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

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BYOB Suggestions From Gentile’s Wine Shop

Lindsey Arquilla

Ever wonder which wine would best pair with your dinner? Or which Chicago restaurants host BYOB (bring your own beverage) nights? Well, look no further, Foodies: you’ve come to the right place. Step right up and take a seat while I serve you a dish of Vino Delish.

Decades ago, on the corner of Taylor and Racine, you could find an Italian family owned pharmacy.  In 2007, the medicine man’s son, Flavio, turned the vacant spot into Gentile’s Wine Shop. I had the chance to speak with Don Cross, the shop’s first employee.

I have been coming here for a couple of years now. Who are your most frequent patrons, demographically?

There’s a mix, generally. We see a lot of UIC students, but at the same time there are many middle, to upper middle class people around here that come in.

Do you mainly get “middle class-ers” in here for the weekly wine tastings?

No, we still see plenty of UIC kids. There’s a misconception that our wine tastings cost something, but they are actually free every Friday evening.

Oh, really? Walk me through a typical wine tasting at your shop.

Well, sometimes we set them up and other times the wine reps set them up for us. It really just depends on the week, and the wine.

Are they generally very educational, in respect to the wine itself and which wines go with which types of foods?

They can be. But they’re also just a chance for the tasters to try different wines and learn which is their new favorite. We used to have cheese and chocolate and crackers for sale all the time, but now the vendors will usually set them out at their tastings. We’re probably going to start selling munchies again soon.

Gentile’s is part of Printers Row Wine Shop, correct?

Yes, when Flavio’s father owned the pharmacies, Dearborn was one of them. Then, when the spaces opened up, Flavio saw the opportunity to make them into wine shops. Printers Row opened in 2004; Gentiles in 2007.

Flavio—that sounds Italian—are most of your wines from Europe?

No, we definitely have a variety from all over the world. We just got this Savon Blanc in from South Africa today!

Wow! So, the majority of your products are obviously wine. But what else do you sell?

We have different liquors and liqueurs, but the biggest seller is beer. We have a very popular line of craft beer from independent brews. Stone is a huge seller right now, along with Great Lakes and Two Brothers from Warrenville. But, you know, the UIC guys like their PBR. It’s refreshing. Gotta give it that.

Yeah, PBR seems to be a cheap Chicago favorite. So, since our site is about Chicago restaurants, I have to ask: how often do you get customers asking about different wines to bring to BYOB spots?

It happens all the time. Seriously, just tell them to come in here and ask and we’ll hook them up with whatever they need! There’s a wine for every meal.

What would you pair with a spicy dish?

For something like Thai, I would go with a white Rhiesling. That’ll cut right through the spice with its sweetness. Sushi would go great with it, too.

Ah, I see. So for foods with a kick, go with a white.

Yes, they tend to offer a nice balance and contrast. So Mexican, Indian—well, actually, Indian foods are great with beer!

Is that right? I love Indian!

Yes! Me, too! When I first moved here I lived on Devon, and there are tons of Indian restaurants around there. Sometimes, you just gotta have a good beer with a meal. Like, when I have Mexican food—I just want a crisp, light beer to cut through it. Or a margarita!

Haha, yeah, who doesn’t always want a margarita?! Really, though, for a more obvious question, what would be the best pairing with French or Italian food?

French or Italian wine! It’s a no brainer there. There are just so many!

That makes sense. So Don, what is your favorite wine in the shop?

That’s a tough one…there’s so many. I would have to say…Sweet Bru…or Belle Glos…or Gotim Bru…hell, any of my picks.

Your picks?

Yeah, we have tags below wines that we here at the shop choose as our favorites.

I can’t believe I never noticed that about this place—that is really cool! What would you say are the major differences between this shop and Printers Row?

Printers Row has more of the higher end wines, mostly because of their area. We here at Gentile’s sell great products but certainly not as high up on the tier as downtown where people are looking for a higher end bottle.

No matter the area of Chicago, running a wine shop has to be different from working at a liquor store or other beverage retail spot.

No doubt. The major difference is the clientele. Our customers come here for a purpose: to learn. That’s what we’re here for.

There you have it, fellow wine enthusiasts. Gentile’s Wine Shop on Taylor and Printers Row Wine Shop on Dearborn are there for the taking. Stop by either one on your way to your favorite BYOB restaurants (we have taken the liberty of listing several of our favorites below) for your appetizing pleasures. Salute!

Sushi: “Shiso” – North Ave

Thai: “Thai Classic”: – Clark

Mexican: “Cosina Grill”- W Foster

Chinese: “Tao Ran Ju” – Wentworth

Turkish: “Café Orchid” – Addison

Morocan: “Tagine” – Rockwell …Rhiesling (all above)

American BBQ: “Smoque” – Pulaski … Savon Blanc

Vegan: “Earwax” – Milwaukee …Pinot Grigio

Italian: “Trattoria Caterina” – Dearborn…Italian Vino

French: “Crepe Town” – Sheridan…French  Vin

Greek: “Greek Corner” – Damen…Greek Krasi

*Footnote: the meatier the meat, the heartier the red

The Wieners Circle

The Wieners Circle Wall Sign

Mike Phillips

“What do you want mother f*c*er?” Roberta “Poochie” Jackson asks so nicely. Jackson is one of the noticeable faces at the Wieners Circle and has been working there for eight years. That is one of the ways customers may be greeted when they order food at this memorable Chicago restaurant. Compared to traditional restaurants in Lincoln Park, or anywhere in the city for that matter, the style of service is…a little different. In an age of uptight, political correctness as far as the eye can see, I am thankful for a laid back, anything goes hot dog joint like this one.

