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The Making of A Good Burger Joint

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Sep 30, 2009 6:00PM

"We've been working through the menu, a few dishes at a time, for a couple days now, running through the process, putting things where they need to be, and trying to just learn how to best do what we're trying to do. Some things are going well, some are proving harder to nail (like the fries). Polishes are easy. Score the ends with a plus sign and let'em curl up when you toss the sausage into the deep fryer for about a minute, before finishing it on the char grill. It's a Chicago classic."

Automatic Burger blog

Eddie Lakin is a longtime poster to LTHForum. He also maintains the blogs Cooking and Eating in Chicago and Chicagomatic. The latter documents the preparation, buildout and other details Lakin's soon-to-open Evanston burger and hot dog joint, Edzo's Burger Shop. Housed in the former Pita Pete's space at 1571 Sherman Ave., Lakin is attempting to emulate the hot dog stands and diners of his formative youth in the 70's and early 80's. The main dining area has a vintage Vienna Beef sign on one of the walls and Lakin's logo for Edzo's, with its bubble font and color scheme, conjures images of those fugly old uniforms of the San Diego Padres, the opening credits of The Electric Company, or the Regal Beagle.

Lakin is no stranger to training a kitchen staff. After graduating from the pre-Le Cordon Bleu certified Culinary and Hospitality Institute of Chicago Ten years ago, he worked on the line for Keith Luce at the former Spruce on East Ontario. Luce's pedigree as a White House Sous Chef during Bill Clinton's first term and stints in New York's Rainbow Room, Le Cirque, and La Côte Basque didn't prepare him or his staff for the throngs of people who came to Spruce. Shortly after being named "Rising Star Chef of the Year" by the James Beard Foundation, Luce left for greener pastures in Colorado. Lakin packed his bags and toured Europe. He then came back and did stints at Tru, BIN 36 and Carlucci's in Wheeling before eventually hiring on as a general manager for the Rosenthal Group, best known for running all the Sopraffina locations. With the downturn in the economy, Lakin was laid off.

With the types of corporate chef/GM jobs for which Lakin was qualified few and far between in this day and age, he discussed the idea for opening a burger joint with his wife. "I didn't really want to do it," Lakin said, "but with companies not hiring this was the best way i found to be able to make a living." Lakin and his wife scrounged up some money and he eventually found an ideal location in Lincoln Square for his retro-70's concept. When that fell through, Lakin looked around the north suburbs of his youth for a location. He was fortunate enough to find Pita Pete's just as Pete was looking to get out of the restaurant game. "From what I've been told, Pete was doing good business. He just simply wanted to retire." Lakin said. He hired two of Pita Pete's former employees (at Pete's suggestion) and promptly started the process to open Edzo's.

"It's so much easier dealing with the permit and inspection process in Evanston," Lakin said. "I can just go to the courthouse, walk up to the appropriate office and the people there are so accommodating and helpful. In Chicago your head spins from the runaround you get from city employees."

As he nears opening, Lakin's keeping his menu simple for now. "I knew that one thing I wanted was to grind the beef for our burgers in house," Lakin said. He'll be serving quarter and half-pound burgers. The former will be cooked through; the latter cooked to order. Fries are house-cut and deep fried in canola oil, but can be served with a range of toppings from Merkt's cheddar to giardinera relish. On my second visit a gaggle of LTHForum regulars including Gary Wiviott, Mike Gebert and Seth Zurer were sampling the menu and giving Lakin their assessments on what worked and what needed improvement. Lakin showed Carlos, his cook, how to cook a grilled cheese. He started by toasting each half individually, then sprinkling shredded cheddar on the grill. As Carlos watched, Lakin placed one of the sandwich halves atop the now bubbling cheese, married the other sandwich half to that, then scraped the cheese and sandwich off the grill and flipped it over onto the remaining cheddar.

That type of attention to detail gives one high hopes for Edzo's.