Buzz - Burgers, Barrels, and Beer
1935 W Irving Park Rd, Chicago IL 60618 (map); 773-880-9810; buzzbbb.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: The pigs ears rule! The burgers? Not so much.
Price: Crispy Pigs Ears, $10; Donut Burger, $10; Ramen Kobe Burger, $13; sides, $3
Serious Eats reader Sandra recently contacted me to suggest I go out on a trip to Buzz - Burgers, Barrels, and Beer. When I took a look at the menu, I thought, "This could either be terrible...or awesome!" You see, my friends, Buzz has a ramen Kobe burger on the menu. They also have a doughnut burger.
My entire life has been a game of what I like to call "Good Idea, or Bad Idea?" And because Sandra was the one who suggested the restaurant in the first place, I brought her along too, because if this train was to fly off the rails, at least I'd have company to see it happen.
You should have seen my eyes light up when I saw that they had crispy pigs ears ($10) on the menu. Remember, I do occasionally put up a post like this. But really, compared to most things, pigs ears aren't all that weird considering you've all probably accidentally swallowed a bug while you were sleeping. Me, I eat bugs on purpose.
I'm happy to report that fried pigs ears are good to eat, though these are breaded heavily to the point where it's hard to tell what's inside the crunchy fried squiggles. When you pop the fried egg on top, things get even better. Yes, the breading gets a little oily after a while, but to solve that issue, follow it up with a bite of the kale salad underneath—it's dressed in a very acidic vinaigrette that'll cut through the oil. When they're treated this way, the oinker's ears really don't have much flavor, but despite the thin layer of cartilage within them, they don't have a rubbery chew.
And now, my friends, to the Ramen Kobe Burger ($13). I'd read all about the ramen burger, and I wondered if it was any good. Like most Korean kids, I ate a lot of ramen growing up, so just the concept alone was enough to cause me sheer wonderment. Two of my favorite foods, glued together, much in the same way that cell phones are glued to cameras now.
But, deep inside, in my sad place, I knew that part of it was too good to be true. After my first bite, I realized I just could not taste the ramen. Ramen noodles by themselves are generally very mild in flavor, so I guess I shouldn't be that surprised. Tasted alone, the compressed and shaped noodles just have a faint taste of oil to them and not a whole lot else. Even texturally, they aren't really noticeable.
The beef on the Ramen Kobe burger is different from the other burgers on the menu—it's advertised as Kobe, but as you nerds know, Kobe beef is from Japan and is only available here in very small quantities, so it's more than likely a form of American Wagyu. As far as I can tell, the provenance of the beef doesn't make a big difference. The grilled patty is juicy with a relatively fine grind, but nothing about it really screams at me. It did come out a touch overcooked; I like a pinker center.
But the main problem is the sun-dried tomatoes beneath the burger. They're extremely powerful to the point where any bite containing even just a trace gets nuked with concentrated tomato flavor. I love sun-dried tomatoes, but you can't just throw them on something in that quantity and expect to taste anything else. And the egg on top just doesn't seem to add much, which is a little surprising since my favorite accompaniment to ramen is liquid chicken. The egg yolk also lubes up the ramen patty to the point where it just slips right off.
And now, the Donut Burger ($10). Luther Vandross, what have you done to us? Don't think I'm not looking at you, too, Paula. So to start—this isn't just a doughnut cut in half and turned into a burger holster. This is two whole doughnuts, top and bottom.
The toppings are a train wreck. There's cheddar pepper jack cheese (which we omitted for dietary reasons), housemade truffle aioli, housemade ketchup, caramelized strawberries, and bacon. I don't even know where to start. So what ends up happening is you get a powerfully sweet bite followed by some sweet toppings, along with...bacon. The patty came out woefully overcooked, too. At least they thought to grill the doughnuts.
The starchy tostones ($3; aka fried plantains) make a pretty good side, especially when they take a dip into the garlic mayo. But eat them quickly—when they cool off, they get gummy.
I wanted to love the hand-cut fries ($3). Or at least like them. But despite how gorgeous they look, they're underdone and mealy in the middle. A double-fry would have suited them well.
I realize we did order the wacky stuff, which may not make for the most fair assessment. But most of the menu is made of wacky experimental combinations. This is one of those cases where putting more things on a burger doesn't necessarily make it better, especially if you're not getting the basics right. But part of me admires those balls, because even now, there's a little part of me that wants to go back and try the Stroganoff burger.