Social Call

April 2018 View more

From mom’s meatloaf to the childhood staple of simple mac and cheese, elevating classic comfort food by introducing gourmet ingredients or alternative preparations has become something of a cottage industry in recent years.

It’s not at all surprising that the humble hamburger has found itself at the center of this trend, with its
standard meat-between-buns setup proving to be an irresistible canvas for the innovative derring-do of countless creative chefs. From unorthodox toppings (remember when a fried egg on a burger was considered novel?) to a bevy of bread choices to a chemist’s lab of sauces, the days of simply choosing from among three cheese options are long gone.

Few places in the western suburbs, however, have embraced this spirit of burger boldness quite as enthusiastically as The Burger Social, a relatively new arrival to downtown Wheaton’s growing restaurant row on Hale Street. While several of its neighboring eateries may offer a few hamburger options, The Burger Social goes all in on the concept with an ambitiously single-minded slate of variations, several of which strain the limits of imagination almost as much as they do the structural endurance of their buns.

Mix and Mingle


Given the spatial limitations of its long, narrow bar and dining room, hungry diners will be relieved discover that The Burger Social has a second-floor seating space as well. The wait for a table can nevertheless grow long during busy periods, however, which is why both the call-ahead policy and (especially) the extensive cocktail program are well considered. Indeed, the laundry list of whiskeys and cocktails here seems expressly intent on making up for the lost time during which Wheaton was a dry town (plus, it stands as one of the few late-night options in the area).

Those idling at the bar for a coveted table may also want to quell the rumbles with a selection from the appetizer lineup, where we found plenty of satisfaction in the piping hot buckeye-shaped pretzel bites, served with beer cheese sauce and kimchi spread, and the deviled eggs, another of those elevated comfort foods, here sporting the added kick of pesto and crispy prosciutto. 

The Meat of the Debate

Of course, these delicious warm-ups were merely prelude to the main event: the dozen or so beef burger creations (abetted by a selection of alternative protein options, including bison, shrimp, turkey and veggie-black bean). While the array of toppings and concoctions is certainly impressive—think of options like jalapeño aioli in lieu of traditional ketchup and mustard—general manager Mike Carl says it would all be for naught without a good foundation upon which to build. “Our ten-ounce beef patties are a mix of brisket and chuck, made with USDA-certified Angus beef from cattle raised locally in Illinois and Iowa,” he explains.

While the Social burger is the standard DIY option, allowing patrons to start with that signature patty on brioche and add ingredients to their hearts’ (and wallets’) content, I couldn’t pass on one of the chef-inspired achievements. In this case, perhaps still in the spirit of the Eagles’ thrilling Super Bowl victory a few weeks earlier, I passed on Carl’s favorite Italian Beef Burger (a ten-ounce beef patty topped with thinly sliced Italian beef, mozzarella cheese and giardinera on a pretzel bun, served with a side of au jus) and opted instead for the brotherly love of the similarly constructed Philly Patty Melt, with sliced rib-eye, Cheez Whiz, peppers and onions on sourdough. Served alongside a healthy portion of crisp, seasoned fries and chased with a thick vanilla shake, this was a three-napkin, two-sandwiches-in-one meal that, while not suited for a first date or a visit with one’s cardiologist, was every bit as indulgent and messily delicious as it sounds.

We finished with an order of the cronuts—flaky, deep-fried donut-croissant hybrids served with chocolate, whipped cream and vanilla ice cream that carried the obvious theme of The Burger Social through to its logical conclusion. Run this straightforward meal through the imagination of this concept, and it was deliciously clearthis was indeed comfort food, elevated.