Kuma’s and Davanti – Burgers and Beer

I figured I would do a post on burgers for a few reasons:

  1. I had a burger at Kuma’s and Davanti Enoteca this week.
  2. Burgers are delicious, affordable, agreeable, and low key and thus good for early-fall-quarter catch up dinners.
  3. I have not updated in a while and sometimes when this happens I get yelled at (I’m starting to think the only thing less cool than having an eating blog is having a poorly maintained eating blog.)
This is problematic.

Burgers are delicious.

Kuma’s

I landed back in Chicago last Wednesday and somehow the stars were in line and I ended up going to Kuma’s a few hours after I arrived in Hyde Park and ran some errands.  We left at 9:00 and arrived some time after that, happy to find that there was no wait.  This was my second trip to Kuma’s and the time before our five-top waited about an hour for a table [This was thankfully a shorter wait than the touristy-looking couple who had arrived before us were made to sit out.  The rumors about wait-time discrimination appear to be true, though ymmv.]

I had an unmemorable beer while I pored over the menu and anxiously considered my options and tried to avoid being pressured into ordering Mac’ n Cheese.  I ended up ordering the Plague Bringer, mostly because I had seen it on TV two days prior, which inspired me to return to Kuma’s in the first place.  I ordered another beer – this time a Dogfish Head Midas Touch, which was good.  I tried the milk stout as well, which I also liked.

The Burger: is hefty.  A 10 oz. patty on a pretzel bun with various toppings (in this case, roasted garlic mayo, tortilla strips, hot sauce, garlic, Pepper Jack, and sliced jalapenos)  Served next to a bed of fries – I think these are fresh cut, different from the waffle fries I was served when I came a few months prior.  The fries were acceptable, at the very least they did not distract from the burger (unlike the perfectly crisp fries I had Friday at Del Seoul – a difficult act to follow.)  The burger was spicy hot, by which I mean it hurt me to eat it.  My eyes watered and I saw stars along the dimly lit bar.  In my relatively limited experience, Kuma’s burgers are juicy, a characteristic which is complemented well by the soft and dense pretzel rolls.  The burger toppings are also assisted by the bun (the canvass of the meal) and its springy cushioning – Kuma’s burgers are large, but not top heavy.  The bulk of the mass is concentrated in the bottom half of the bun and everything is held in place by the spongy bun.  Overall, a great burger.  I ended up paying about $30 for two beers and a burger, which is not unreasonable considering I hadn’t eaten that day as I had been traveling.

Davanti Enoteca

I first visited Davanti Enoteca in mid-November of last year, soon after they first opened on West Taylor.  The experience was memorable – we arrived on Saturday around 6:00 as a hungry party of eleven, waited 90 minutes for a table, and left as a happily content party of ten.  This time, I came for dinner with a friend and we arrived at 6:30 on a Monday to no wait.  As it was a Monday, my friend and I both ordered the burger and a beer special for $10, and decided to start with an order of the “vasi” (Tuscan toast and toppings served in small mason jars.)  We went with the buratta, olive oil, and black pepper vasi, which was tasty but not transcendent.  Buratta is an exceptionally creamy and delicious form of mozzarella (sort of a purse of mozzarella filled with ricotta cream, roughly the size of a fist) and the vasi was simple and good but did not exceed my expectations for buratta.

The burger and beer were exceptional.  I had the burger the last time I came and was very happy with my decision.  This time, I had essentially the same burger, plus a pint of Peroni, for a buck less.  I’m not really sure how an $11 burger + $6 beer = $10 burger and beer but that it exists is more important than how.  To be honest, I did not expect a great burger from an Italian wine bar, but the Davanti Burger hits all the right notes.  It’s a decently sized burger (6 oz?) topped with bacon jam, cheese curds, roasted tomatoes, arugala, and garlic mayo.  I’m sure everyone can agree the bacon jam is amazing, but the cheese curds really did it for me in this case (confession time: I am a sucker for ooey melted globs of fat).  The bacon jam adds some extra flavor beneath the patty while gracefully resolving the issue of having to chew through too-thick-too-thin-too-chewy-too-crisp bacon in a burger.  The fries were shoestring, which I do not prefer.  I am not especially particular about my fries but shoestring fries are a pain in the butt to eat.  It take a bit of work to gather four suitable toothpick-like fries and dip them in ketchup together and the reward is only about half of a regular french fry.  That having been said, I ate all of them.

