Staying in the northwest suburbs of Chicago on a regular basis, I'm always on the look out for new restaurants to try in the area. I was talking to a couple guys at Abt Electronics about a new restaurant that popped up over the past year - North Branch Pizza and Burger Company. They said the food was pretty good. I decided that before I wrote about the place, I had to go there twice - once for a pizza and once for a burger.
North Branch Pizza and Burger Company opened in the early summer of 2012 in a building that housed the former Gulliver's Pizza. I had a Gulliver's Pizza a couple times and was wanting to do an entry on the place. But when I went back in late 2011, it had shut down. Restaurateur Nick Philippas - who along with his wife, Connie, ran Moon Wok in Glenview - took over the location and spent a lot of money updating both the dining and bar areas, changing the floor plan to make it more open in the place. He hired Dan Mataragas as the general manager of the new restaurant and Raul Gutierrez was brought on to be the head chef. Mataragas comes from a restaurant background - his family owns the Old Bridge Cafe in Schaumburg; and Gutierrez was associated with the Lettuce Entertain You umbrella of restaurants in the Chicago area.
The restaurant gets its name from the nearby west fork of the north branch of the Chicago river. North Branch Pizza and Burger Company has no connection to a former restaurant in the area - North Branch. And even though they have "pizza" and "burger" in their name, their menu has much, much more to offer. Raul Gutierrez stresses freshness in his cooking, using only fresh and no frozen in his foods. Every meal ordered at North Branch Pizza and Burger is made fresh to order.
In addition to pizza and burgers, the restaurant also has pasta and seafood entrees, as well as a skirt steak entree and chicken dishes including housemade Louisiana buttermilk chicken that has a little bit of bite to the taste. They also feature a number of appetizers and a number of "two-handed" sandwiches including a pastrami sandwich, a French dip sandwich, and something called "the Snooki" that features housemade meatballs topped with a housemade marinara sauce and three types of cheese on a toasted French bread bun.
It was at night when I first visited North Branch Pizza and Burger just east of the corner of N. Milwaukee and W. Lake (Euclid) in Glenview, right next to the Courtyard Inn (see map). Since the last time I'd been in - which was nearly two years previous - I could tell that they really did open up the place. A couple walls had been knocked down to open up the dining room, and they changed the bar area around a little bit. I decided that I wanted to watch some basketball in the bar and I the hostess if I could get food in the bar. "Sure," she exclaimed as she led me past a motorcycle parked near the entry way and into the bar. She said, "Pick out any seat that you like." I found a high table and plopped down there.
It had been awhile since I had pizza, so I was kind of zeroing in on that. North Branch features both deep dish and thin crust pizzas with about two dozen different types of fresh toppings to choose from. My server for the evening - Sandra - came over and asked if I wanted anything to drink while I looked through the menu. I saw that they had Burning River Pale Ale from the Great Lakes Brewing Company out of Cleveland on tap. I ordered a glass of that and when she brought it to me, she said, "That's a unique name for a beer, Burning River." I asked her if she knew the origin behind the name and she said she did not. I proceeded to tell her of the multiple fires over the years that they had on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland eminating from industrial pollution. The last fire, in the late 60's, triggered a social consciousness across the United States to clean up waterways across the nation and to spur environmental acts such as the "Clean Water Act" and the creation of the "Environmental Protection Agency". Sandra said, "Whoa! I didn't know anything about any of that! Now I have something to tell people when they order a Burning River!"
I was ready to order up a pizza and I got a small, thin crust with my reference sausage, mushroom and pepperoni. She said it would be out in a jiffy. About 20 minutes later she brought out the pizza. It was cut into party slices and being pretty efficient, she scooped a couple pieces of the pizza off on to my plate before I got a chance to take a picture of the full pizza.
The crust was definitely thin, but was somewhat fluffy, as well. It had a nice, airy texture to the bite. The pizza was topped with copious amounts of large sausage chunks, pepperoni slices and sliced fresh mushrooms. It had an ample amount of mozzarella and the sauce was, well, it was pretty sweet. In fact, almost too sweet for my taste. The overall taste of the pizza wasn't my favorite, but it was far from a bad pizza. I just wish the sauce wasn't so damn sweet. I know it's personal preference, but I like a sauce that is more tangy than sweet. It almost overpowered the taste of the other toppings.
I stopped back into North Branch one afternoon a few weeks later to try one of their burgers. They feature a dozen different types of burgers on the menu including some signature burgers as the Hilly Billy that was topped with pulled pork and barbecue sauce; the Double Napkin and Bib burger that had a blend of four cheeses, roasted jalapenos, pico de gallo and crushed tortilla chips; and the namesake North Branch burger that had rosemary aoili, gruyere cheese, and caramelized onions. I was leaning toward getting the Farmer Brown - a burger topped with a fried egg, smoked bacon, crispy onion straws and cheddar cheese. Then I saw under the burger menu that I could take a "plain 'ol burger', and add my choice of cheese and toppings. I ordered up a pepper jack, mushroom and bacon burger. I had my choice of a regular bun or a pretzel bun. I got the pretzel bun. Fries came with the burger on the side.
My burger came out about 15 to 20 minutes after I ordered and it was this huge, thick 1/2 pound patty under a pretzel bun crown topped with a fried pickle slice. That was a nice touch, I thought. The bun had been grill toasted and the burger was swimming in melted pepper jack cheese. The same mushrooms they use on their pizzas were on the burger, and the bacon slices on the burger crisp and flavorful. The only problem is that nothing else came on the burger. I guess I didn't ask for onions, ketchup, pickles or mustard. Some people think ketchup is overrated on burgers, but I like the sweet taste from time to time. I had a little container of ketchup that came with the fries and I scooped some out onto the bun.
The burger was juicy, yet lean. The overall taste of the burger was very good with the pretzel bun being a big part of the taste. It was airy and a little chewy, but had a great taste. I still maintain that the key to a good burger is the bun. The bun on my North Branch burger was very, very good.
I do want to mention that the fries were, by far, the weakest part of the meal. They were pretty nondescript and somewhat cold when served. But that's all right - the burger was huge and there was going to be no way I would have been able to make any type of a sizable dent in the fries.
So, my experiences on both of my visits to North Branch Pizza and Burger Company were positive. Service was good and the pizza was good. As I say, I wish the sauce wouldn't have been so sweet or it would have been an outstanding pizza. The burger was also very good, but I need to order condiments with my burger next time. For a family friendly experience, or a place to go with some buddies to grab a pizza and some beers to watch the game, North Branch Pizza and Burger Company is a good choice in the Glenview/Northbrook area.