Marcus Samuelsson Masters Classic America at Marc Burger in Chicago

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Marc Burger

111 N. State Street, Chicago IL 60602 (map); 312-266-2277‎; marcburger.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: My current choice for best fast casual burger in Chicago
Want Fries With That? Absolutely. The perfectly cooked skin-on fries are expertly seasoned and outshine the burgers
Price: Cheeseburger, $8.50; buffalo burger, $8.95; both come with fries

On the seventh floor of what is still thought of as the flagship location of Marshall Field's sits perhaps the world's most chef-tastic food court. In one of those only-in-America scenes, the area includes a noodle shop from a Japanese-born James Beard winner who made his name in the U.S. with French and Japanese restaurants; a casual spot from a white celebrity chef from Oklahoma who's a widely worshiped master of Mexican cuisine; and a burger joint from an Ethiopian Swede.

As enticing as Takashi Yagihashi's noodles and Top Chef Master #1 Rick Bayless's tacos are, I visited Seven on State to eat some burgers at Top Chef Master #2 Marcus Samuelsson's Marc Burger. The nearly three-year-old burger stand has a very restrained menu considering its creator and the result is one of, if not the best, fast casual burgers in Chicago.

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Up first was a basic cheeseburger. Swiss and Monterey Jack are also available, but I went with white cheddar. The preformed six-ounce patty made from grass-fed beef was grilled over a large open flame that appeared to shoot up well past the grate at times. No matter how busy the place gets, each coarsely ground burger is made to order. I requested medium rare and got medium, an error I'm growing more forgiving of when a grill is involved.

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The juicy patty is nicely seasoned and is absolutely bursting with charred beefy flavor. The cheddar is good, but is nothing out of the ordinary. The burger is served with lettuce and tomato, which I ignored, and lightly pickled cucumbers made from Samuelsson's grandmother's recipe that I eagerly piled on. My sole complaint about the burger is the Kaiser-esque bun. The taste is fine, but chewy bread gets in the way of compete burger enjoyment.

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In some ways, perhaps, the buffalo burger is even more American than a traditional patty. Most of me prefers beef, but my cholesterol level occasionally cries out for buffalo. In any event, having tried the regular burger, I also wanted to see what the tricontinental superchef could do with the classic symbol the American West. Not surprisingly, he does tatanka proud.

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The buffalo patty, which is the same size as its cow counterpart (cownterpart!?), is purportedly rubbed with mild chili and topped with a salsa. I say purportedly because when I isolated some of the meat, it tasted entirely unseasoned. Thanks to the flavorful slightly spicy salsa, the lack of seasoning in the meat was irrelevant. Also earning points was that this burger was cooked to a perfect medium rare.

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20100812-marcburger-shake.jpgThe fries that come with any burger at Marc Burger are exceptional. Moderately seasoned with garlic and cracked black pepper, the crisp, skin-on beauties were truly addictive. Much less successful were the shoestring onions, which they will substitute with fries upon request. Perhaps they are better when fresh, but my batch was a disappointing lukewarm pile of decidedly not crisp and not flavorful onions.

Despite Marc Burger's location inside of an absolutely exquisite building rightfully on the National Register of Historic Places, it remains very much a burger stand. And no meal at a burger stand is complete without a shake. Made with Häagen-Dazs ice cream, the shakes are thick, sweet milky perfection. My strawberry shake made my walk back to the office through 90°+ weather and 50+ percent humidity seem like a cool fall walk. Okay that was a lie—but it was an outstanding shake.