This weekend has been full of new food adventures in Chicago. Thursday I hit up Parson’s Chicken & Fish to hang out on their patio, and was blown away by their fried chicken. And on Friday, we made our way to The Loyalist in Chicago to check out what Bon Appetit called one of the three best burgers [in America] of 2017.
But was the burger as good as they say…
Was the cheeseburger the best burger I’ve ever had…
Probably not, and we’ll get into that in a few minutes, but first let’s talk about the restaurant itself and some of the other food we had.
The Loyalist Chicago
The Loyalist is located below ‘Smyth’, which is a more upscale restaurant from the same owners. We did not walk in to Smyth so I have no clue if it’s like the opposite of The Loyalist, but The Loyalist is in the basement, and had sort of that speakeasy-type feel to it.
It’s a very dimly lit basement, with a fairly intimate feel to it. It’s not a super large space, but it’s not so tiny that you feel like you’re sitting on top of each other. It is, however, dark enough where it’s kind of hard to read the menus, and any pictures you take of your food turn out pretty shitty because there’s no way I was going to use the flash in there. So be warned, if you’re looking to brag about the food you try here, know that you will annoy everyone in the restaurant if you try to take pictures using your flash.
Lighting aside, the space is very nice. We sat at a tall 4-top next to the bar and never felt on top of the people at the table next to us, and there was plenty of space between us and the booths along the wall. So basically the opposite of how we felt at El Che Bar a few weeks ago.
Our server came up shortly after we got seated and was extremely helpful in answering all of the questions we had about the food. He was also helpful in suggesting some things that we might want to try… and by we, I mean everyone except me, although I did try one of the plates we got that I actually didn’t think I would try, the serrano ham w/ duck egg, mornay, and sourdough bread.
The Serrano Ham, duck egg, mornay and sourdough bread (pictured at top) is definitely meant to be shared, but I kinda wanted to eat the whole thing myself… and I don’t even know what mornay is. The serrano ham was thinly sliced and super salty, which was awesome, I love salt. The duck egg was good, but it seemed like the egg whites were a bit more rubbery than a chicken egg, but it could have just been me… I don’t think I’ve ever had a duck egg. The mornay was, um, there… I guess. I still don’t know what it is, and honestly don’t really care. If it was in there, it tasted good to me. The only complaint about this dish would have been the sourdough bread. It was extremely hard. I actually didn’t even bother with it and just took the ham and egg off the top to eat.
In addition to that, the table ordered 6 oysters, mussels, the Summer Squash Salad w/ Goat’s Ricotta and Grilled Dates, and then the Leek Mimosa, Sunflower Butter & Potato… none of which I tried. Raw oysters just don’t do it for me, I can’t get past the consistency of them. How anyone could just eat a shell full of snot and enjoy it is beyond me. And as for the summer squash salad and the leek mimosa, they were side dishes of other people at our table, and I really had no desire to try them… but they both seemed to like them, so take that for what it’s worth.
But seriously, I know nobody cares about that other food… let’s talk about the real reason we came to The Loyalist… the cheeseburger.
The Loyalist Cheeseburger
There have been many articles, websites, and blogs out there that rank the best burgers in Chicago, and in America, and on the majority of those lists you’ll find Au Cheval. However, The Loyalist has been overtaking Au Cheval on a few lists as the best burger in Chicago, and in some cases, America. But is the burger really that good… and the answer is a bit more complicated than just yes or no.
The Loyalist Cheeseburger is a house made patty that combines ground chuck, short-rib, and bacon which gives the burger a very unique flavor. It also comes topped with American cheese, pickles, onions, and onion infused mayo… but, seeing as how I’m not very adventurous, I opted for just a plain burger with American cheese only. Simple and to the point, and it gave me the opportunity to try the meat for what it was, without being loaded down with random onion-laced toppings (that I can’t eat anyways).
In addition to the normal Loyalist Cheeseburger, they also offer a ‘secret burger’ on the weekends. The secret burger, which isn’t much of a secret anymore, is a 100% all beef patty (not the combo grind that the regular burger has), topped with bone marrow and mushroom aioli. I wasn’t adventurous enough to try this, although 2 people in our party did end up trying it and said it was absolutely amazing. I don’t know… bone marrow just weirds me out, even though I’ve never tried it.
So if that’s your thing, they both said they would recommend the ‘secret’ burger if you have the chance. But let’s talk about that normal cheeseburger that’s supposedly one of the best in the country, and better than Au Cheval.
First off, I’m not sure that the comparison to Au Cheval is fair. Au Cheval has been named the top burger in Chicago on majority of lists for a number of years until The Loyalist burger came in and started knocking it off its stop at the top, but the burgers are different styles of burger.
Au Cheval is a thinner griddle burger, that comes as a double normally, topped with American cheese, pickles, and their sauce (which I don’t get, of course), where as The Loyalist burger is also a griddle burger (I believe), is thicker and is a blend of different meats to form the patty.
So while they are both burgers, I think they are different enough that they could both stand at the top of the list. Although, in my personal opinion, I don’t think it’s better than Au Cheval… but I’m a huge fan of that double griddle burger style cheeseburger that so many places have now.
That being said though, the burger was absolutely amazing. The blend of short rib, chuck and bacon really makes the flavor of the patty stand out from pretty much every burger I’ve ever had. There’s just nothing else out there that has that flavor that the bacon adds to the burger patty. Sure, you could add bacon to the top of any old burger, but grinding it in with the other meats is genius.
It makes the burger stand out enough that it makes sense as to why it has been on the top of so many ‘best burger’ lists over the last year or so. But even so, I still think there’s something about making an incredible beef burger without requiring the help of bacon. Because let’s be honest, adding bacon to anything instantly makes it better, so it’s kind of like cheating.
But if The Loyalist Cheeseburger is considered cheating, then good for them. They found a way to topple the burger king for the time being.
All-in-all, The Loyalist Cheeseburger was incredible and if you’re a fan of cheeseburgers I would definitely recommend giving it a try. My only advice would be to keep your expectations in line. Don’t go in thinking that the burger is going to be better than Au Cheval, or better than whatever other burger you may have heard, just go in thinking that you’re going to have an amazing burger that tastes unlike any other burger you’ve ever had.
Now for the bad…
The only complaint I had about the burger, and I do mean only, is that the toasted bun was a bit burnt on one side, which ruined the bites that I took from that side of the burger. It wasn’t much, but I would think with the hype around this burger they would make sure that every single one they sent out was perfect… and the bun on mine was definitely not. A minor complaint, but I wanted to be completely honest.
Oh, and the fries were also very, very good. Cooked perfectly with just the right amount of salt… so good. And even at $16 for the burger and fries, I didn’t feel it was too expensive as a lot of other reviews about it I’ve read, have stated. But, I would imagine if you’re at The Loyalist, you’re not expecting to get out of there for cheap… it is not just a burger joint.
Have you had both Au Cheval and The Loyalist Cheeseburger? Which was better? Let us know in the comments. Or, if you feel both of those are overrated, what is your favorite burger in the city?