Parts and Labor can't add up to a great burger

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classic double burger, Parts and Labor
  • Mike Sula
  • Classic double burger, Parts and Labor

Classic thin, griddled burger patties have emerged in recent times as an antidote to the much-aped monstrous and overtopped Kuma's-style burger, for better and worse. To me, the ideal form among the newer thin griddleds are the high stacked "singles" (two patties) and "doubles" (three patties) from Au Cheval, which by necessity are cooked thoroughly, but still manage to carry an explosively juicy payload. Then there's also the wonderful, lacily edged burgers from Edzo's, a tribute the northern-Indiana burger chain Schoop's, and the current burger on the menu at Scofflaw, itself a nod to the west coast's In-N-Out (you have to order this as a double-double for it to make structural sense).

But Chicago has many of its own early adopters of the griddled patty, which by nature of its preparation carries the risk that much of the meat's juice will be expressed on the flattop rather than in the mouth if the cook doesn't have an easy hand with the spatula. I'd never eaten a burger at Grant's Wonderburger in Mount Greenwood, and I expected I never would when the 60-year-old diner briefly closed in December. (Lucky for me it reopened four days later, when a deal to sell the business fell through.) But I took some consolation at Parts and Labor, the new Logan Square burger bar from Russ Grant, the man behind Simone's and the Boiler Room, and the scion of the family that runs Grant's. Said to be "an homage to the family business," Parts and Labor serves classic griddled patties in doubles, topped with mayo, raw onion, pickles, and American cheese, and bottomed with a piece of iceberg. Pretty basic stuff and at five bucks the burgers are affordable relative to members of the current class of neoburger, though positively extravagant compared to the McDonald's McDoubles being slung across the street.

cheeseburger salad, Parts and Labor
The odd thing about the Parts and Labor patty, though, is that it doesn't conform to the Wonderburger template: they're using a two-thirds beef and one-third pork mix instead of all beef, perhaps taking the term "hamburger" too literally. I have no idea why, because they don't taste particularly porky, nor do they taste particularly beefy. And if the inclusion of pork was supposed to add fat to keep them from drying out on the grill, that doesn't work either. It's not easy for me to say this, but I think I'd rather have a McDouble.

deep fried twinkie, Parts and Labor
Even so, Parts and Labor is a budget-friendly place to eat unexceptional but inoffensive burgers the way the Boiler Room is a budget-friendly place to eat unexceptional but inoffensive pizza. One burger plus a choice of curly fries, fried giardiniera, onion rings, fried pickles, or salad, plus a shot of cheap booze will run you only $10. Among the sides, fried giardiniera is the best thing on the menu. Solid pieces of tangy pickled vegetables—carrot, celery, onion, and cauliflower—cut through the rich, crispy batter for a solid snack. These sides on their own are only $3, and desserts, which include root beer and Green River floats and a treacly deep-fried Twinkie, are only $5. The most expensive thing on the menu is a cheeseburger salad ($7), an appalling miscellany of chopped-up ground meat, bits of bacon, melted cheese, wan iceberg lettuce, pale tomatoes, and limp pickles.

But Parts and Labor features the same curious, randomly assembled industrial bric-a-brac that adorns Simone's and the Boiler Room, and for that it's not a bad place to spend some time drinking cheaply, even if it's to drink one of the many uncommon nonalcoholic sodas, like maraschino cherry cola or dry soda apple. And like it is at the Boiler Room, the annoyance of having to pay cash and further pay $2.75 to the cash machine is mitigated by a free shot (of Fernet) in exchange for your ATM receipt.

Parts and Labor

Parts and Labor, 2700 N. Milwaukee, 773-360-7840.

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