a better deal as part of the prix fixe menu
There's no doubting the skills of chef Alex Cheswick, chef/owner of May Street Market. In addition to an education at the Culinary Institute of America, Cheswick also has stints at Le Francais and Tru under his belt along with a couple of high-end restaurants in Germany. And thanks to his time in Deutschland, Chewsick knows a thing or two about burgers along with their cousins, frikadellers.
At his four-and-a-half-year-old Chicago restaurant, Cheswick puts that knowledge to good use with his exceptional and nontraditional take on a burger. For those who immediately reject any burger not made from ground beef, just pretend this is an article about duck frikadellers and come along for a delicious ride.
Though billed as a duck burger, the 7-ounce patty is actually a blend of Muscovy duck and turkey. According to Cheswick, a burger of nothing but ground duck would be too heavy, so he added turkey to lighten it up without compromising the duck's flavor. It took a good deal of testing to come up with the right ratio, and that percentage remains a house secret. Cheswick, who is committed to local sustainable foods where possible, does reveal that the turkey is local and the duck is from Maple Leaf Farms in Indiana.
The ground meat is seasoned with tarragon, shallots, and bits of dried cranberries, and is pan seared, resulting in a delicious patty that is soft and slightly loose on the inside, but with a nice crust that hold everything together. As good as the patty is on its own, the crew in the kitchen doesn't stop there; they decorate the meat with toppings that elevate the burger a couple of levels past delicious.
There are actually two ways to get the duck burger. The $14 version comes with local cheddar cheese, smoked bacon, port wine figs, and truffle aioli. I'm sure that one is great, but I opted for the souped up version that comes with port wine figs, truffle aioli, and a nice hunk of foie gras. I probably wouldn't have been so gluttonous (blatant lie) if I hadn't ordered the burger as part of one of the better higher-end dining deals in Chicago: a three-course prix fixe meal for $32, which automatically comes with the foie gras-topped burger.
The greenery brought nothing that mattered, but it looked pretty and made me feel healthy. Every other component was stellar and served to make the burger better. The slab of foie gras elevated the richness and fatty goodness of the burger to a higher level. The creamy truffle aioli added some umami into the mix. The remarkable port wine figs brought a restrained sweetness and were so good that I was left imagining what else I could eat them on if I had a jar of them (first thought: ice cream). The whole thing was served on an excellent toasted bun that was just dense enough to add a little substance, but soft enough to stay out of the way of the burger.
The fries are about as basic as they come, fried once in regular vegetable oil. But these golden sticks are proof that when cooked properly, the most basic of fries can be outstanding. The crisp on the outside, soft on the inside fries were flawless and were served with housemade ketchup.
I know this is a burger site, but I really should mention how good almost everything I tried on this, my first visit to May Street Market. The prix fixed allows each person to choose one of four appetizers, one of four main courses, and one of three desserts. Three of us went that route and there was some pretty good sharing going on. With limited exceptions, we all thought everything was outstanding. Given the prices, I've enthusiastically recommended the restaurant to multiple people since I visited while recommending they make sure that at least one person at their table get the burger.
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