The burger: At Portillo’s, the Chicago-based chain that dropped its first Minnesota outlet in Woodbury last month, burgers aren’t the top-of-mind menu item.
That honor probably belongs to the all-beef hot dog, one that’s appropriately draped in all the requisite Windy City toppings. Other items on the Portillo’s greatest hits list include Italian beef sandwiches, various permutations on chicken sandwiches and baby back ribs, which arrived slathered in a sweet sauce and wrapped in aluminum foil. A few Sbarro-like pastas, too.
Still, this is Burger Friday, so I ordered the basic cheeseburger. You know what? Not bad for a fast-food joint. Not stellar, but not bad. How’s that for a ringing endorsement?
The thin, wide patty, which probably weighs in somewhere around a quarter of a pound, has the appearance of going through a hand-formed and hand-pressed process. It certainly puts on a good show as it hangs, muffin-top style, over the bun’s edge. The not-so-subtle message: You’re getting a lot of burger for the money.
Char, there's plenty of. Unfortunately, there’s not much corresponding sizzle. “We serve our burgers straight from the broiler to you,” reads the menu. I’d like to believe that, but the patty on my burger had the kind of rubbery texture (and flimsy internal temperature) that suggested that it had been previously broiled and then reheated.
The bun has an English muffin's leveled-off appearance but otherwise bears the virtues of a standard-issue white bun. Condiments don’t innovate, but they more than pass muster: a generous tomato slice, a hunk of crisp iceberg lettuce, several tangy rings of raw red onion and a few juicy pickle chips. Lots of ketchup and mayo contribute to the genial sloppiness, and a slice of American cheese – placed under the patty – slips in a salty, gooey kick.
It’s a handful. It's also a bit of a bargain.
Wait time: Just shy of 19 minutes. No wonder. When I arrived, it was 1:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, and the place was a mob scene. I lucked into one of the parking lot’s last available spaces. On the way in, I stopped at 20 while counting the number of cars queued up in the drive-through lanes. Despite the wait, the place – which is much larger than it appears to be from the vantage point of the parking lot -- runs on a kind of military precision.
Fries: Not included. They’re standard-issue crinkle cuts, sturdy, lightly golden, piping hot and crying out for more salt. A small side order is $1.95, a large is $2.29; both are decent values. While the onion rings don’t even come close to perfection (right now, that honor belongs to the sublime version at the Lexington), it’s worth investing $2.29 for a crack at the Portillo’s version. The level of onion is fairly stingy – think “thick string” – but they’re blanketed in a super-crunchy coating (seriously, do they dredge those things in crushed corn flakes?) that’s blatantly addictive.
“The” cake: Portillo’s is known for its double-layer chocolate cake. Frankly, this chocolate cake freak doesn’t see what the fuss is all about. Like the burger, it’s got the right look – “slab” isn’t too far off the mark -- and the price ($3.09) is certainly right. But in terms of flavor, it gives off a distinct Betty Crocker vibe, lacking the buttery, cocoa-ey richness that should come from a sweet that’s going to breezily add 710 empty calories to a person’s waistline.
Address book: 8450 Hudson Road, Woodbury, 612-295-0100. Open 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. A second Portillo's location is now under construction in Maple Grove’s Shoppes at Arbor Lakes.
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