There’s no denying that a “full on” burger war is being waged these days. Everywhere I seem to go, claims to have these new “premium” burgers. Some would even have you believe that they either invented the concept, or that they are taking it to new heights.
Even the old burger vet’s like Wendy’s & McDonalds are rethinking their strategies based on the onslaught being brought on by the new fast food “up and comer” chains of 5-Guys, Smashburger & Red Robin, which are popping up on every open corner in the country.
But if you look deep into your heart, and face the truth, we all know that these chains are really “just” chains. Hot grills manned by what amounts to teeny bopper cooks who are flipping burgers. Doing their best to meet large volumes of mindless consumption by the marketing driven masses. Oh sure, most manage to do an “adequate” job when it comes to making those burgers, but that’s about it. After all, there is no pride or craftsmanship at stake here, and that’s a fact. And that’s the reason that it’s hard, if not impossible, to bottle up and mass produce the secret ingredients of high quality, mature cooking skills and determined care and bring it to any fast food or chain establishment.
Which goes to one of the most basic elements of great food; you can teach just about anyone to be a cook, but you have be educated, trained and then gain real experience in order to become a chef.
And why do you need a chef to make a burger? Because I’m talking about real burgers.
Thick (1/2 lb. or greater) fresh ground beef made into loosely hand formed meat patty’s. Hand seasoned on the grill or griddle to form a glorious caramelized flavored meat crust that sears in the meats juices. So that when that burger is bitten into, the tender juicy pure beef center releases a wave of flavors with just the right balance of juices intermingled with crust to give you that euphoric mouth feel of savory cooked perfection.
But there’s more to a burger than just cooking great meat, a truly great burger is, if anything, a masterpiece of layered flawlessness. The bun for example is soft, yet unyielding, a barrier of baked flavor that serves as the protector of the meat package. It can’t be too thick, or large. It should never dominate the meat in such a way that the juices soak into it before it hits your eager awaiting pallet, and never should it dissolve in your hands, falling way useless and worn, nor should it be so dense and thick that it takes more chew than that of the meat itself.
Proper burger construction is key; even the placement of moisture barriers such as lettuce or mayo, which shield the bun from sogginess, and the right balance of toppings weigh into making the perfect burger. And lastly; presentation. Only a chef would know how to build such a perfect burger, and only a chef would care so much about such minute details, and that is exactly why only a chef can turn the ordinary burger into a masterpiece.
And that my friends, is what finally brings us to Bulldogs Grill in Wauconda (and soon in Grayslake as well). Bulldogs has a chef running the kitchen of this 50’s looking diner, which has a menu that spans a wide range of good eats that go from salads and wings, to fish tacos, Italian beef and hot dogs and then focuses squarely on over 30 different burger creations, plus a few specials of the day. The chef and his partner have created an all star line up of burgers like no other place that I’ve seen before. Most of the burger creations start with a 1/2 lb. hand formed patty atop a fresh soft local bakery bun and then pile on stuff, lots and lots of stuff… each burger is a unique masterpiece in its own right.
As my eyes scanned double staked chalkboards with 6 columns of options, my brain was nearly overwhelmed by the burger combinations that were available. Varied from your standard single 1/2 lb. hamburger/cheeseburger, to the wildly complex, creative and even humorous specials of the day.
Take for example the Scarlett Johansson: a burger with cream cheese, jalapenos, bacon and apple bbq sauce, or the Texas Tornado (pictured) which has Frito’s, grilled onions, avocado, jalapenos & salsa. I opted for the Double D: a double 1/2 lb. cheeseburger with grilled onions & bacon, all for under $9. I was stuffed well beyond reasonable capacity, and I couldn’t even finish it. But I’ll bet I fared better than whoever goes for the one called the Triple Bypass burger; two grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with a burger, cheese, bacon, lettuce & tomato, and more cheese!!
Normally burgers this great would be more than enough to get me to fall hard for a place all on their own, but my review just wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention that the hand mixed milkshakes and hand cut fries were OUTSTANDING as well. They really are good, I practically demolished a large plastic basket of fries on my own, well, OK maybe I had some help, but I did eat a ton of them!
Overall, Bulldogs is one of the best burger experiences I’ve ever had, along with some really great shakes and fries too. I was impressed by the great personalities and ease of comfort that I felt while eating there with my friends, who all not only loved what they ate, but also seemed to have a great time talking with Joe the owner and the rest of the fun Bulldog’s staff.