A Road Tips reader from the Chicago area, Tim Schmidt, sent me an e-mail right around Christmas. Tim has turned me on to a number of burger places in the Chicagoland area over the past couple of years and he informed me of a new place that had opened in late November in Naperville by the name of Meatheads Burgers and Fries. He said, "It's a little bit of a drive for me, but I heard it was good so I wanted to check it out. I was not disappointed."
I'd initially heard about Meatheads Burgers and Fries before from friends down in the Bloomington/Normal, IL area. Meatheads began in Bloomington in late 2007 and is situated in a strip mall off of Veteran's Parkway (see map). The managing partner, Tom Jednorowicz, was instrumental in the development and growth of the Potbelly sandwich shop chain. A local Bloomington entrepreneur, Kurt Petterle - who owns a number of Qdoba Mexican food outlets in Iowa and Illinois - hooked up with Tom Jed, as he's known to his friends, to open a burger joint that makes fresh, made-to-order burgers and crisp hand-cut fries. And brought in to help secure property for the new venture was Doug Reichl, president of the Tartan Realty Group in Chicago.
The success of Meatheads Burgers in Bloomington fueled plans to expand the business into other cities, most notably Champaign, Springfield and the Chicago suburbs. So far, I believe the only two locations are in Bloomington and in Naperville on the far west side of Chicago.
Located on 75th St. near Route 59 in southwest Naperville (see map), Meatheads Burgers was off my regular route on my way home during my last trip before my first hip replacement. But I wanted to give it a try just to see if the burgers were as good as advertised. In the midst of strip malls that seem to be going up on a weekly basis along 75th St., I was able to find Meatheads on the corner of one such mall. I was able to get parking right up front and I walked in. The place was packed for lunch.
Immediately, the place reminded me of a Five Guys Burgers place - it had the big menu board on the wall behind the counter, the kitchen was open and they were making a big deal of using a manual potato cutter for the fresh cut french fries. The seating area wasn't as large as the Five Guys Burgers I was at recently in the Kansas City area, but it had some booth and bench seating, as well as a window ledge with high back chairs. (Photo at right from the Bloomngton Meatheads location.)
And very much like Five Guys Burgers, Meatheads has a number of toppings you can add to your burger. And just like Five Guys Burgers, Meatheads has the thin french fries that you can order regular or Cajun style. Hmm... Both offer hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches. I'm starting to see a monumental rip-off of the Five Guys Burgers concept.
About the only thing different is that Meatheads features five or six eclectic burgers on their menu. Burgers, such as, the Philly - a burger topped with American cheese, roasted red peppers, grilled onions, sauteed mushrooms and Mayo; or the Californian - Monterrey Jack cheese, avocado, sauteed mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and Wasabi cucumber sauce. A couple of the featured burgers - like the Cajun Surprise (bacon, Cajun seasoned fried egg, Monterrey Jack cheese, jalapenos, lettuce, tomato topped with a blue cheese dressing) sounded kind of good.
Actually, the toppings offered were rather tempting. But I thought I needed to just try the basic Meatheads burger - two patties on a toasted bun topped with ketchup, yellow mustard, Mayo, lettuce, tomato and your choice of raw or fried onions. So I ordered up The Meathead, sans the Mayo, and had them put a slice of Swiss cheese on the top. I decided to try their regular fries, although I knew that I wouldn't eat all of them. And I ordered a bottle of water. I hadn't had a soda pop in well over two months.
You could tell a number of people had never been to Meatheads before as many in front of me were all standing and looking at the menu board not knowing what to get. Finally, the person at the cash register said, "If anyone is ready to order, I'll take your order."
I stepped up past two or three couples or groups and made my order. I paid at the register and they gave me a number to take with me so they could bring my order out to me when it was done.
I waited a little less than 10 minutes before my food came out. The burger, wrapped in paper, was oozing cheese and condiments and smelled wonderful. The fries were thin and crisp and I detected a little amount of seasoning on them. Nothing overpowering, but pleasant to the taste. (Picture at left courtesy LTH Forum.)
From my first bite of my Meatheads burger to the last, I was impressed. OK, so it was a solid rip-off of Five Guys Burgers. But I was able to get around that with each bite. The meat and toppings were fresh and flavorful. It was a very good burger, to say the least.
While I was eating lunch, a manager came over and asked, "How's everything tasting?"
I said, "It's good, thanks."
He said, "You've been in here before, haven't you?"
I replied, "No, this is my first visit. I live out in the Quad Cities."
He said, "The Quad Cities?! That's quite a way to come for lunch, isn't it?" He was obviously joking.
I said, "No, I've been in the area on business for the past few days and wanted to stop in and give you guys a try."
He asked, "So, what do you think?"
I said, "I think you guys need to put one in the Quad Cities before someone puts a Five Guys Burgers there."
He said that expansion plans were underway, but he didn't know the exact time table or where they would be popping up next.
He then said, "So, I take it that you've eaten at a Five Guys Burgers before. How do we compare?"
I was honest with him. "This is a good burger," pointing to my half-eaten Meathead burger. "It's very similar to Five Guys. In fact, the whole place and menu is very much like Five Guys. I don't want to accuse you guys of ripping off the Five Guys concept, but you've done a very good job of emulating their system."
I was impressed with Meatheads Burgers. Yes, it's a blatant rip-off of the Five Guys Burgers concept, but it will do well until Five Guys garners a foothold in Illinois. As I told the manager in Naperville, I will be back. And I want to try a Meathead burger topped with a fried egg, jalapeno, roasted peppers, sauteed mushrooms. And bacon. Can't forget the bacon. I may not be able to taste the burger meat, but I'm guessing the overall taste sensations will be wonderful.