October 30, 2010

Burger King Deliberates the More Mindful Burger

On a sunny and seasonably cool October Sunday afternoon, with lunch time upon us, the Burger King and one of his burger minions journeyed to a fairly recent addition to Chicago’s burger scene: Epic Burger.

A number of burger houses have popped up all over Chicago in the past few years. Based in a relatively bustling strip of Lincoln Park near North Avenue, Epic, not unlike rivals such as Five Guys or The Counter, isn’t necessarily an upscale dining establishment, but it is leaps and bounds above traditional fast food eateries. Touted as a “more mindful” burger, Epic offers patrons an assortment of refined options to assist in building their desired burger, including cage-free organic eggs and whole-wheat buns. Choice alternatives are available for those looking to avoid red meat, such as all-natural chicken breast or portabella mushroom sandwiches. Still, the burger reigns supreme at Epic, and burgers are this king’s business.

The hungry handful in line ahead of his Majesty dissipated swiftly upon our arrival, making the wait time quick and painless. For the King, the choice was simple: The all-natural Epic burger (a double) with house sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, raw onions, pickles, and Wisconsin cheddar on a whole-wheat bun. Unfortunately, Epic lost some points on serve time, with the order finally arriving after what seemed like well, an epic wait!

The first ostensible item of significance was the pool of grease spreading throughout the brown paper bag in which the burger dwelled--not a good initial sign. After peeling back the sopping wet bag, the real work was upon us. Epic burgers don’t resemble traditional burgers. The meat typically isn’t round, and tends to be somewhat flat, making it appear more like a flank steak than a hamburger. With the first bite, a number of mainly positive sensations ran over the palette. The lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles were all crisp and fresh, with some melty, flavorful cheddar sitting right on top. Even so, those few pleasantries couldn’t mask the two main detractors of the experience: the unoriginal Epic sauce covering the greasy main event.

For starters, this “Epic sauce” differs little from the Thousand Island dressing on McDonald’s Big Mac. Considering that Epic’s prices aren’t exactly competitive with Mickey D's, this was a notable disappointment. Even more unacceptable was the excessive spattering of grease lurking within. This ground beef had been violated, so much so that it could barely keep itself together, crumbling apart after each bite. As the halfway point approached, few features of the burger were able to triumph over the extreme grease seeping from the meat. The bitter (or, more appropriately, oily) end was not far off. The remaining half was abandoned, transported to the nearest receptacle for prompt termination.

Despite the favorable reviews from legions of faithful Chicago locals, this is not a burger worth exploring. Costs are steep for the experience, and the experience is unsatisfactory, clocking in at nearly $10 for a double cheeseburger by its lonesome. In this type of burger class, whereby diners aren’t looking for burgers on either end of the price spectrum, Five Guys remains the ruling champion.