I have a small dealer in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago who I see from time to time. We had a meeting one evening recently and afterward I asked him if he wanted to go grab a bite to eat at Smokin' T's, a nearby very good barbecue joint that he turned me on to a couple three years ago. (Click here to see my entry on Smokin' T's.) He begged off citing family plans, but he said, "Hey, if you're looking for a fun place to eat, there's this place up the road in Wauconda that has these outrageously great cheeseburgers and duck fat fries." That piqued my interest and asked him to tell me more about a place called Bulldogs Grill. He said, "It's like a 50's diner, but they have a chef and all these wild cheeseburger concoctions. It's about a 10 minute drive from here." Even though it was in the opposite direction of my hotel that particular evening, on my way out of his place I decided to take his enthusiastic advice and hang a left instead of going right at the stop sign down the road to go up to Bulldogs Grill.
From what I can determine, Bulldogs opened around 2009 in Wauconda. The small Lake County town was undergoing a transformation from a sleepy lakeside community to a restaurant destination for the people in the area as well as vacationers. Aaron Aagerwal had been a chef for a number of years and his friend, Joe Kafka, had once been a bartender before he entered the corporate world of banking. After Kafka was laid off after the banking crisis in 2008, he decided to partner with Aagerwal to open Bulldogs Grill in an old restored building on Wauconda's Main Street. Today, Bulldogs sits smack dab in the middle of a number of cafes, pubs and other restaurants in downtown Wauconda.
I drove in front of Bulldogs Grill just around 7:30 p.m. on a weeknight evening (see map). There was a parking spot just down the street and I was able to pull in easily. Because Bulldogs also sells ice cream by the scoop, there were a number of people that were milling about in front of the place enjoying their cones. I walked in behind a family of five people and had time to take a look around the place before I ordered at the front counter.
The main area as you come into Bulldogs is set up like you'd find a 50's style diner. The area was heavy on the black and white tile, bright fluorescent lighting, a counter with old style stools, and art-deco style tables and chairs on the opposite wall from the counter. Bulldogs also had a number of pictures and articles on the wall touting the awards they've won in the short while they've been in business.
Bulldogs Grill features a "Man Cave" in the back part of the restaurant that has somewhat softer lighting, a couple of flat screen televisions that were turned on to baseball games, some posters and a smattering of tables. It was more spacious than the front area, but it was still cozy enough. I figured that I'd just sit back there after I ordered.
I went back up to the counter as the family was just finishing up with their order. Looking over the menu board, in addition to the burgers, Bulldogs also has a number of hot dogs on the menu including the "Baconator" - a bacon-wrapped hot dog, deep-fried, then placed on a bun before being topped with chili and cheese. Oh ho ho! My arteries hardened up after reading that! They also have Philly cheese steak sandwiches, pulled pork and chicken sandwiches, as well as a handful of Mexican entrees including tacos, enchiladas, and deep-fried fish tacos that are marinated in a chile lime sauce, and a number of wraps and flatbread sandwiches. And Bulldogs Grill is famous for their award winning wings made in a homemade Buffalo sauce. For the health conscious, they also have soups, salads and a kids menu. Kafka's and Aagarwal's philosophy is to buy their food fresh and local, and to provide a great value for what they serve.
But I wanted a burger. And with 36 different burgers on the menu, Bulldogs Grill has a wide array of toppings and combinations to choose from. I was interested in about four or five of them - The Area 51 burger (named after the secret testing military base in Nevada) had green chiles, pepper jack cheese, guacamole and a spicy mayo on it. The Shroomer had mushrooms and provolone cheese on it. The California BLT burger had avocado, bacon, cheddar cheese and chipotle mayo on top of the 9 oz. burger. And just the regular bacon cheeseburger looked interesting to me.
The menu also features a "challenge burger" - the Bluto Burger. If someone can eat the four 1/2 burger patties, grilled onions and pepper jack cheese with Bulldogs apple barbecue sauce, with each burger topped with 3 pieces of applewood smoked bacon, jalapeno cream cheese and then finished off with a stack of onion rings - along with a pound of french fries - in 30 minutes or less, you get a t-shirt and your name on the Bluto Burger Hall of Fame. While I was standing in line to order, a waiter brought out this Bluto Burger to two young guys, both of whom were going to share the plate (above right). But as you can see by look and posture of the one guy, they were beginning to have second thoughts about what they ordered.
By the time I got around to order, I had found out that the duck fat fries were only available on Friday nights. Sort of a bummer, but, oh well, that was fine with me. But I saw something else that got my attention - garlic parmesan fries. And they were only something like $2.50 for a small side of them. I decided on getting the hangover burger - the 9 oz. never-frozen patty topped with a fried egg, bacon and American cheese to go along with the fries. And to drink, I got a couple bottles of ice cold Capital Supper Club beer. I was given a number and went to find a seat back in the "Man Cave".
It takes a while to get your food at Bulldogs Grill. Good burgers take time to cook. Plus the kitchen area isn't all that large and when they get a good sized crowd in there they can get backed up. The food orders are picked up at the counter next to the kitchen and brought out to the table. The wait staff yells out the number and the more they have to yell the number to get the attention of the person whose order they have, the louder they get.
I'm glad I got in when I did. Even though they closed at 8 p.m., they had a large group of motorcycle riders - mainly older gentlemen - who came in and ordered food just before they closed. About 20 of them came back and took over the remaining tables in the back room. It suddenly became a little loud and crowded back there.
After about a 20 minute wait after I ordered, a waitress came back with my burger and fries. For a small order, I knew the fries would be too much. Just looking at the size of the burger, I knew this was going to be a lot of food for me to try to finish. In fact, the burger was so big that I had to cut it in half before I could even handle picking it up.
The taste of the burger was very, very good. Even though the egg slid off the burger when I made my first bite, I could get enough the taste of it to know that it went well with the taste of the fresh burger meat. The crown of the gourmet bun had a crispy outer shell with a light and chewy inner core. Two large pieced of bacon criss-crossed the burger and the American cheese was thickly melted on to the burger, itself. The flat grill taste of the burger was delicious. It was a very outstanding burger. And a great value for $6.50! I've had burgers like this for nearly twice the price that didn't taste as good as the one at Bulldogs Grill.
The parmesan and garlic fries were as good as advertised. They were covered in parmesan cheese that had crusted onto the fries. I couldn't find any hint of fresh garlic on the fries, but I was guessing that it was there because they had a wonderful forward garlic taste. I was glad that I didn't have to talk to anyone else that particular evening because my breath would have warded off vampires for a two-mile radius. If this was a small order, I'd hate to see what a large order would be. A small order would easily satiate two people, if not as many as four, mainly because they were so rich. I could only finish about a quarter of what they brought to me.
They brought out a double cheeseburger to one of the guys who were in the motorcycle club. He sort of looked at the two 9 oz. burgers piled on top of one another in wonderment. The size of one burger is huge at Bulldogs Grill - you can almost imagine what two look like.
This is the second time my small dealer in the far NW suburbs has turned me on to a great place to eat. Maybe I need to go see him more often, especially in the late afternoon. The burgers at Bulldogs Grill have been voted the best in Lake County for the past couple of years. And it's no wonder. The burger I had was simply one of the best burgers I've ever had. I don't know how they could get topped, unless they open a second location - just like they recently did in nearby Grayslake. Bulldogs Grill is a long way from most places in the Chicagoland area, but if you're ever around the far north suburbs you need to seek the place out. You won't be disappointed.