The cheeseburger is such a staple that it's hard to imagine a time where it didn't exist. The sandwich has been with us for more than 100 years, as most historians trace the birth of the burger in its modern form back to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
They were further popularized when a post-World War I era restaurant called White Castle opened in Wichita, KS. The small, 2 1/2-inch burgers, with the five holes in a die pattern cut out of them to ensure even, quick cooking without making flipping necessary were a local hit. Customers appreciated the short wait and low price for the savory sandwich, and the fast-food industry suddenly had it's most basic blueprint.
In the late 1940s, Ray Kroc, in a partnership with the McDonald family, took those blueprints and built an empire.
Herm's Hot Dog Palace and Poochie's Hot Dogs are two Skokie originals with a lot in common. Just four blocks from one another on Dempster Street, each is family owned and operated, beloved by their fans and offer somewhat similar menus. One particularly popular item at each restaurant is the burger.
This is the opening round of a series to determine who serves the best burger in Skokie. This friendly, light-hearted competition is meant only to shine a spotlight on local restaurants and their takes on one popular dish. The results of the burger matchups are based on our opinions at Patch, using the "we know it when we see it" method of evaluating what makes a burger good.
Due to the number of burgers to try in Skokie, the passion of the people preparing them and their wide availability, we all win in the end.
Poochie's, 3832 Dempster St., isn't shy about explaining its place in history, doing so with a website that states the restaurant was born "in 1969 just as the first man was landing on the moon." It turns out that the storefront hot dogger was a giant leap for Skokie, too. Poochie's has been serving up burgers, fries and other unique sandwiches for more than 40 years now.
Their burgers are thick 1/3-pound patties, but they aren't hand formed. The beef is provided by a local butcher and never frozen. "We get five or six deliveries of meat every week," one cook said during a recent lunch rush.
Its char cheddar burgers are grilled, not fried. The charring of the meat results from the grill: the wide spokes of the grill are spaced enough to produce char lines across the patty. The burgers cook through fairly quickly, licked from below by flames, and in the end the exterior of the meat is a bit crisp, with well-defined dark grill lines.
Despite the intensity of the heat and the charred patty, the burger remains juicy, the natural flavors of the meat intensified by the slightly burnt edges. This is a tasty burger.
A char cheddar burger with everything (ketchup, mustard, onions, relish, hot peppers and tomato), fries and a pop is $8 and change.
In all fairness to Herm's, it does do bill itself as a hot dog palace. That said, there are only five hot dogs on the otherwise extensive menu that ranges from burgers (16 menu items on offer) to catfish to wings to pastas. This mother-and-son joint has a long history in Skokie as well, and the owners don't hold back when it comes to explaining how they fit in locally either: in a mural spanning an entire wall, owner Marla Shane and her two sons are depicted alongside local luminaries like Mike Ditka, Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey.
These cheeseburgers weigh in a bit smaller than Poochie's at a quarter of a pound. Herm's, 3404 Dempster St., also uses a local butcher and never freeze its burgers, saying local meat deliveries are made daily.
Herm's grills its burgers as well. Unfortunately, as the burgers are a bit flatter and only a quarter of a pound, they seem to have a tendency not to retain as much flavor. On a recent visit, our burger wasn't dried out, but it wasn't juicy and flavorful either. Between the thinner patty and weaker taste, the burger recalled McDonald's style burgers a bit.
A cheeseburger with everything (also ketchup, mustard, onions, relish, hot peppers and tomato), fries and a pop is $7.25.
First-round winner of The Great Skokie Burger Battle: Poochie's char cheddar burger
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