Kuma’s Corner – “Best Burgers in Chicago”

A Distinguished Entrance to Kuma's Corner

Kelly Aarstad

Even after waiting a full hour for a table in a loud, congested pub, I’m excited when the hostess brings me to my table. I’ve been here before so I expect to stand at the bar and drink a couple more, but never have a problem welcoming the “quick” service. Because one thing is certain about Kuma’s Corner, and the food it offers, is well worth the wait.

Patrons of Kuma's Corner

Kuma’s Corner, is a heavy metal pub/restaurant that lives up to its reputation. Of all the burgers I’ve ever eaten, I’ve never had a burger quite like a Kuma-style burger. It’s a 10 oz. patty topped with quality ingredients that are carefully prepared, which has been chosen time and time again as the ‘Best Burger in Chicago’.

It’s not just the sizeable portions of meat that sets it apart. Every ingredient used is carefully chosen and of the highest quality, no shortcuts here. It’s the superiority of the products as well as the creative mixes of ingredients that put Kuma’s at the top of the list.

With over 22 variations of burgers to choose from, there’s no doubt that everyone’s going to have at least one favorite. This menu tends to change up regularly to keep its regulars on their toes. “We’ll be changing our menus in the summer; we’ll be dropping some burgers and adding some new ones.” said the waitress Jessica Deans about Kuma’s upcoming summer plans. There is no doubt that some of Kuma’s Corner burgers will be greatly missed by its regulars, on the other hand, however, the development of the new menu only suggests the creation of some new favorites.

The Slayer - Can You Find the Burger?

The burger I’ve come to love is the Slayer. As the menu describes it, it’s a “Pile of fries topped with a ½ lb. Burger, Chili, Cherry Peppers, Andouille, Onions, Jack Cheese, and Anger.” Anger is exactly what comes to mind when I see this monstrosity. It’s so awesomely overwhelming; you have no idea what angle to attack it from. “There’s so much going on with this burger, the whole meal is on the patty…I love it,” said regular customer Ryan Graham. But I should mention that if you wanted to personalize this beast or any of the other burgers, forget it. The way it’s described on the menu is the way it comes, so tough it out.

A lot of burgers on Kuma’s menu are a bit intimidating, both in name and size, but there is no need to be worried. There are plenty of other items on the menu that’ll fill you up. Take their BBQ Pork Fries for instance, a delicious heap of fries, piled with Monterey Jack and loaded with BBQ Pork. Even their soups  like their chicken noodle will put Mom to shame. They change their soups frequently but you can be assured they’ll be stocked with the finest ingredients.

Now, let’s talk beer. What other beverage could go better with a mean burger like the one you get at Kuma’s Corner than a cold one? They have a whole array of beers, ranging from all sorts of lagers and ales that call all sorts of places home, starting with Bavaria and ending with hometown Chicago. This time around, I’m having the Bavarian beer Schneider Weisse, which has a strikingly similar taste to bubble gum with an 8% ABV (Alcohol By Volume). Most of the beers available here have a high ABV. They even have the Colorado beer, Decadent Imperial that has an astounding 10% ABV. You can be sure that all of these beers have astounding tastes. And for those of you who like your good ol’ PBR(Pabst Blue Ribbon), it’s available as their macrobrew.

Along with all the great beer they have to offer, they have a fully stocked bar. For all the whiskey drinkers out there, they even have Jack Daniels and Woodford Reserve on tap!

Glimpse From Behind the Bar

While you’re letting your food digest and knocking back a couple brews, you can take in the atmosphere. While listening to rock bands like Black Label Society, Meshuggah, and My Dying Bride, you can check out all the paraphernalia that decorates the heavy metal pub. You’ll find Kuma’s mascot, The Bear, everywhere throughout the bar. There are paintings of bears, statues of bears, and even heads of bears (no, not real bear heads). Accompanying the bear are guitars, skateboards, and even paintings of vampire bondage chicks. The pub itself is surrounded by pale yellow walls and has wooden hardware and tables. Giving it that old school feel with a heavy metal edge.

The wait may be long, but the good booze should be enough to hold you over until you’re able to sink your teeth into a juicy burger. If ground beef isn’t your choice of meat they also offer boneless chicken breasts, garden burgers, and chicken tenders as a substitute. Unfortunately, vegans are out of luck. Food starts at $7 and beer begins at $5 (with the exception of PBR at $3). For both quality and quantity in food paired with a great beer or spirit, check out Kuma’s Corner.

Check It Out:

Kuma’s Corner

2900 West Belmont

773.604.8769

www.kumascorner.com

Caffé Gelato: A Few Scoops of Sicily in Chicago

Jessica Geiger

Caffe Gelato exterior look

Even though it may not feel like summer, believe it or not Chicagoans, it is just around the corner. And what better way to spend a hot day in the city than with a cool Italian treat like gelato? This creamy delight is like American ice cream, but churned slower, allowing for less ice and air which really brings out the flavor of the refreshing treat. On top of that, it’s also healthier: lower in both calories and fat, helping everyone keep their beach bods in check. I’ve been hearing a lot about Caffé Gelato, a gelato shop (AKA a gelateria) in the heart of Wicker Park, just off Division and Damen.  I stopped in for a chat with part-owner and manager of the family owned spot, Vince Geraci, about bringing Sicilian-style gelato to Chicago.

