Bad Things Happen to Good Beef at Firkin in Libertyville, IL

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[Photographs: Daniel Zemans]

Firkin

515 N. Milwaukee, Libertyville IL 60048 (map); 847-367-6168‎; firkinoflibertyville.com
Cooking Method: Grill
Short Order: Massive disparity between promise and execution renders the single worst burger experience I remember having
Want Fries With That? If you like Ore-Ida fries, then go for it
Price: 1/3-pound burger, $7.95; Tallgrass burger, $11.95; Akaushi burger, $13.95

I get no joy out of writing negative reviews. When I have a less than ideal experience, I try to consider that it might be an off night for the restaurant and that other people have different tastes. But I have to balance that with an accurate description of what a restaurant serves me. And the burgers I got on a recent visit to Firkin in Libertyville were so poorly executed that if not indicative of the usual fare at the restaurant, represents a very serious problem with quality control.

I approached Firkin with high expectations. The bar and grill, open since 1998, has a good reputation and its menu is packed with food and drink from high quality producers. And the beef for the burgers is no exception as the offerings include grass-fed beef from Tallgrass and Wagyu beef from Akaushi cows. I have no doubt that there are times when Firkin does justice to the quality of meat they serve, but the burgers I tried were an affront to cows and the people who raise them.

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The first burger I tried was one made from Wagyu beef and topped with Butterkase cheese, which I requested rare. The first sign that something was less than ideal was the nearly white iceberg lettuce on top.

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When I removed the lettuce, I encountered a far more disturbing sight: The cheese was not melted. There was only one possible explanation for that and one bite of the burger proved it: The beef was lukewarm.

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Sadly, the problems with the patty did not stop with the temperature; it was also cooked well past the requested rare. Although overcooked, the burger was fairly juicy, which I appreciated. The flavor of the meat was good but not great. Ordinarily when I have a patty that doesn't sing with beefiness I assume it's a reflection of the quality of the meat. Here, given the carelessness with which the rest of the burger was constructed, I have to assume the lack of flavor in the otherwise high quality meat is a freshness issue and the blame falls squarely on Firkin.

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While the first burger disappointed my dining companion and I, the second burger actually made both of us angry. Like the first one, this patty was overcooked and served at a temperature that wasn't in the same zip code as hot. And the lettuce was once again pale iceberg, although this time it had the added disadvantage of including part of the core. All of that was bad, but it was the cheese that was really a shocking slap in my burger-eating face. Not only was it inexplicably served on top of the cold vegetables, ensuring that it had no chance of melting even if the burger had been hot, but the crumbled discolored edges made the whole thing repugnant.

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The meat on this patty was also a step down from the other burger. The grass-fed beef had no shot at retaining much juice when it was overcooked and the dry burger was not a particularly enjoyable chew. The bun, from Labriola, was very good but had no chance of rescuing the burger.

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While fries could not have saved the meal, good ones would still have been nice. Sadly, these things looked and tasted like they came out of an Ore-Ida bag. We opted for the Asian coleslaw as our other side and it was appreciably better, though there's only so much that can be done with cabbage and a generic Asian dressing.

Despite my miserable experience with the burgers at Firkin, they have to be capable of doing a much better job. The place has been around for over a decade, draws a good crowd, and 64 Yelpers have collectively awarded 4.5 stars. Moreover, the meat and bun they use are simply too good to think the burgers are always bad.

That said, the burgers I was served didn't merely slip through a crack in preparation and supervision—they fell through a gaping hole. Has anyone out there had a quality burger at Firkin?