Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kuma's Corner - numero tres.

Kuma’s Corner
2900 West Belmont Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618-5804
(773) 604-8769

In a concerned manner Alex looked at me and asked “So if we leave work at 4:30 we should get there by 6:00 right?”

Resigned over the hand that God dealt us, I answered in the affirmative “Yes. Well it depends on the Edens, but I think so.”

Sharing in our lament, Amy just gave us a glazed look. We were acting like we just heard that we were enlisted to fight in Iraq, that somebody attacked the president, or that a miscreant kidnapped my cats. We were staring into the abyss in a zombielike manner while ejaculating in the obvious, “Tell Gillian that if she gets there before us, to snag a table,” and “Maybe Dempster won’t be that bad.” Not since Ulysses has there been such a treacherous voyage. We had to take the Edens!

For those thankfully unacquainted with the highways that stretch through the land of Lincoln, the Edens is quite possible the worst cement artery ever created. Not since the Maginot Line, or perhaps even the Great Wall has a construction project so failed man. The Edens [Expressway] is a (three laned!) highway that stretches from Downtown Chicago to I41, which eventually takes wayward drivers into Wisconsin. Where there are areas in California that are considered traffic dead zones; for example, the 605 and the 10, at least those areas make sense. A lot of people live in Los Angeles, and you have to take the 605 and the 10. But where the 605, the 10, the 60, the 405, the 101, the 5 are often the only avenues that can channel one from the drudgery of work to peace at home, the Edens is inexplicably busy. Why would anyone want to leave Downtown for Wisconsin is mind boggling. Why would fleets of commuters perform such a trek is an insult against God, physics and Darwin. What the fuck can possibly exist in the burbs that can cause so much traffic? Oh I know Dear Reader, I work in the burbs, so I have to take the Edens. I made some excellent life decisions in my life; hence, I have to make this commute, but are there so many people who failed in life? If Purgatory is strictly confined to Catholics, the Edens is the punishment meted out to people who did poorly on the LSATs. Thankfully there are alternatives such as Green Bay Road which takes me through the tony neighborhoods of Glencoe and Wilmette. I get a view of the lake, the Baha’i’ Temple and the most comfortable Starbucks that the company of Shultz ever erected. Green Bay is essentially my traffic condom. It is my protection from the Edens.

Akin to planning the invasion of Normandy, Alex, Amy and I had to make an attack plan. We had to get to Kuma’s Corner, but the only way to get there in an “efficient manner” was to take the Edens. Sophie had an easier choice. Do we indulge in a burger that has received such universal praise that the Tribune declared it to be “One of the best burgers in the Midwest,” or do I end up one short in my blog because I did not want to take the Edens? The die was cast. I gnashed my teeth. I-94, the fucking Edens it was. Our road to perdition would span 27 miles. It would take us an hour and a half.

When Gillian told her friends that we were going to Kuma’s Corner, they told her she would have to wait hours, the reason, Kuma’s is really busy. Anytime when you are down and you hear about unemployment at 10% or that retail sales are down, buck up and head to Kuma’s, you would think that Nasdaq is at 25,000. When I met Amy outside, she told me that she left her name with the hostess and that we were expecting the wait to be an hour. The wait did not really bother me per se because well my tuition was paid by people who eat at restaurants; moreover, the tag “Best Burger in the Midwest” was chiming through my head. But the one thing that I first noticed was that like internet stocks, the business of Kuma’s may be a sophistry. Kuma’s is not a very large place. At most it sits 60-80 people including 14 at the bar. I started to think, if Guy Fiere, Food and Wine, Gourmet (alas!!!), the Tribune, the glutton in Man vs. Food, and the Sun-Times did not hype up this place, would it be that busy? Moreover, if it was larger, would we have to wait?

As we waited for Alex and Gillian, Amy and I decided to wait near the bar and examine the beer list. I wish we had the brewer’s equivalent of the Rosetta Stone. We were assaulted with terms like “Purple Haze,” “Pumkin,” “Bouquet,” and “Lychee.” None of which made any sense with beer. All I knew, was that I was not going to order any beer costing more than $5; meaning, there were plenty of beers that I would not order. Thankfully, Alex walked in and I assaulted her with the beer list. I never thought I would ask another individual this, but it was necessary “I don’t understand please translate.” Well Alex, really didn’t. She was a pro and told us that she wanted a Logunistas – IPA and decided to let us pick by trial by fire. Amy decided to order the Pumkin because she liked pumpkin and voiced some amusement in the typo. I ordered “Purple Haze,” because gays are naturally attracted to the color purple. Well, it took me a good 5-10 minutes to wrangle the bartender. I was in a sea of heterosexual men yelling out orders. It was like the floor of the NYSE and I was Maria Bartiromo yelling out “PUUURRPLE HAZE!”

I also need to rewind 15 minutes before Alex came in. Amy noted the general atmosphere of Kuma’s and we felt mildly out of place. Dear Reader, conjure up an image of a J-Crew model, and you get Amy. She is the beautiful All-American girl that Reese Witherspoon should have become when she sold her soul. Amy was wearing clothes that looked like it came directly from one of the more fashionable racks of Nordstroms. Meanwhile I was wearing 4 layers of Miuccia … and Sketchers (it was snowing). The clientele at Kuma’s on the other hand, did not look like they were wearing house of Gucci. But this is the paradox with Kuma’s, it is not a cheap place, but it is located in one of Chicago’s more middle-income neighborhoods, Avondale; hence, you know that the customers probably do not live in the area. These are all transplants from other areas whom had the prescience to change before dinner. I essentially looked more like an asshole than I normally do. Thankfully, we did not get a cock-eyed glance from nary a soul, probably because their skull caps were spun from Scottish cashmere. The rest of Kuma’s is meant to resemble a bilker’s bar, sure there were the requisite picture of nude women drinking blood out of a bat, but it all seemed too synthetic. It was D&G acting as if it was Wrangler.

