Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wow Cheval

I'm briefly interrupting my little origin story to bring you... Au Cheval!!!

Considered one of the best burger places in the city [if not THE best], it's not hard to believe I would join in the chorus of its praise. But unlike other "great" establishments that pride themselves on their over-abundance of grain dishes, Au Cheval earns their distinction by being truly unique in their wheatless offerings (also dairy-free too for those who need that)!  And yes, they do have dedicated menus for both, but be sure to ask for one first at the door -- and if they don't have any, you can also find them online:

http://auchevalchicago.com/wp-content/uploads/AC_gluten-free-menu.pdf

http://auchevalchicago.com/wp-content/uploads/AC_dairy-free-menu.pdf

Take their traditional single burger... which seems like a misnomer since it actually holds TWO beef patties.... and consider how it would be handled in other restaurants regardless of price or reputation...

At the bottom of the scale you have restaurants or food chains that simply can't remove the bun, and basically are reliant on you to toss it yourself.  These are your White Castles, your Burger Kings, your Billy Goat Taverns, etc. If you're only intolerant to wheat bran [such as yours truly], this is an option (if a bit unsavory) though it does send the wrong marketing symbol as it creates additional demand for something I clearly don't want.  Additionally, it's also disheartening to see a place that PRIDES itself on its AMAZING burgers, when in fact they're really only talking about their "AMAZING" buns. Sans the embellished piece of mashed and toasted grass babies, the actual burger and toppings are surprisingly small and turn what is an otherwise decadent dish into a veritable "health food" by way portion control. Or the portion is fine, but the meat and topics are not of any exceptional quality, and you feel just a tiny bit swindled.

Next you have restaurants that will gladly remove the bun for you, but won't offer any replacement for it -- these are your Longhorn Steakhouses, your Applebee's, and quite a good number of fancy establishments such as Emerald Loop. This saves a step and could potentially be safe for people who could suffer with even the slightest bit of wheat exposure, but it still feels a little unfair given you're essentially paying full price for half the product in terms of volume. You want something resembling a burger and you get in return a hockey puck with cheese and a side of fries.

After that you have restaurants that will offer gluten-free bun options. Culver's is one of the few chains that I know does this, but specialty burger places such as The Bad Apple will do it too.  Bless them for offering this option and I know this is much appreciated by countless people who can't or choose not to eat wheat, yet still have an attachment to the foods they grew up with, so it certainly has its place!  However, I don't do this very often as I've grown used to not eating any grain enclosure with my burger -- I enjoy tasting the beef and its toppings, and not the wheat, rice, corn or the like.  On top of that, I do feel I get bloated when eating a bun burger... it's not the fullness you get from proper satiety, but rather that off-putting bellyache feel that you get when whatever you're eating is probably physically expanding your stomach.  Worse, you often have to pay extra for the privilege of eating gluten-free junk food.  Um... hurray...?

Then finally you come across my gold-standard for wheatless burger joints... restaurants that offer LETTUCE-WRAPPED BURGERS!  I have loved these even before I changed my diet... there's something literally cool and refreshing about biting into a nice juicy burger and its topics flanked on all sides by the exhilarating crunch of lettuce!  Well-wrapped, the lettuce holds the flavors while staying away from the flavor profile of the burger package, allowing you to better appreciate the essence of beef, cheese, egg, bacon, tomato, onion, etc. Moreover, you're improving the balance of acidic vs alkaline foods in this arrangement, since in your typical burger & fries combo the overall package leans a bit too heavily on the acidic side.  Red Robin is king when it comes to burger chains that proudly offer lettuce burgers, but props also go to Good Stuff Eatery and [Au Cheval's little spin-off] Small Cheval for their superb wrappings! Other places such as Epic Burger or Five Guys will only offer extra lettuce for your troubles... which is just a tad bit lazy, but at least they try.

Now you have a place like Au Cheval with a reputation for creativity and upholding French culinary traditions. They spit in the face of ill-founded concerns in using duck fat to make their fries, and all the power to them [because they are DELICIOUS]! They will serve liver dishes with pride and distinction.  They will shower their salads with something that strikes me as rather buttery. :)

But best of all... they won't just settle with the same old gluten-free offerings -- their goal is clearly to offer wheatless diners something special, and, dare I say, BETTER than your standard wheat bun burger!  For instead of having to peel off a dirty bun, or getting a cold hockey puck of a burger... Or pay extra for a nasty rice-based GF bun that disintegrates in mid-bite.... Or going the quick and easy route of just wrapping the darn thing in lettuce....

Instead of all that... they serve the burger on a GIANT CRISPY HASHBROWN!!!!!

And also cooked in duck fat... and also massive and crunchy, almost as big as the burger itself!  

I adore hash browns, but it never occurred to me to use them as a kind of bun... in hindsight it makes sense since they're stiff with a brilliant caramelized crunch. By itself this giant Au Cheval hash brown would taste absolutely amazing.... but in combination with everything I had on that burger, including egg and pork belly.....

The taste was legendary....

Clearly I had never eaten anything like it... and I probably would never eat it again outside of Au Cheval (or now my home now that I have the idea!).

Au Cheval succeeded in making me feel special as a customer in the process of valuing my needs, and it has truly brought a smile to my face and an undying desire to return for more!

So yes, I agree they ARE the best, and they've earned every bit of that reputation!

...Suddenly the lack of reservations and the atrocious waiting times make sense now.  :P

The Heavenly "Hash Brown" Burger

A refreshing Shallot Salad to pair with...


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