Can you give me a rundown of the history of Caffé Gelato?

We started about seven years ago when we went on vacation for the first time to Sicily with my parents to see their hometown of Gaccamo. When we were on our way there, my dad told me, “We have to try this gelato. I haven’t had it since the last time I was here.” I said, “Alright, let’s try it.” So, my family and I went to have this gelato and ever since then we were having it morning, lunch and dinner!

I remember that’s exactly how it was when I was in Italy! I felt like I had to stop in at every corner gelateria I saw!

Welcoming interior and product selections

[Laughs] That’s right! It was on every corner! …So, it was three days since we had gotten back to the States and I couldn’t stop thinking about the gelato! Like, “Come on, Pop! We gotta open something here, in Chicago!” And ya know, I was just thinking about gelato, I wasn’t thinking about business, and he thought it was a good idea. We went back to Sicily and through family friends we started making our contacts. And that’s how it got started.

So why did you pick Wicker Park to open up your shop?

Well, we saw the big sidewalks and the area was destined to change a lot.

You were so right. Wicker Park has changed so much in the past seven years. How has your business changed within that time?

Actually, we’ve still got a lot of people that have been coming since day one and we’re getting a lot of new people. With being around for this long, we keep getting busier and busier each season because we’re only open March 1 through October 31.

So you’ve got a lot of regulars that come in?

There are those guys that are always like, “Oh, I just want pistachio” or “Coconut and mango” or there’s this lady that always comes in for her 2% latte. There’s always the teacher, the cop, the lawyer, the local realtor.

Sounds like you’ve really established yourself as a neighborhood favorite. What do you feel Caffé Gelato brings to the Wicker Park?

Caffé Gelato provides a family feel. It’s a place you can go on a date and not spend a lot of money, or just go to after dinner. It’s truly an authentic place that we brought to Chicago. We didn’t wanna open up another Baskin-Robbins. We wanted to open something authentic that brought us back to Italy without paying the thousand dollar airfare. [laughs]

What can you tell me about your gelato?

Gelato, we like to say, is half of the fat but more of the flavor, and essentially that’s what it is. We don’t use false flavoring; we don’t do anything like that. [If] the flavor is hazelnut, we buy the best hazelnut. We go to Sicily and get the wild-grown hazelnuts or pistachios, they make it into a paste, and that’s what we use to make our gelato. For the fruit flavors, we use actual fruits. It’s all natural. It’s all wholesome food. We make it every morning.

Do you always have the same flavors available or does it vary day to day?

Rich flavors of gelato

We change our flavors through seasons. Like, for October (our last month) we do pumpkin. So I make it into a pumpkin pie kind of gelato. In the summer we focus a lot on fruits…but, we  keep a lot of the staple items, like pistachio. If we took that away, we’d have a lot of angry customers—and hazelnut! Every gelateria, in order to be able to say they’re a gelateria, has to have hazelnut. That’s what they judge gelato shops by in Italy: their hazelnut.

You serve coffee too, right? Can you tell me about that?

We buy our coffee beans directly from the small farmers, like from Sumantra or El Salvador, all depending on what climate is going on there. For instance, we were buying from Mexico for a little bit, but then they had some big thunderstorms so we couldn’t buy from there anymore, so we had to find another farm.

I know that it’s more than about gelato and coffee here. What else do you sell?

We do gelato, coffee, and paninis. Those are our three. Well, and then our pastries. [Laughs] So, those are our four main things. We don’t really wanna go any bigger than that, because we want to keep it small but keep the quality, ya know?

Do you offer your paninis during all business hours or are they only available at certain times?

After five o’clock we don’t make the paninis because we get a long line [for gelato after dinner].

Before I grab a scoop of my own, my final question has to be, what is your favorite flavor?

Nociola is my favorite, hazelnut. It was my first.

So this summer, stop by to cool off at Caffé Gelato and grab a scoop of this creamy Italian treat.  Who knows, maybe your first will be your favorite.

Check It Out!

Caffé Gelato
http://www.caffegelatochicago.com
2034 W Division
Chicago, IL 60622
773.227.7333

Del Rio: The Best Kept Secret of Chicago-land Restaurants

Del Rio's Entrance Accompanied by Antique Signs

Mike Phillips

There are so many restaurants that people say are “the best.” In my opinion, Del Rio Restaurant really is the best. It is a well-kept secret that has yet to reach a mass audience. There aren’t too many restaurants that have stayed up in business for more than 80 years, and done so without using advertisements. Del Rio Restaurant, however, has made such accomplishment and that is why many patrons consider it to be the best Italian restaurant there is. No need for flashy advertising. Del Rio Restaurant relies on one important aspect that many restaurants have forgotten, just serve great food and the rest will take care of itself. This has been the proven business model for Del Rio Restaurant, and with nearly a century in business, it seems to be working. Well, this is my gift to the world because I have an interview with the owner, the visionary behind all that is Del Rio, Bill Pigati.

