Five-dollar* lunches: a journey south for Top Notch Beefburgers

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All fries should be hand-cut fries.
Chicago newcomer and blogger Gwynedd Stuart loves to eat out, but she also happens to be a poor person because she's a Chicago newcomer and a blogger. In this weekly feature she seeks out affordable midday meals that don't exceed five bucks (*actually seven, with tax and tip).

I don't get down to the south side of Chicago very often. No, wait. I don't get down to the south side of Chicago ever. Driving down 90/94 to my destination on 95th Street this week, I realized I basically hadn't been south of the Loop (south of the South Loop, at least) since the fateful day I drove into town in a U-Haul truck this summer, still haunted by the sight of two people fishing out of a johnboat in a toxic lake in Gary, Indiana. I hope they didn't catch anything—fish or diseases.

I live in Logan Square. 95th Street isn't that far away. But it kind of is, right? The whole thing felt like an adventure, even though all I was doing was getting a burger. I love adventures. And I also love old diners with cheap, simple food. So, Top Notch Beefburgers was worth a ride to the end of the Red Line. (Sadly, the antique store across the street, the one with the "pray to end abortion" sign in the window, was closed, or it would have been a trifecta of likable things.)

On the story-tall sign, Top Notch proudly advertises the 70 years they've spent making Chicago's greatest burgers. "Greatest" burgers is definitely more concise than "consistently very good, simple, and classic" burgers, so let's go along with it, shall we? Top Notch is definitely more diner than burger joint. It's big like a diner, is packed with booths like a diner, and has a diner-sized menu, granted, most items therein are served either on bread or a bun.

Really fun: most of the basic sandwiches—with the exception of the club, ooh la la—are cheaper than five dollars. The pork chop sandwich is $4.95. The beef au jus is $4.30. The homemade tuna is $4.05, and I can't even begin to imagine how much work it takes to home-make a tuna. I was particularly excited about the $4.40 corned beef sandwich, because it's a thing we tend to be charged a premium for. For good reason. Believe me, if I could afford to eat a foot-tall, $11.95 corned beef sandwich from Manny's every day, I would. But that's not the name of this game. Top Notch's version isn't quite the same animal, but still great. I ordered one to go after I finished my burger, because I'm disgusting and I have no self-respect.

That's neither here nor there.

Let's talk about a burger! My personal hamburger preference is not a big, thick patty. Is that weird? I don't think it's weird. They're too hard to bite, too filling, too everything. I like burger patties thin, fresh, and smushed on a flat-top so the fat caramelizes and forms a nice, dark-brown crust. This is essentially what Top Notch is doing. The deluxe quarter pounder ($5.85) is served with lettuce, tomato, pickles, a side of mayo, and your choice of raw or grilled onions, a choice that seems awfully easy to me. Because grilled onions are delicious. The burger is accompanied by a huge side of their "unique" hand-cut french fries. I don't know about "unique," but they were great—crispy, potatoey—not the limp, greasy disappointments you get at places that haven't quite figured out how to do hand-cut fries properly. Oh, and, for slightly more health-conscious diners, the restaurant's name is misleading: they also serve turkey burgers. But, c'mon. They're called Top Notch Beefburgers. I like adventure, but it's fun to stick with a classic.

2116 W. 95th St., 773-445-7218.

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