I digress. We clutched onto our beers and Dear Reader it has been nearly five days and I still remember the Purple Haze. It was quite possibly the best beer I ever had in my life (with the exception of another one I had at a house party, but I was high at the time so I don’t know if it affected my sense of taste). Purple Haze tastes like raspberries, and a little bit of beer. It wasn’t sweet per se, but it was smooth, and subtle. The next thing I tasted was Alex’s IPA. Her drink was disgusting. It was robust and bold. My God, Alex is more masculine than I am. Gillian came and Amy tried in vain to order her a drink. She asked the bartender a battery of questions which only resulted in a litany of alcoholic terms that flew over our head. We could talk about §§ 403 and 501(b), but you lose us at “Berliner Weisse”. Regardless, Gillian ordered, and we get our table shortly after, 5 minutes before promised to be exact.

The kitchen is an open-one, but it essentially has the same amount of cooking space in a studio apartment. There is a grill, a salamander, and some prep counters, that is it. While the kitchen sounds simple, it is fitting for its menu, there are fourteen different types of burgers, three-five generic versions of salad (chicken salad, cobb salad, etc), some appetizers, and mac-and cheese. Most of my attention was focused on the burgers because Kuma’s is known for them, not the calamari. The burgers range from $10-$14. The one that was shown on Diners, Drive-in’s, and Dives is the one served with a fried egg, “The Kuma Burger.” Since it is so iconic, it is only natural for none of us to order it.

I don’t remember what Gillian ordered, but Amy and Alex ordered the “EYEHATEGOD” burger, which was a patty with a pecan crust, served with three bacon wrapped dates, stuffed with blue cheese. If memory serves the burgers also had a special type of mustard but Amy passed on hers. I ordered the “Pantera,” which was a patty served on top a charred poblano pepper, a slice of bacon and Monterey Jack cheese. With every burger you get the choice of fries or chips. I chose chips, everyone else selected fries. Well we ordered, and we waited.

As I said, the kitchen is small and it took some time for the burgers to come out. I am not sure how much time passed, but I do remember that I went to the bathroom twice. Dear Reader, if you do not wish to contract hepatitis, avoid the bathroom. Thankfully my parents are Chinese and they eat everything; consequently, I have some naturally immunity, or I would be dead. I think I should also talk about the non-existent service. The waitress stopped by twice, and she seemed more concerned with us ordering alcohol then anything else. In fact I noticed that after the burgers were served, the water stopped flowing too.

The burgers came out and my coterie of sexy femme-fatales immediately noted how they could not finish everything and bring leftovers for lunch. Such thoughts did not cross my mind. I cut the burger in half, and noted that it actually took some effort to cut the pretzel bun. I finished the burger in 10 minutes. The chips took me another 5. But here is the thing, the entire experience was a giant “meh.” Don’t get me wrong, the beer was fucking amazing. But Alex told me that it is accessible enough that she will be serving it at her wedding, so it is not a Kuma’s exclusive. The chips were crispy, fresh, piquant and delicious, but was it worth the Edens? But the main disappointment was the burger. I had better ones in Chicago. The Twisted Spoke in Wrigglyville (before it closed down for inauspicious reasons) served a much better burger, and MUCH better bacon. I also remembered the bun to be resplendent verging to the point of being orgasmic. Here is the rub, the much vaunted “Best Burger in the Midwest,” even fell to burgers I had in Tennessee, California, Florida, and even Louisiana. The last of which I remembered sharing with Paulene in which the cook intentionally covered a patty with shredded cheese, and then covered the entire thing with an iron cover after squirting several tablespoons of water. This allowed for a steaming process that made for a resplendent cheese web (this burger is reminiscent of the one I read about served at the “Squeeze Inn” in Sacramento, Ca; another burger-mecca that I must make a pilgrimage to). But in the totality, the burger at Kuma’s was merely competent. The patty was juicy, and it tasted like beef, so it was not overly salted; but admittedly, Alex made a better patty at her Fourth of July party. The pepper and cheese was absolutely uninspired, it was out of a Mexican menu. Granted, the “EYEHATEGOD” was unusual, and maybe that was a better burger, but I was uncomfortable with eating something with such a moniker.

But beyond a competent burger, the one thing that irked me was the attempt in rushing us out. The staff essentially cleared the entire table of everything but the check in order to give us the proverbial push out the door. I drove through an hour and a half of traffic, I waited another hour, I am surrounded by hot women making me the envy of every man in this place! The Office is a re-run, I want to talk about boys! But we bit the bullet, the girls were hitting a burger-coma.

I felt cheated really, and I pondered, if Guy Fiere did not visit, would Kuma’s be Kuma’s. If he had rolled into the Twisted Spoke, I think it would have deservedly won the plaudits that are currently bestowed on Kuma’s. If Food & Wine wrote about my little shack in Louisiana, the lines would be out the door; people would justifiably drive an hour and a half. Like the interior, I felt the burger was a counterfeit. Amy, Alex, and Gillian left like they were trying to recover from a carnivorous frenzy. I felt like I had a amuse bouche.

In a scale of 1 to 4 with 4 being the best:
Value: 1.5. $12 for a lack-luster burger, taxes are due soon.
Atmosphere: I think this varies. I personally like dives, not artificial ones. Regardless, what the hell is wrong with the bathrooms. 2.
Service: 2.
Hotness of clientele: I feel in love with this guy. I was going to have Alex walk me down the aisle - until he took off his hat. 3.

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