I figured I would do a post on burgers for a few reasons:
- I had a burger at Kuma’s and Davanti Enoteca this week.
- Burgers are delicious, affordable, agreeable, and low key and thus good for early-fall-quarter catch up dinners.
- 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.)
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.
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.