I've been monitoring a blog site called The Chicago Burger Project for a couple months now. Regular Road Tips reader Tim Schmidt sent me the link and I've been looking through it trying to find new and unusual places for a good burger in Chicago. Some I already knew about, others the blog turned me on to.
One place they talked about that I had been to before, but never had a burger at, is the Goose Island Brew Pub in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago (see map). Goose Island is probably the most well-known of all the brewery/brew pubs in Chicago. Since 1988, the Goose Island Brew Pub on Clybourn has been the place to get good food with good beer. Their Honker's Ale is a pretty good beer. And I've eaten in there a couple three times over the years.
One of our big dealers, Tweeter, opened a new location just up the street from the Goose Island brew pub earlier this year. During a visit recently, I decided to go to Goose Island and try one of their burgers. I was done for the day so I knew I could also have a couple beers with my meal.
Parking at the Clybourn location can be a little tricky, especially during the peak hours. But it was around 2 p.m. when I got there and I was able to park in the parking lot in front of the brew pub. The main dining area was closed, but they directed me into the bar area. That was fine with me. The greeter gave me a menu and told me to sit where I liked.
I took a seat at a high table near the bar and waited for a waitress to show up. It took nearly five minutes before one walked over to take my order. She asked if I wanted something to drink first and I told her I'd take a Honker's Ale. As she was getting to walk away I said, "I know what I'd like to order for food, too."
She seemed surprised and came back. "Oh! OK. What can I get you?"
I was reading on the Chicago Burger Project blog site about the Stilton burger Goose Island serves. It's a half-pound black pepper-encrusted burger topped with Stilton cheese, roasted garlic cloves, and German mustard served on pumpernickel bread. I'd never had Stilton cheese before, which is basically blue cheese from England, and I was sort of worried if the combination of the garlic cloves and cheese would overpower the taste of the burger. I also got an order of fries on the side.
Lincoln Park is actually one of my favorite places to go to in Chicago. A lot of the older buildings in the Lincoln Park area have been turned into retail establishments or restaurants long after the factories and warehouses in the area moved out. They've done an excellent job of gentrifying the area.
The Goose Island Brewery and Brew Pub was opened by John Hall in the late 80's. Hall, a University of Iowa graduate, had a 20-year career working for a container company and read about "boutique" beers in an airline magazine during a delay. He decided to open a brew pub in the burgeoning trendy area of Lincoln Park.
Hall named the brew pub and his beers "Goose Island" after a nearby island that is formed by a fork in the Chicago River. It is just west of the corner of Halsted and Division and just south of Goose Island's Clybourn location.
The brew pub and their beers became an immediate success. Hall's son, Greg, was the assistant brewmaster of the facility. The original brewmaster was Jim Cibak, who eventually went on to the Three Floyd's brewery in Munster, IN. In 1995, the Goose Island brewery moved to a larger facility on West Fulton in Chicago. In 1999, they opened a second brew pub location near Wrigley Field.
Goose Island currently brews 14 beers with six of them full-time selections and eight seasonal beers. They now bottle over 600,000 cases of beer annually, making them one of the Midwest's largest craft brewers. They have the capabilities of being able to brew 1.6 million cases of beer annually.
In 2006, Widmer Brothers brewery in Oregon - of which brewing giant Anheuser-Busch owns 40 percent of the stock - purchased a minority, yet significant share of Goose Island brewery. This will allow Goose Island beers to be sold to bars, restaurants and stores through A-B's channel of distributors across the nation and in the United Kingdom. That will help get their capacity up to 1.6 million cases pretty quick.
After about 20 minutes and another Honker's Ale, my waitress brought out my burger. I took a bite into it and was pleasantly surprised. The burger was cooked a perfect medium, the Stilton cheese and the roasted garlic enhanced the taste and didn't overpower the burger. The Stilton was much milder than other blue cheeses I've had on a burger. Sometimes I like that forward taste blue cheese gives a burger, but this didn't have it. And I certainly didn't reek of garlic after finishing the burger.
I was happy that Tweeter opened down the street from Goose Island brew pub. I thought that would be a great place to go to when I went in to visit the store. But it wasn't long after I was there when it was announced Goose Island was closing their doors at the Clybourn location by the end of the year as their lease expired and they couldn't work out a deal with the landlord. The Wrigleyville location would stay open, however.
Man! What a bummer! I was looking forward to more Stilton burgers and beer at Goose Island. I'm sure parking is a complete bitch up in the Wrigleyville area, so I probably won't head up there any time soon. Still, having a Stilton burger with a Honker's Ale may be worth a drive-by to see if any parking slots are open. The burger was that good.