The Wieners Circle resembles an old-fashioned hot dog stand that just doesn’t seem to exist anymore. It hasn’t tried to get fancy or change what it’s all about. “We’re not trying to portray something we’re not. The people who work here act like what they really are, and the damn customers act like what they really are. No one is trying to be fake in here,” explains Jackson.

The restaurant is not only known for its variety of char-grilled American classics and chocolate shakes, but also its interesting and entertaining exchanges of verbal abuse between employees and customers—helping to make it one of Chicago’s most fascinating and delicious establishments…hmmm scrumptious. Its Chicago-style hot dogs, dubbed “Char Dogs,” are simply fantastic. It’s comprised of two essential components…an all-beef hot dog and a poppy seed bun. And at the Wieners Circle, do not ask for ketchup on a Char Dog…you may not like the answer you get. If a customer is not a Char Dog type of person, there are always a selection of cheeseburgers to choose from. They have that great char taste…and that taste only comes from grilling the meat. Simply delicious.

Chicago-Style Hot Dog with the Works

Aside from hot dogs and cheeseburgers, restaurant goers are also likely to order the cheese fries and chocolate shakes. Shakes are thick and creamy and the cheese fries are enough for a meal…but the cheese doesn’t accompany the fries, it’s more like the fries accompany the cheese. One thing is for sure, at Wieners Circle, is that people get their money’s worth—the food to money ratio is great. “So spread the money around,” as Evelyn “Poke” Morris, a 17-year veteran employee said. “Don’t be stingy, you better put some money in that tip jar,” said Morris. I most certainly obliged .

The Wieners Circle is relatively small compared to most restaurants and can only fit about 20 people comfortably—which doesn’t really have an impact on its business because people get their food fast, eat quickly, or take it to go. There are also red picnic tables outside that are used during the spring and summer months and even during the winter when late-night bar-crawlers make The Wieners Circle their last stop. Interiors resemble a traditional hot dog joint. There are no tables, just a counter with six or seven stools on one side, it’s pretty much a standing room only. People are usually there to place a to-go order and enjoy the show.

Outside Dining Area

Another aspect of The Wiener Circle that has cemented its spot as a Chicago must-try is the open and accepted use of profanity. Be forewarned, those who are sensitive, shy, easily embarrassed or don’t want some harmless ribbing, may want to dine elsewhere. But, if you don’t mind some good old-fashioned cuss words, you should really dine at night to get the full effect. There are two distinct time segments as far as language is concerned. Lunchtime through early evening is relatively swear free but from 8 p.m. to midnight is when the real swearing is in full swing. It’s all in the name of good fun. However, there are some lines that have been crossed that should never be crossed.

“When drunk motherf*ckers come in, yelling racial slurs, that’s when sh*t stops being funny. We can all handle mild racial stereotypes, but when the really bad ones start flying, that’s when we have problems,” Poochie explained. The key is not to be racist, if you don’t cross that line, everything will be fine. If you really want the wild experience that is , go when people are going home from the bars in the wee hours of the morning. This is when the real profanity and obscenity is unleashed.

“This is therapy for me, I come in get some damn good food, they yell at me, I yell at them, I go home feeling so much better,” said Alex Bryant, a frequent visitor of restaurant. There is constant back and forth interaction between patrons and employees. And that’s what is expected of the Wieners Circle.

Wieners Circle - Home to the True Chicago-Style Hot Dog

“It’s a good time. It’s like a release…people can just relax, and enjoy the atmosphere,” said Mark, a North Chicago native. At times the conversations can get quite graphic and sexually oriented, but again this is in the nature of the restaurant and it’s all in good fun. That’s why I think the Wieners Circle represents Chicago—not that we’re all crazy, mean, obscenity driven folks—but Chicagoans by nature are pretty laid-back easy-going people. We have the tendencies and mild nature of Middle-America, but also the attitude and aura of a big city. It’s what the Wiener Circle is about: A place for people to talk, unwind, grab some grub and get out dome frustration.

The Wieners Circle keeps amazing hours. It’s open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. The food is moderately priced as well, nothing on the menu costs more than $7. For the foods mentioned above the char dogs cost $3.20, cheeseburgers cost $4.75 and the cheese fries cost $3.60. The shakes are around $20, but that’s for a special reason, order one and you’ll find out why. Go grab some grub and take in the atmosphere, it’s worth it. The prices are cheap, the food is great, and there’s always entertainment.

YouTube Video of a Pleasant Trip to the Wieners Circle

Check It Out:

The Wieners Circle

2622 North Clark Street

773.447.7444