How does Del Rio Restaurant fit into the community?

Del Rio has always been in the same location. It is a staple in the area. Different generations of families have been coming here for all those years. The older generations have passed it on to the following generations. I’ve lived in the area a good deal of my life, so I understand what people around here appreciate, which is good food and a family atmosphere. The diners aren’t so much our customers, but friends who come by every now and then for some food.

So where are your recipes from? Are they family recipes?

Yes they are, I used to sit with my Grandmother when I was around 3 or 4 years old, and just cook with her. Luckily I have a good memory and I was able to remember the recipes and how to prepare the foods.

Has Del Rio Restaurant always been in your family?

No, the first owner had it for three months, and around three months into owning the restaurant they sold it to my grandmother. Del Rio was originally a Tango-themed restaurant when it opened in the 1920’s. The man who originally opened the restaurant was enamored with Deloris Del-Rio, who was a Mexican movie star. So when it first opened there used to be an area in the back of the restaurant for a band to play tango music. The reason the restaurant was sold was because of the married couple that owned the restaurant. The wife was worried that all the young ladies would try and steal her husband. So the wife sold it to my grandmother in 1923 or 1924, in essence to keep her husband.

Is Del Rio Restaurant more Northern Italian cuisine or a Southern Italian cuisine?

It is more of a Northern Italian cuisine, but to be exact it is more modenase (a style of cooking that comes from the Italian town of Modena). It uses more crème sauces, and the rice is always with saffron. There is also a lot of veal and a lot of fresh fish used in this style of cuisine. There are very little desserts, those come more from the Southern part of Italy, like Sicily.

A Humble Entrance to Del Rio

A Humble Entrance to Del Rio

Everyone loves the performance of opera singers that Del Rio Restaurant has during the Holiday season. Where did the idea of having the opera singers come from?

I used to work with the symphony orchestra in college, and used to take singing classes. I always really enjoyed singing and the opera. When I first took over the restaurant from my parents, I would bring in singers on Friday nights…unbeknownst to the diners. We would take the stage at 9 and it was our job to entice the audience and get them interested in the singing. I eventually had to stop because the restaurant would start to fill up at 6 o’clock and people were just waiting for the singers at 9. So I had to stop because people would just wait around for hours.

How long have the opera singers been coming to Del Rio Restaurant?

Since 1970, I wanted to continue the singers, so I figured for two weeks out of the year, I would have four opera singers come in around the Holidays and sing. It gave me the ability to enjoy the singers while also allowing a special experience to happen for all the people at the restaurant.

Del Rio Restaurant is pretty much known by word of mouth which for years has been passed on from one generation to another. Why so little advertisement?

Because we are so well known through word of mouth, and we have a fairly long list of returning friends who come to eat regularly, we figure we don’t need to advertise. The advertising is just a hassle. The review magazines have a tendency to play up big name chefs, or owners or size of the restaurant, we feel the Del Rio can stand up on its own, and it has for the last 80 some years.

Where did the décor of the restaurant come from? Has it changed much in the last 10 or so years?

We’ve had the same type of white-checkered tablecloths since the 20’s, and the wood on the walls is from 1948. A friend who used to come in and eat put the walls in. His grandkids still come in to this day, so we leave all the wood in as homage to him. The bar is a family heirloom; it was my grandfather’s bar.

What would you consider to be Del Rio Restaurant’s specialty?

It’s hard for me to say, it’s like asking someone which child is their favorite. I’m always changing things because I want them to be perfect. An aspect that I really like about our restaurant are the almonds. The idea of the almonds come from back in the old days, people use to throw almonds at weddings, as a form of celebration. The almonds we have are the same color as confetti that’s used. So we have that almond dish as a symbol of celebration, anything people want to celebrate, the almonds are there for them to do so. Back to your original question, people really love our gnocchi entre. (type of pasta)

The People's Favorite - Gnocchi Dish

Any thoughts about expanding Del Rio Restaurant? Or possibly opening up another restaurant?

Not opening up another restaurant if that’s what you mean by expanding. We plan on expanding the first floor of the restaurant so more people will be able to come in.

In your opinion, what makes Del Rio so special to so many people?

We have a great staff, extremely nice and they treat you as a friend not a servant. I also have been everywhere we get our food. I’ve been to New Zealand for the shrimp…we’ve been getting our meat from the same guy for 40 years and the chocolate [we carry] comes from a small place in Brazil. I have inspected everything. I think that’s why it’s so special. People know they’re not getting cheap ingredients. I take pride in making sure the ingredients we use are the best. As my grandmother used to say, “In this world nothing stays the same, everything changes and you better get better.” I think that’s a good motto to live by, I’m always trying to keep Del Rio the best it can be.

Check It Out:

228 Green Bay Road

Highwood, IL

847-432-4608