I was reading in a western suburban Chicago visitors guide about a place that had a good burger in Sandwich, IL, located just beyond the fringes of the far western suburbs. I was in Naperville for my last stop of a trip into the Chicago area and I decided to take the long way home and stop in at the Bull Moose Bar and Grille to check the place out.
The defining feature of the Bull Moose Bar and Grille is the distinctive late-19th century railroad car that is part of the restaurant. The former Pullman Palace car was built in 1893 and was initially shown at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago later that year. It was put into service by the Burlington (now the Burlington Northern Sante Fe) railroad and was part of their special "Pride of Burlington" train.
In 1904, the train car was given to President Theodore Roosevelt to use during his presidential campaign and returned to the Burlington railway after Roosevelt was elected. The train car was put back into use for another presidential election in 1908 as William Howard Taft's official transportation carriage. Taft - Roosevelt's handpicked successor - won the election, as well.
Roosevelt wasn't happy with the policies that Taft brought forth and he tried to wrestle the Republican Party's 1912 presidential nomination from the President. When he failed to do so, Roosevelt ran on his own Progressive Party (or "Bull Moose" Party) ticket for the presidency. Figuring the train car had good karma since it was used by the last two winners of Presidential elections, he got the car from the Burlington railway and used it to criss-cross the United States for his campaign. Unfortunately for Teddy Roosevelt, his campaign only split the Republican vote, but he succeeded in getting Taft out of office as Woodrow Wilson became President of the United States.
The train car continued on the Burlington line until it was retired in the early 30's. In 1934, Sandwich resident Henry Tattersal bought the train car for $75 dollars and moved it from California to Sandwich. He redesigned the train car as a diner and opened it later that year and simply called it "The Diner". In 1935, a gentleman by the name of Wright bought the diner and moved it across the street to its present day location next to a house and renamed it Wright's Diner.
The train car diner has gone through a number of owners and name changes over the years, eventually incorporating the house into part of the restaurant It has been known as Paul's Diner, Cucina Plata, Kelly's Pub and the American Grill. However, the diner closed in 2008 and sat vacant for a couple years. That's when Ron and Sue Saballas came into the picture.
Ron Saballus was a well-known real estate developer and Sue ran her own antique business for nearly 25 years. They found themselves as empty-nesters and wanted to do something else with their lives. The Saballus' bought the train car and house and along with their two sons they painstakingly restored the inside building and car, as well as spruced up the outside that had deteriorated over time. Sue Saballus used her antique connections to find lighting fixtures and decorations to restore the train car to its original splendor when Teddy Roosevelt used it a century before. They even restored the original leaded glass windows along the top of the railcar. The Saballus family opened their restaurant in 2010 choosing the Bull Moose Bar and Grille name as a nod to the historical significance of the rail car.
The Bull Moose is located on the southeast corner of W. Church and Main St. in Sandwich. (see map) There was a parking spot in front of the building that I took as I didn't really see much parking in the area. (There is a small parking lot in the back and along Main St.)
I went into the place and immediately came into a bar area. The train car was off to the left side of the entrance. The bar area was very nice - there was a three-sided bar, a number of tables and chairs, and a gaming area was back toward the corner. I decided that I wanted to have lunch at the bar, so I bellied up there. I was greeted by one of the bartenders, Sammy, who gave me a menu and got me a beer to have while I figured out what to get.
I looked up the Bull Moose on line before I went there and found out that they had recently won a "best burger" contest in the far western suburbs of Chicago. Even though they had other items such as sandwiches, flat bread pizza, appetizers and entrees that include a rib eye steak dinner, fettuccine alfredo with a choice of chicken or steak, and a panko bread-crumb tilapia, I went with the burger.
I ordered the 1/2 lb. burger with Swiss cheese, mushrooms and bacon. I saw that they had onion straws on the menu and I'd rather have onion straws than rings. However when Sammy brought the burger out to me, it turned out they were more of a smaller onion ring than an onion straw. It wasn't a deal breaker, but these weren't onion straws.
The burger was piled high with sautéed mushrooms on top of a thick slice of Swiss cheese covering the thick burger patty with a couple thick slices of bacon between the cheese and mushrooms. The bun crown was lightly toasted.
From the first bite, it was an excellent burger. It had that flat-grilled taste with just enough juice cooked in to make it a multi-napkin burger. I went, "Mmmm...." after the first bite and probably said it a couple other times during the course of eating the burger. The bun held together very well with the juiciness of the burger patty along with the messiness of the cheese, mushrooms and bacon. This was simply an outstanding burger.
The onion "rings" were all right. As I said, they weren't onion straws as advertised, but they were fine. I didn't concentrate too much on the onion rings as the burger was definitely the star of the meal.
As I said, the burger at the Bull Moose Bar and Grille was simply outstanding. The decor of the place and the history behind the train car was also very nice and very interesting. Sammy was friendly and her service was very efficient. The overall experience was overwhelmingly positive. The Bull Moose is a place that I would love to have in my neighborhood.