Maybe it was the weather. Having just braved an hour plus one way trip in a horrid downpour, I could have sworn it didn’t look like the apocalypse on my way out the door.
Maybe it was the truncated nap I took right before leaving. I woke up at 4:15 yesterday morning and biked to and from work for my monthly team meeting before the we opened for business, the latter trip soaking my first change of clothes. The afternoon provided little respite for my weary body and mind, as I took a quick 45 minutes of time in the snooze corral. I made sure to wake myself to give ample travel time, picking out items to bring for friends that I hadn’t seen all month, a good change of clothes from my mid-day lounging standby of pajamas, and a decent window for catching one of the last rush-hour busses west.
Maybe I didn’t give the restaurant a fair shake. When all is said, my dinner was still just a burger.
This month’s edition of Burger Club, a gathering of far-flung city friends with keen interest in what our area has to offer in terms of meat patties, found us at Lockdown, a hard rocking burger bar on the near North Side. It was half price burger night, invoking the veiled unspoken proverb as our host put it, “Money saved is a beer earned.”
We arrived in ones and twos- most, myself included, soaked through our Tuesday best with a cloud’s worth of Chicago HateWater®. Arriving somewhere in the middle of the group, 15 minutes before burger time, I sent my message with my head count for the evening. It was going to be me and a plus one, a newcomer to the group who lived closeby, loved burgers, and with whom I was due for a visit. (Hi, Niles!) We settled on a group of ten, and let the doorman know. Early in the evening, the place was finishing its first rotation of tables, but they assured us that the big table in the back was ours, and we bellied up to the bar for a pre-dinner drink.
While they had a decent drink selection, of which we all had one or two, as fifteen, thirty, and then forty five minutes had passed, we noticed that the place was approaching standing room, and over the chugging riffs of Metallica songs nobody had requested, you could almost begin to hear stomachs grumble.
An hour had passed. Someone whose name was not mine needed some food and quick, as the second or third adult root beer beverage was digging in and lashing itself to the bulkhead for a long and drunken night. We took a look back at our promised table. They had sat another party.
We’ve all been there. Many if not all of us had held positions in the service industry, so we could see how a large party of prompt and agreeable patrons could be forgotten abo…wait. No. That’s not how it’s supposed to happen. In the service industry, you agree on a fair service, you provide that service, and you complete the transaction with a profitable night for all involved. There are host books, failsafes, mouths and methods of communication to ensure that this doesn’t happen. It’s what professionals do.
We seem to have been left by the side of the road in favor of another party, a less agreeable (we’re all getting burgers. Easiest thing for a burger bar to do) group of folks. To one of us, this would not stand. She took a look at “our” table, back to the Doorman of Empty Promises, and stood up.
Reaming commenced, and our recalcitrant and unapologetic restaurant representative shuffled around for a bit, then gave us five to ten minutes before sitting half of us at a table. Not ready or willing to give our seats up at the bar, the remainder of us white flagged our way to a couple of menus, undernourished arms flailing to get the bartenders to bring us some food, any food. Any hope of a fair rating for the evening went out the window, as most of us wished to eat and remove ourselves as swiftly as possible. The four of us at the bar ordered burgers, some chili, some macaroni and cheese. And we waited.
Burger Club has been going on for over a year. In that time, every joint in the Chicago burgersphere, from Edzo to Mindy, from Naha to Nightwood, has been sampled. Last month’s offering, Pleasant House Bakery, had given us everything we had hoped and more. They knew we were coming, as all restaurants we sample do, and they went above our expectations while keeping their identity and quality standards intact. We had house-selected buns, signature chips, a well-seasoned and temped burger, and the addition of radish greens from their garden, English style bacon of their own recipe, and a British pub sauce topping the burger. The owner came out and talked to us, giving us a full explanation of the burger, why he chose it, why he LIKED it, and why he thought it would be a good match for their restaurant. He put a personal stamp on his business, and showed us why their style of food and service draw customers to Bridgeport from all over the city. More restaurants need to be as Pleasant.
We waited four minutes, or maybe it just seemed that short in comparison to how long we were without food. Out came burger number one, the Fat Elvis, Medium Rare. A Patty with Peanut Butter, Bacon, and Grand Marnier Flambeed Bananas, according to the menu. With a five bean dish of Ragu chili accompanying it, we got a burger that was cold in the middle slopped with peanut butter and two wet bananas in a pie pan. My burger of Bacon, Cheddar, Carnitas and Prosciutto came without discernable porkiness, aside from the languid pile of Cold Salty HamShredz® ready to attack my craw. It was also underdone. I’d expect CSHS® at Guy’s American Kitchen, but this here was a hand selected bar in CHICAGO, MEAT TOWN, USA, allegedly known for attitude and quality meat products. We couldn’t see past the grumbles escaping our mouths to see more than the attitude, I guess.
The receptiveness to the other burgers, by this point in the evening, was as cold as our burgers. I heard that the kimchi was “Cold Red WetSlaw®”, and our other half of the group, upon seeing that we had all-too-quickly received burgers that may or may not have had the special personal touches of a flipjockey who cared, began texting us with profanity.
Our plates were cleared, and a woman curtly asked us if we were going to have another round. “Most likely not,” was our response. She went on about how she and her beau didn’t really care, but hoped that we’d be out of their soon because they wanted our seats.
Sure, lady. With pleasure. Good riddance, yeah?
A few minutes later, as we were settling up, another couple asked, nicely, if we were leaving. They were told, tongue in cheek, that they’d probably have to fight the rude woman and her boyfriend, but that they’d probably just be able to settle for having to sit next to them.
As we were unable to enjoy a meal as friends together, our half, finished and paid, offered to head to the lovely Sportsmen’s Bar down the street to secure tables for our party in short order. That offer was quickly accepted, and they joined us as fast as their full bellies and unsated appetites would allow.
On our way out, one of our group walked past the doorman.
“So you guys think I did a pretty bad job, huh?”
Not wanting to ruffle any feathers, he shrugged, sighed.
“Don’t cut me up too bad on your blog.”
I wasn’t going to, but…
I’m trying not to. I understand that for the night that it was, it most likely was an honest mistake, but that isn’t my problem. I’m blogging about this here because I don’t want to put a Yelp hit out on them. Comparatively, our experiences at other restaurants have been much better, and despite the low price tag, the added wait and lack of attentiveness detracted from the overall value and experience of our evening out. From me, this burger does not get a rating, because it could be seen as unfairly judged based on a bias that has little to do with the actual food. However, if as a restaurant you are known for one thing, and you have a promotion advertising this alleged great showcasing of your signature product, own it. Own it like you invented it. Do not make excuses, but make damn sure that you’re providing the same quality service that you’re allegedly known for and a product that meets or exceeds what the customer would expect. If you can’t achieve that, those Limp Boozy BananaChunkz® on the burger aren’t the only things I’ll write home about.
After we left the restaurant with the literal and figurative bad tastes swirling round our beef holes, we moseyed down to Sporty’s for a nightcap. Two guys behind the bar, mixing drinks, talking, working together, accommodating a full house of smiling friendly patrons on a rainy night. We played checkers, listened to a bit of Joni Mitchell, and unwound, putting a more pleasant bookend on our evening than our Lockdown experience alone could have provided.
To the anonymous doorman- Thank you for inspiring me to write again. May the remainder of your days at that establishment be filled with better experiences than ours, and may we both learn from that.