Both burger beer experiences were very good, though in distinctly different ways.  Kuma’s takes its burgers very seriously, as evidenced by their aggressively worded list of rules posted throughout the establishment.  Davanti is more laid back and friendly (the manager stopped by our table after we had settled the bill and thanked us for coming, +1.)  Kuma’s has an extensive list of burgers, each named after a heavy metal band and given a unique set of toppings.  Davanti only has one burger, but it somehow manages to strike a wonderful balance without compromise.  Going to Kuma’s is something of an ordeal, partially because it is in Andersonville, partially because of the wait, partially because of the noise, and largely due to the heft and size of the portions.  Both times I have gone I have cleaned my plate, but not without some sense of struggle or achievement (as a side note, when I went to Kuma’s last week, one of my friends ordered the Dark Castle set of four sliders and managed to eat one and a half.)  Davanti is more manageable, but not less satisfying.

If pressed to evaluate Kuma’s and Davanti quantitatively–

Kuma’s Corner – four stars:
Davanti Enoteca – four and a half stars:

While it may appear through a review of my recent reviews that my rating system suffers from a Yelp-like inflationary problem, rest assured that my reviews are largely centered around the eating experiences I have found to be more interesting and worth sharing, so there is some degree of cherry picking.  Also, I do my best to avoid eating at bad or poorly reviewed restaurants.


A Tale of Two Weekends (Part 1)

I’m happy to report that both food odyssey’s from the past two weeks were completely successful.

The first, in Napa, was a whirlwind daytrip to the gourmet mecca of Yountville in Sonoma county.

For lunch, we ate at Addendum (basically, Ad Hoc to go) and had fried chicken, baby back ribs, pulled pork, corn bread, corn succotash, potato salad, and Chardonnay.  I’ll add commentary in later, but I thought I would upload some pictures first.

Menu for the Day

Menu for the Day

Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Cornbread

Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Cornbread

Baby back ribs, pulled pork, corn bread... corn succotash hanging out in the back.

In short, totally delicious.  Worth 6 hours of driving.  Add this to the category of Michelin quality food for under $20, because each lunch was only $16.50.  Every component was totally perfect, but I’d have to say my favorites were the fried chicken and the cornbread.  The cornbread was wonderfully soft and moist, without being crumbly or soggy.  I think my companion put it best when she remarked “It’s like they took a million needles and injected butter into every crumb.”  Well said.  The chicken was impossibly crispy, flaky, tender, and juicy.  Perfect.

This is the sort of food you can pick up to go eat under a tree by a vineyard a few blocks away and forget what decade you’re in.  Suffice to say, it was an unforgettable lunch (I hope to be back this weekend for more of the same.)

Afterward, we headed over to the Bouchon Bakery to pick up a few pastries from home.  A picture of what I ended up buying:

Clockwise from bottom left: Thomas Keller Oreo (TKO), brioche bun, strawberry almond croissant, plain croissant, paladin roll, a bouchon, and TLC cookie.

Also purchased: macarons and a loaf of olive bread.  These were actually the most delicious things, besides the strawberry croissant.  It was an amazing trip all in all and I can’t wait to go back.  I’ll post pictures from San Francisco and Outside Lands soon, so check back in a few days.


Quick Reviews on All the Restaurants in Hyde Park I’ve ever Gone to (Part 1)

Bonjour Bakery and Cafe

Good fresh bread, even better fresh and slathered with some fresh butter and sea salt or goat cheese.  Pastries are good but expensive.
The French bread here has a finer crumb, which makes it better for cooking with in many recipes (brioche for bread pudding, sliced baguette for crostini, etc).

