I was reading through the Chicago Tribune awhile back and came across an article on a place in the Little Italy section of Chicago - Three Aces. Actually, the article focused on chef Matt Troost, whose "Ace" burger won the "People's Choice" award at the annual Hamburger Hop, the kick-off to Bon Appetite magazine's Chicago Gourmet event held in Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. Not only did the burger sound good - a 50-50 mix of prime chuck and sirloin - but Three Aces, on its own, sounded pretty neat as they bill themselves as a neighborhood joint with rock and roll. I had some time to kill before a meeting in downtown Chicago recently and I easily found Three Aces on Taylor Street (see map).
Co-owners Anthony Potenzo and Lyle Aker opened Three Aces in the fall of 2010 on the east end of Chicago's Little Italy. Both had bar/restaurant experience in the past - Potenzo with Gianotti's, and the iconic (and recently closed) Jilly's Piano Bar on Rush St.; and Aker with Whiskey Sky and Five Star. The pair recruited Troost, who worked at the former Fianco restaurant and the Peninsula Hotel, to come in and fine-hone the menu which features an emphasis on "farm-to-fork" food. Or as Aker once said, "Three Aces is like the Italian countryside meets the American farmhouse, in Keith Richards' basement bar." I absolutely had to try this place.
In addition to the Ace Burger, Three Aces features a number of menu items with an Italian twist including mushroom risotto and rye gnocchi. Seafood items on the menu featured scallops, cioppino and beer steamed mussels, while meat choices included steaks from Slagle Family Farms, braised pork chops and porchetta meatballs. They also have a handful of small pizzas - called pizzettas - one of which features short rib beef with mushrooms, a roasted garlic cream sauce, blue cheese and au jus. That actually sounded pretty interesting to me. Three Aces also has an extensive brunch menu that is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
Arriving after the lunch rush, I was greeted by Erin, a very pleasant urban chic young lady with piercings and tattoos. She told me I could sit anywhere. There were a number of high tables in the bar area up front, with a smattering of booths along the wall. There was another room toward the back that was void of any diners at that time. Contemporary rock music was playing at an acceptable level and the whole place had a dark edge to it, yet a somewhat cozy and welcome feel.
Three Aces also has a number of eclectic beers from throughout the U.S. with an emphasis on many microbrews from the Midwest. Erin dropped off a menu with me and asked what I wanted to drink. I saw that they had one of my favorite pale ale beers available on tap that day - Great Lakes Burning River out of Cleveland. I asked if she could bring me one of those.
There's artwork throughout the Three Aces with one of the most noteworthy being the Three Aces sign out front that was designed by Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick has works of art hanging in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, as well as in the Art Institute of Chicago. Fitzpatrick has also designed album covers for the likes of Steve Earle, the Neville Brothers and Lou Reed. In conjunction with Three Aces, Fitzpatrick hosted an "Outcast and Newcomers" art show on the patio last summer. Many of the works of art throughout Three Aces are from artists who were featured in the art show. (Picture above right courtesy Time Out Chicago.)
Although many of the items on the menu looked pretty good and interesting, I was there for the Ace Burger - a 50/50 mix of prime chuck and sirloin, topped aged Wisconsin white cheddar cheese, bacon jam (Oh yeah!), aioli, red onion slices and mesclun greens and served on a pretzel bun. In doing some research on the Ace Burger, I also found that there is a secret ingredient added to the beef - bone marrow salt. To make bone marrow salt, Troost packs fresh bone marrow in salt for six months to allow for the meat flavor to blend into the salt. When Erin came back with my beer, I told her that I'd take the Ace Burger - cooked medium. She told me fries with a side of homemade ketchup came with the burger. That was fine. The one caveat I asked for was the aioli on the side. Erin said, "No problem!"
Good food takes time and I was able to finish my beer and order another from Erin before she brought out my burger. A large pretzel bun stood majestically on top of the thick ground chuck/sirloin burger patty. Hand cut French fries sat on the side next to the garlic aoili and a small container of what I thought to be homemade ketchup. The aged white cheddar cheese was melted down the side of the burger patty. A dill pickle spear that was marinated in hops and garlic completed the scene on the plate.
The first bite of the Ace Burger yielded an "Ummm..." from yours truly. The pretzel bun had a crunch to the outside and a soft, doughy consistency on the inside. The burger was thick, juicy and extremely flavorful. Even without the bone marrow salt, it still would have been an outstanding burger. I had to end up cutting it in half because with all the cheese oozing off the burger, it was getting kind of messy. Erin came over to check on me and after I told her how great the burger was, I immediately asked her for another cloth napkin. Actually, a beach towel would have probably come in more handy as it was a juicy and cheesy burger.
My all-time favorite gourmet burger is the one I had at the Atwood Cafe in downtown Chicago (click here to see that entry). But I have to say that the Ace Burger at Three Aces gave it a run for its money. I loved everything about Three Aces - the edgy atmosphere, the eclectic beer menu, the great burger. I'd like to come back in the summertime and have an Ace Burger on the outside patio (it's a parking lot in the winter time). I was absolutely blown away by the burger at Three Aces. It's clearly one of the best gourmet burgers I've ever had.