Never in my life did I imagine that I’d one day make arguments against hamburgers, but I have all but pleaded with chefs to stop putting them on their menus. I recognize that the notoriously thin profit margins of the typical Chicago restaurant often require the fattening properties of what’s becoming the chicken breast of the average modern American menu—the thing that timid, incurious eaters can be depended on to order.
This has also led to an ongoing arms race to develop ever more weaponized upgrades on the simple idea of a griddled ground beef patty sandwiched between two halves of a soft bun.
I’m sure it goes back further, but I blame Kuma’s Korner, the Avondale metal bar that in the early aughts achieved insane levels of popularity with its thick, beef-based Towers of Babel, stacked with precipitous layers of meats, cheeses, sauces, and garnish such as to require a fork for the inevitable wreckage. Soon these wobbling ziggurats began popping up all over town, heaped with everything from doughnuts to peanut butter to mac ‘n’ cheese.
The direction shifted after people started spending unreasonable portions of their evenings waiting for one of Hogsalt Hospitality’s Au Cheval burgers, a pair (or trio) of food-service-grade, diner-style patties topped with cheese and optional eggs and bacon. The result was a minimalist counterreaction to the excesses of the day that reintroduced the burger fundamentals in all their power.
These days the diner burger is in ascendance, but the impulse to use it as a vehicle for incompatible top loads maintains.
Mini Mott is a new platform for the diner-style burger that achieved some cult status at Edward Kim‘s sorta-Asian street-food spot Mott St, where due to kitchen limitations it was available only at the restaurant’s bar before 7 PM.
Now, to satisfy demand, Kim and company have taken over prime Logan Square real estate and dedicated it to this: two thin patties blanketed by American cheese embedded with chopped raw onion, smeared with hoisin aioli and miso compound butter, and topped with jalapeños, pickled cucumbers, and a pigeon’s nest of frizzle-fried sweet potato. It arrives with an Instagram-ready tip o’ the toasted bun, ready to shake its ass for the iPhone.
The upper levels of this sandwich do indeed make a statement, forming a crunchy, crispy, gooey, tangy, sweet, and squishy umami storm that just happened to blow in on some beef. (Periodic burger specials demonstrate the versatility of this approach: a recent offering, the Chicago Bears Burger, oozed giardiniera, truffled Gruyere sauce, and fried red onions.)
The well-done, nearly uniform patties are under there somewhere, but they have so little flavor or textural interest—no fetching browning or lacy edges—that they do little more than serve as the floor of a basement frat party in its final hour. Then again, if you object to any amount of carnal pleasure whatsoever, you can go for the “carnitas,” made from shredded unripe jackfruit. At that young stage the inherently bland tropical species sometimes convinces vegans they can live another day without eating their own.
Supporting roles at Mini Mott are played by shoestring fries dressed with garlic confit and by wings—small, sugary, soy-saturated chicken wings crusted with everything-bagel seasoning. (The latter were developed at the mother ship, Mott St; the former first introduced at Kim’s late Ruxbin.) “Hangry Wings,” another version of these petite pinions, is closer to the Buffalo standard, slathered in a mild sambal compound butter.
A few sides abide. There’s a wedge salad, shishito peppers, and, most notably, skewered ddeokbokki—chile-glazed crispy-chewy Korean rice cakes, impaled on either side of some tasty Japanese-style Berkshire pork mini weenies. The last made me think a better use of this space might’ve been to showcase some interpretation of a pojangmacha, a hard-core, soju-soaked Korean street food oasis, slinging blood sausage, spicy chicken feet, and deep-fried corn dogs under tented bare lightbulbs.
There is a further commitment to street food, though. Mini Mott’s daytime menu offers breakfast tacos, flour tortillas swaddling those sausages flayed into Octodogs and bedded with tight-curded scrambled eggs, Monterey Jack, and more everything-bagel seasoning, or a disturbing french-fry-and-egg taco dusted with ramen powder and the Japanese seasoning furikake, made with dried fish, sesame, and seaweed. Don’t worry, plant eaters. You can get your “carnitas” in a taco too.
Soft-serve ice cream brings up the rear, a changing seasonal choice (currently vanilla with mint) and a watery Belgian chocolate, available in a cup or shake, a cake cone, or coiled in the gaping mouth of a golden, fish-shaped Japanese street cake called taiyaki, its tail hiding a secret deposit of sweet adzuki bean paste.
There’s a surprisingly varied beverage selection for such a focused concept, featuring seven cocktails and ten beers on draft—and those soft-serve milkshakes can be spiked—which makes Mini Mott’s sidewalk cafe, chairs turned toward the boulevard Parisian style, a nice spot to drink, at least for the fair-weather days that remain. Still. While typically I’m a fan of specialists who commit to doing one exceptional thing, the Mott signature is just one of the countless unnecessary burgers that are defined more by what’s on them than what’s in them. v