Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Country House Burger - Country House - Clarendon Hills, Il

One of the oldest restaurants in DuPage County is Country House in Clarendon Hills. It has been through a few different owners and renovations but it has endured. This place is practically a landmark. Standing on the corner of Clarendon Hills road and 55th street it's watched countless cars travel under that blinking yellow light hanging over the intersection. They even have a ghost that likes to haunt the place. (if you believe in ghosts)
    As far as I can remember this place has been crowded. Partly because of it's tight quarters, but it does bring in the customers. As a child I remember sitting at the heavy wood table with the u-shaped wood arm chairs. Smoke filled the room from people smoking cigarettes in the bar (as it was allowed back then) and you could hardly hear yourself over the din. Chairs were back to back and it seemed like you couldn't pull your chair in far enough, but the room was always happy. People talked to each other about their days while putting back a beer and waiting for there food. Most everyone always had a smile on their face. The same is still true today. While the crowd in the bar may have changed over to a younger generation (it's become a hangout for the post college, working age group) the dining room looks to be full with folk who have enjoyed the place for years.
    So Melissa and I decided to go back. We hadn't been there in years, not that we didn't try, the place is always packed. We had been to the one in Lisle, but it's just not the same. This is the original and it's the place to be. The first thing you notice is the aroma floating around the building. OK, it's the second. The first is that the parking lot is full, but as for the fragrance, I swear they pump out the char-grill burger smell into the parking lot. My mouth was watering before I even closed the door to my truck. The next thing is that there is no waiting space inside. You just squeeze up to a wall and wait your turn, but no one seems to be complaining about it. We were seated after 15 minutes or so, and the waitress was prompt. One of the things I remember form my childhood was their French Onion Soup. I'm glad I remembered. It was loaded with sweet onions and big fat croutons and covered with melted with gruyere cheese. AWESOME!
     Now it was time for the burger. Traditionally I always got the Country House Burger, then for a while i would get the bison, but I was going back to tradition. The Country House Burger is a half pound of USDA choice ground chuck cooked the way you like. It's served with lettuce, tomato, and a pickle. You get your choice of steak fried, onion rings or potato salad. They'll even give you raw or grilled onions and cole slaw on request. I totally forgot about the coleslaw. I wish I remembered, I loved that stuff. Then you get a choice of bun. You get to choose from a sesame bun, light rye bread, or Bavarian dark rye bread. I have always gotten the dark rye, and looking around the place it seems to be the bun of choice. Now if I were the owner I would have the rye breads toasted, but sometimes tradition steps in and overrules logic. They just use bread right out of the bag. It gets a bit soggy and falls apart easily, but this is the way it has always been done. It's not really a sticking point with me. the burger is delicious anyway.
    This seems to be one of the difficult areas of reviewing burgers. I need to separate my specific taste from the taste that has worked for years, and not let something like regular rye bread stand in the way of what is otherwise an outstanding burger.
     This trip really brought back memories. Even though they're not using the metal plates any more, and the egg shaped candle holders have been replaced by electric candles, they still hold true to the tradition established decades before. And that is to put together a tasty burger in a friendly atmosphere and to keep watch over the intersection of Clarendon Hills Road and 55th street... with its yellow flashing light.
   You can check out the menu, and the ghost story at   www.