My first visit to Cafe Bolero in Chicago (click here to read that entry), I have to say that I was disappointed in my Cuban sandwich that I got there. But two of the guys from Music Direct who went to lunch with me had their special burger - a burger where you can stuff with ingredients such as cheese, olives, onions, jalapenos and a few other things. It's sort of like a Jucy (Juicy) Lucy from the Twin Cities. I was back at Music Direct in Chicago not long ago and their product manager, Jason, and I were putting together a big Focal order. He said, "Are you hungry? Want to get some lunch?"
I said, "Yeah, sure." He suggested going over to Salerno's, knowing how much I love their pizza, plus it's close by. But I said, "What about that Cuban place where you guys took me to that had the good burgers?"
He said, "Oh, uh, Cafe Bolero? Yeah, we can go over there. It's a bit of a drive, but, yeah, we can go there."
It was about a 10 minute drive over to and up N. Western Ave. to the corner of Belden, just south of Fullerton where Cafe Bolero sits in the Logan Square neighborhood (see map). We found ample parking on Belden west of Western and it was a short walk back to the restaurant. It wasn't as busy as it was on my first visit, but just one waitress was working the tables in the main dining area up front. We sat at a window table and looked over the menu.
I did remember that we got some outrageous tapas appetizers on my first visit a couple years ago. I knew I wanted the burger, but I wanted to try some of their papas rellena - beef-stuffed potato balls. Jason was keen on getting some of their croquetas, Cafe Bolero's ham croquettes. Jason looked down the menu and said, "Oh, hey! They have a combo plate with both of those on there along with a tamale (ham stuffed, Cuban style), and chicken plantains." OK, that's fine with me.
We ordered up the appetizer/tapas combo and we went ahead and ordered our burgers at the same time. I got the Cafe Bolero special burger with cheese and jalapenos. Jason ordered one with olives and cheese. But about five minutes after he ordered, he got buyers remorse. "Geez, I really like olives, but I should have ordered it with onions. Oh, well. I already ordered it up."
We discussed some business up to the time that the waitress brought out the tapas appetizers. The first thing I had was one of the potato balls (upper part of the plate). They have seasoned ground beef encased in the potato ball. They're just fabulous.
The ham croquettes (in the center of the plate) were the next on my menu. I tried some of the sweet and peppery sauce on them and it was a killer taste sensation. Jason said, "I think I can make that sauce." I don't know what they called it, but it was great.
We split the Cuban tamale, stuffed with ham. Only it was more of a pulled pork than what I'd call ham. It, too, was excellent. It had a salty taste to it and the tamale breading around the pork was light and flaky. With the sweet pepper sauce, it was just outstanding.
Last, but certainly not least on the tapas appetizer plate, were the chicken-stuffed plantains. I'm not big on plantains, but these were pretty damn good. Once again, the sauce helped.
The most wonderful thing about this plate of appetizers is that it was only $9 bucks. It was excellent and I highly recommend getting it if you go.
Not long after we finished up the tapas appetizers, our burgers showed up. Somewhat serendipitously, the waitress sat Jason's burger down in front of him and said, "I'm sorry, this one is onions and cheese. I think you ordered olives and cheese."
Jason was ecstatic. "No, no! This is great! I thought about five minutes after I ordered that I would have rather had onions and cheese instead of olives and cheese. This is perfect!"
My burger was served on a lightly toasted sesame seed bun. Lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles came on the side. No ketchup or mustard, but that's OK. It smelled heavenly. I couldn't wait for my first bite.
Oh, man! It was juicy, had a great flavor and was oozing with American cheese. The jalapeno slices were chopped up enough where you got a little bit of a spicy bite with each mouthful of the burger. But the jalapeno slices, to me, weren't all that spicy. I thought later on that I should have probably got it without the jalapeno in the burger and gone with the onion instead. Next time.
Jason was chowing down on his burger and he said, "Isn't this great? How in the world can a Cuban restaurant have such a good burger?"
The burger, itself, was a belly buster. With the tapas appetizers and then the burger on top of them, I was stuffed. I took Jason back to the office and then took off to go home to Iowa. The burger continued to hang with me through the evening, so much that I didn't even have dinner that night. But, oh! Was it good.
While I don't know if the Cafe Bolero Special burger would make the Top Ten of my Best Burgers List, I'd have to give them a high honorable mention. The hand-pattied, stuffed burger is big and flavorful. The only thing that draws it down a bit is the bun which I found to be sort of lifeless and didn't add to the overall taste of the burger. I really dig Cafe Bolero and now that I've had the burger, I'll have to go back to get the Medionoche (Midnight) sandwich which, I understand, is the closest thing to a true Cuban sandwich that Cafe Bolero has. But in that same vein, Jason told me that he'd take me to a place that has the best "true" Cuban sandwiches in Chicago.
Either way, I can't wait...
(Update - I went back to Cafe Bolero in late 2013 to try a Cuban sandwich, but I was bummed to find out that they had closed. Oh well...)