About a year ago, I had stopped into the Old Orchard Mall in north suburban Skokie to check in with the Apple retail store than was displaying some of our Focal multimedia loudspeakers. I saw a burger joint with a rather bold name - Epic Burger - that I wasn't familiar with. It was around the lunch hour and I thought about stopping in, but the place was packed. I kept Epic Burger in the back of my mind and actually drove by a couple more in downtown Chicago during the course of the next year. I had some time to kill between appointments in Chicago on a recent trip and I was doing a little beer hunting at the Binny's on the southwest edge of the Lincoln Park neighborhood. After leaving there, I looked over at a strip mall next door and saw that there was an Epic Burger location. (see map) I decided to stop in for lunch.
Actually, the Epic Burger in Lincoln Park has been around since June of 2010 and since I usually hit that Binny's on the occasions when I'm in the immediate area, I'm sort of surprised that I hadn't noticed it before. (That's no surprise to my wife who says I'm not very observant...) The first Epic Burger opened in the South Loop area of Chicago near Robert Morris University and the Harold Washington Library in May of 2008. They now have seven locations in the Chicagoland area with plans to open more in 2013.
The man behind Epic Burger is David Friedman (pictured right), a 25-year-plus veteran of the restaurant industry. Friedman was trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has held positions as a restaurant and nightclub owner, an executive chef, a corporate chef, as well as a culinary consultant to restaurants and food manufacturers. Friedman envisioned Epic Burger has a simple burger joint where "less is more", in that having a focused menu will result in better food.
The beef Epic Burger uses is described as all-natural and "humanely raised" using no anti-biotics or hormones in the growing process. All the food at Epic Burger is never frozen and never processed. The buns for the burgers are hand-tossed and baked fresh daily. The eggs they use on some of the burgers are from range-free chickens and the bacon is all nitrate-free. The cheese they use is all from Wisconsin and naturally made and aged. In a world where upscale burger joints are beginning to saturate the market, Epic Burger strives to give their customers a "better burger experience".
Most of the Epic Burger locations are in downtown Chicago near the loop, but the one just north of North Ave. has ample parking in front. That is probably more true during the week than the weekend when the lot can get packed with shoppers. Going into the place and not knowing the drill, I quickly figured out that it was a place that where you order at the counter, then they bring your food to you. The menu is located just above the ordering station. As I said, it's pretty basic. The Epic Burger, alone, is $5.99. From there you can add a second patty for $2 bucks, as well as your choice of lettuce, onions, tomatoes, pickle and "Epic sauce" for free. For a small upcharge each, you can get bacon, an egg, and cheese added. For people who are more health conscious, Epic Burger also has turkey burgers, all-natural grilled chicken sandwiches, and a portabella mushroom burger. They don't serve beer at Epic Burger, but they do have real fruit smoothies, as well as malts or shakes made from all-natural ice cream, or non-fat yogurt along with organic whole, skim or soy milk. I almost felt guilty ordering a burger.
I ordered up a burger - a single - and had them top it with some bacon, aged cheddar cheese, and a fried egg, hard. The counter guy was sort of surprised that I didn't want anything else on the burger - no onions or pickles. He asked if I wanted any fries and even though they did look good, I declined. He gave me a table stand with a number at the top and I took a seat at a table in the middle of the restaurant.
The restaurant, itself, had sort of a contemporary industrial feel to the place. It had high exposed ceiling with a row of booths along the far wall. The table and chairs were heavy and sturdy, and were comfortable to sit in. It was past the lunch rush and the place was a little less than half full. With the concrete floor, big windows looking out to the parking lot and the metal-trussed ceiling, it was sort of loud in the place. But I understand that the new chic restaurants are the ones that are loud.
About 15 minutes after I ordered, the same guy who took my order brought my burger to the table. It had a very good looking bun crown to the burger, crisp on the outside, but flaky inside. The burger patty was smashed on the grill - not my preferred way of making a burger, but it's growing on me. A hard fried egg, cheddar cheese and thick cut bacon adorned the top of the burger. The bun had been toasted to a golden brown and looks like they may have used butter on it before the grilling process.
The first bite yielded a crisp, yet salty taste to the burger. I didn't immediately know if I liked it that way. If you're a regular reader of Road Tips, you probably know by now that I don't salt much of anything. The salt they use at Epic Burger is sea salt - the only kind of salt I'll use when I use salt. But the burger had a bit of a salty taste that sort of detracted from the taste of the burger patty.
However, the bun was excellent, as where the combination of egg, bacon and cheese. I could have easily eaten a double as the Epic Burger patty was smashed down pretty thin sticking out from all sides of the delectable bun. Other than the salty taste of the burger patty, it was a very good burger.
For my first experience at Epic Burger, I was impressed by the burger. Saltiness aside, the burger had good flavor, was lean, yet still juicy from the smashing technique they use to seal in the juices. The bun - which is a key to any good burger - was outstanding. And the extra toppings - egg, bacon and cheese - were great compliments to the overall taste of the burger. I'm not certain that it was a true "epic" in the sense of the meaning of the word, but it was well above average. I can see myself going back to an Epic Burger at some point, but with so many other burger places to try in the Chicagoland area in the meantime, it may be awhile before I do get back in.