Cafe Corea

One of the few safe places to sit down and have a good meal in Hyde Park.  (An exaggeration, but not by much)  Staff is friendly and accommodating, I believe the restaurant is family owned.  The Jap Chae is a good bet, as are the hot soups.  Marginally more expensive than most Asian restaurants in Hyde Park, but markedly better.  Comforting food well prepared.

Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen

Overall, disappointing.  Hyde Park’s attempt at a mid-range “Mediterranean” attempts to make up for in ambiance what it lacks in originality and quality of ingredients.  The dishes I’ve sampled have been hit-or-miss, but there is better, cheaper food to be found at the Nile.

Chant

I went here for dinner last spring quarter, I will never come back.  The “Asian fusion” concept is poorly executed in every sense.  The decor and layout are tacky and impractical, and the food is uninspired and in some cases highly contrived.  The reason I have a hard time liking Asian fusion restaurants is that so many times the product of the fusion ends up being a compromise of the originals rather than an innovative and nuanced approach to an old classic.  Noodles Etc’s attempt at a trendy, mid-range fusion restaurant is no better than most cheaper restaurants in Hyde Park.

Edwardo’s Natural Pizza

Edwardo’s offers inconsistent food and consistent poor service.  Giordano’s has better pizza, service, and atmosphere, though it’s farther from the quad.  Either way, the only time I eat deep dish is when I’m going to dinner with friends from out of town, in which case I have better things to do than watch servers argue with each other and ignore patrons for 90 minutes.

Giordano’s

See above.

Harold’s

A must.  Sometimes the quality of the meat is poor, but apparently they have a 7 day return policy (?!) so I guess if you want to, you can ask for a new one.  Or just shell out another $3.51 and wait 10 minutes for a second half dark meal if you’re too embarrassed to ask for a refund.  Perfect when paired with a crisp champagne.

A note: everyone has their own preferences when it comes to ordering Harold’s.  I usually go with the half dark fried hard mild sauce salt and pepper.


Practical Matters – Where to take Visitors with One Day in Chicago

Sometimes people at my school have friends or family visiting for a weekend and want to know where they should dine out.

Of course, faithful readers should know by now that my food answers almost always being with “it depends…” and could likely anticipate that this case should be no different.  Despite my waffling tendencies, I do think it’s possible to build a relatively streamlined food itinerary, which some people should find suitable for their purposes.

An additional introductory note: the methodology behind this system assumes that the briefer the visit, the more valuable the visitor’s time.  In this case, I think it makes sense to start with a small agenda and work up from there.

One day visit:

If you’re looking for a place to get dinner with some old friends, I would recommend The Gage and The Bristol.  Both are very easy to get to VIA public transit and conveniently located in the loop which facilitates expedient sight-seeing.  David Burke’s also has some great lunch offerings, and is a good place to have a great steak during the day.  (During January they had a ShakenSTEAK special, which featured a filet mignon and martini for $15.50)

For lunch, I would recommend The Purple Pig, or (on a weekday) The Blackbird three-course prix fixe (see earlier review).

If your purposes tend more toward catching up than sightseeing, a leisurely brunch may also be a viable avenue to take.  There are tons of decent brunch places sprinkled across the city, but in my mind the most quintessentially Chicago brunch is easiest to find at M. Henry, Longman & Eagle.  Brunch at The Bristol looks similarly irresistible, but I will need to investigate this further to confirm.  I might also add that brunch is a great way to try out some of the best restaurants in the city for about half of what dinner would cost.

Of course, these suggestions are by no means definitive.  They’re just the results of my own experiences with dining in the city.  Though I do think that most of these suggestions hit a good compromise between being accessible, affordable, and showcasing a facet of the Chicago food scene.  I’ll continue to expand this list in the near future.