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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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

C. Manny’s Underlying Support System

Kelly Aarstad

Incredible, fresh food is not the only thing guaranteed at C. Manny’s. When you are treated like family at C. Manny’s, it’s no wonder that an entire neighborhood would petition against them from moving.  Long-standing employee María Elena Rodriguez remembers when the lease was up and they were forced to tell their customers the restaurant would be changing locations. The warm and friendly atmosphere accompanied by the authentic Mexican-Cuban fare was going to be missed by many.

What made you choose to work at C. Manny’s?

Well, I was working with Manuela’s brother [the owner] at the time and I had asked his wife how Manuela was, and she had told me that she had just opened up a restaurant [and] they had 99-cent margarita special on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 3 to 6, which drove in a great crowd. There were no Mexican restaurants in the area, whatsoever. It was just what the neighborhood was asking for. Our first customers were mostly families. Many of them actually became like family to me. From there, they recommended it to other people, and soon enough, people came from all over the neighborhood. The bond between C. Manny’s and the neighborhood was strong from the very beginning.

How much time would you say it took for the restaurant to draw in people from the neighborhood?

No time at all. Since day one, we were busy all the time. We had very specific rush hours. From 12-3 PM, it would be jam-packed for lunch. Then it would slow down for a while and, sure enough, we’d be running around again by 6 PM. Everyone wanted to come in because we had windows that surrounded the front of the building, so people could look in. At night, we would light all of the candles, and dim the lights. People passing by would be attracted to the nice, welcoming atmosphere.

It sounds like you had a really strong network of regular customers at C. Manny’s. What did you do to prepare them for the move to Irving Park Road?

We didn’t really have to do any advertising. The news was spread by word of mouth about a month before the move. We eventually put up a huge sign when it got closer to the move. Also, we’ve had the same phone number for the past 20 something years, so it wasn’t hard to find us. Besides, it’s not that far of a stretch, we’re just 2 blocks away from the [previous] location. There was actually a big meeting over at the community center because the patrons didn’t want us to move. We were looking for a place, the lease was due and they couldn’t find anything closer. Over 200 people from the neighborhood voted because there were no nice family restaurants in the area. They wanted our restaurant, a nice family restaurant. But the move ended up being a great opportunity for us, because on top of former customers we got a lot of new people on the other side of Irving Park to come to C. Manny’s.

An old newspaper article about C. Manny's

Were there any changes made to the restaurant, food etc. to draw in customers at the new location?

Our food recipes have been then same for years and years…while the waitresses, like myself, have also been the same for years and years! We’ve really kept everything the same, even the margarita recipe. I would have to say the décor is really different than the past location, though. We’ve hung up the zarapes (Mexican string puppets) instead of plants because we’ve received so many compliments on them. A lot of the time, it’s the first remark to come out of a customer’s mouth. Now we have white tablecloths instead of green and white striped ones. We also have glass table covers and vases filled with different flowers depending on the season. It gives the restaurant a really nice and refined look.

What do you think keeps people coming back to C. Manny’s?

Besides the food being absolutely fresh here, our customer service is [a] priority. Everyone is treated like family and ends up becoming like family. Personally, I like it when the server or bartender takes the time to talk to me and make me feel welcome. That’s exactly what all of us do here at C. Manny’s. Everyone is very welcoming and pleasant here, and I’d have to say that’s the biggest reason people keep coming back to us.

My family and I had started going to C. Manny’s around 15 years ago and we still do. We’ve always been treated like family and that’s why we’ve always come back. It happened to be a great thing that C. Manny’s did move because they have practically doubled their customer base without losing any of their former customers. The fact that that C. Manny’s customer service has highly contributed to its flourishing success is at the very least, remarkable.

Author, Kelly Aarstad and C. Manny's Employee, Maria Elena Rodriguez