Driving through the Bloomington/Normal area (Blum/Num, as it's affectionately called by some locals I know) on a recent trip home from Indianapolis, I decided to stop into Friar Tuck to do a little beer hunting. It was close to lunch time and I spotted a somewhat familiar sign across the way from the liquor store - Meatheads Burgers. I made my way across a little side street to the Meatheads location in a strip mall next to Veteran's Parkway on the east side of Bloomington. (see map)
I had previously been to a Meatheads in Naperville, IL about four years ago. (Click here to see that entry.) But I always wanted to try out the original location in Bloomington. Back when I first went to Meatheads in Naperville, there were only two locations. Today, they have 11 locations throughout Illinois and the Chicagoland region with a 12th location slated to open soon in the near northwest Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood. (One other thing that may have changed from the first time I was in the Naperville location - they seemed to have changed their logo with the name now being "Meatheads" instead of "Meat Heads".)
A little history about Meatheads that I lifted from my earlier post - the small burger chain began in Bloomington in late 2007 and 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. Throughout their growth over the past five plus years, they've resisted franchising their concept, going only with company owned locations for the sake of consistency.
Just like the one in Naperville, the Bloomington location for Meatheads requires you to order at the front counter, they give you a number after you order and they bring the food to your table. The menu is located above and behind the front counter and, of course, mainly features burgers. They do have a grilled chicken sandwich on the menu for the health conscious, but their signature burger is the 1/3 Meathead burger that starts out as 100% pure Angus beef, then smashed flat on a flat-top grille, and topped with ketchup, mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and your choice of raw or grilled onions. They also have a handful of "Chef inspired" burgers including the NY Reuben burger topped with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, grilled onions and served on marble rye bread. The Cajun Sunrise burger sounded interesting - it featured a burger topped with pepper jack cheese, a fried egg, bacon, blue cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato and jalapenos. I'm not certain how all those taste sensations would be together, but it would certainly be a five-napkin burger, at least.
I ended up building my own burger with pepper jack cheese, ketchup, mustard, onion, grilled mushrooms and bacon. I've had the fries at Meatheads before and while they're very good, I didn't get any this time. I got my number and moved toward the back of the long part of the "L"-shaped floor plan they have at the restaurant.
The location in Bloomington is somewhat smaller than the one I was at previously in Naperville. The place rapidly filled up after I sat down and I thought to myself that I was glad I got there when I did as the line up front had grown to nearly a dozen deep by the time my burger showed up at the table.
Just like the first Meatheads burger I got, the burger was wrapped in a wax paper sheath. It was piled high with bacon, sauteed mushrooms and raw onion rings were sitting underneath the burgers. Actually, there were two burger patties to make up with is a 1/3 pound burger. (I'm guessing the 1/2 pound burger has three patties.) A slice of pepper jack cheese covered both burger patties.
With my first bite, I immediately remembered that I forgot to order pickles on the burger. Oh well, there was enough stuff on the burger that would probably have hidden the taste of the pickles. The burger had that charred, flat-grilled taste that I'm coming to like a bit more these days, but it didn't taste like the grill had been seasoned long enough to get that great flat-grilled burger taste. I'm guessing that Meatheads regularly deep cleans the grill unlike other places that usually just scrape and wipe off the grill at the end of the day preserving the meat-seasoned taste.
The burger reminded me somewhat of the burger out at the Green Gables, out north of Bloomington/Normal. (Click here to see my entry.) Only it wasn't as good - not only in taste, but in value, as well. The burgers at Meatheads are a little more lean, so you don't get the juiciness you find in the 80/20 mix that Green Gables has for their burgers. It's not that the Meatheads burger is bad - that's far from the case. It's just that the flat-grilled burger is a little lifeless in taste. The condiments and toppings help add some pizazz to the taste, but the burger is just a bit above average in taste.
As more of these flat-grilled burger places spring up across America and especially the Midwest (Epic Burger, Five Guys, Smashburger, etc.), places like Meatheads need to stay at the forefront of this burger craze with quality beef, fresh produce and toppings, and all served at a good value. I can't say the value of Meatheads is bad compared to similar places. But for my money, I'd rather drive out to the Green Gables for a better burger - more thick and juicy, and less money. Green Gables may not be as clean and family friendly as Meatheads, but it's the best burger I've had in the Blum/Num (locals slang for Bloomington/Normal) area.