First Look: Epic Burger

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Last night a friend and I ambled down to the South Loop to check out Epic Burger, a new quick-service place that promises all-natural burgers and sandwiches, fresh-cut fries fried in oil free of trans fats and seasoned with sea salt, plus extras like cage-free organic eggs, nitrate-free bacon, and Wisconsin-made cheeses. Owner--well, on the Web site the word is "founder"--David Friedman is a restaurant professional and trained chef with franchise ambitions, and I'd say he's found a concept with legs.

The place is well suited to its Columbia College environs, an industrial space with high ceilings hung with designy white lamps of various sizes and shapes, walls painted with bold abstract graphics, bright orange plastic seating made from recycled materials, and two flat-screen TVs showing a Japanese art film with the sound turned down. You order at a back counter from a concise menu: burger, turkey burger, chicken sandwich, portobello sandwich, egg-and-pepper sandwich. Shakes, malts, and smoothies are made at a separate counter with a few stools for seating.

I ordered the burger on a toasted egg bun with aged cheddar cheese, and my friend got the turkey burger on a whole-wheat bun with horseradish Havarti. Sandwiches come with lettuce, tomato, pickle, grilled or raw onions, and something called "Epic sauce," the ingredients of which, the courteous counter guy told us, could not be disclosed. We paid--$17 for the burgers and a bag of fries, no tip jar in sight--were given a number, and sat down to puzzle over what the Japanese movie was (Hiroshima, Mon Amour, we're pretty certain). In the time it took for a quick trip to the bathroom (righteously clean) our food had arrrived.

No doubt because of all the hype on the menu, the back of which is printed with "Epic Rules" like "The bun is the beginning and the end," I was initially a little disappointed. Both buns, baked fresh locally, were so puffy as to overwhelm the burgers, which though hand shaped, were on the thin side and consequently cooked to an institutional medium. We didn't find a trace of horseradish in the Havarti, and the vaunted Epic sauce didn't do much, but once I'd applied some Gray Poupon (bottles of Heinz organic ketchup are also on the tables) and got my burger smooshed enough that the brioche bun wasn't so assertive, I was pretty well satisfied--the pickles and grilled onions are a nice touch. Tasty fries, too--worlds better than at other fast-food joints, though not in the realm of Hot Doug's. A good-size bag of them, plenty enough for two, is $1.99.

Epic Burger has other good things going for it, greenwise--eco-friendly packaging, energy-efficient appliances, a commitment to diminishing its carbon footprint through local sourcing. The upshot: not epic but not half bad, and, actually, when you consider the price point, pretty damn good.

Epic Burger, 517 S. State, 312-913-1373

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