The first thing I noticed about The Chopping Block is that the burger joint had taken over—thankfully—a poorly utilized space on Washington Avenue next door to Kung Fu Saloon. A recently constructed space which had most recently housed a bar whose windows had been painted up with shoe polish to proclaim that it was Washington Avenue's newest "dive bar." I believe the regulars at D&W Drive Inn and the Sundown Saloon would have disagreed with this self-proclaimed title. A dive bar never proclaims to be a dive bar, after all. And dive bars aren't typically found in buildings younger than Kosovo (which only became a country in 2008).
The Chopping Block
5317 Washington Ave.
The second thing I noticed about The Chopping Block was that its menu bore more than a passing resemblence to that of The Burger Guys. Present and accounted for were Vietnamese-influenced burgers (called the Saigon at The Burger Guys, the Vietnam at The Chopping Block), a burger called the Havana (found at both joints, although in slightly different incarnations), a hybrid muffaletta burger (called the Nola at The Burger Guys, the New Orleans at The Chopping Block), and a list of pricey hot dogs (Double-Fisted Dogs at The Burger Guys, Haute Dogs at The Chopping Block). I was quickly becoming wary of this new place, this seeming interloper.
But I was too quick to judge, because that's really where the similarities between The Chopping Block and The Burger Guys end.
The only meat available in The Burger Guys's burgers is HeartBrand beef; The Chopping Block offers everything from elk and venison to turkey and "Kobe" beef. (I'm always reluctant to use "Kobe" when referring to anything except actual Kobe beef from Japan; the American stuff is technically from wagyu cattle that's been crossbred with Angus.) There's even a black bean version for vegetarians. Oh, and salads.
The fries at The Chopping Block are unfortunately frozen and mealy, whereas The Burger Guys's fries are hand-cut, twice-fried, and some of the best in town. That's okay, though, because The Chopping Block turns out some pretty good sides that I'd suggest swapping with those pale, sad fries: namely, the cornmeal-battered fried green tomatoes with a nice heft of black pepper, and triangles of fried macaroni and cheese that are alluring in their simple, silly immaturity. I mean, you're already eating a burger topped with deep-fried pork belly or fried mozzarella sticks (in the Swingler and the Mama Mia burgers, respectively); why stop there?
So as not to pit the restaurant against its supposed competition my buddies and I ended up trying three burgers that are entirely the creation of The Chopping Block, with mixed results. I am pleased to report that I won the burger-ordering contest, ending up with a perfectly medium-rare patty topped with thin slices of salty, griddled salami, melting Provolone cheese, and chunky house-made giardinera in my Chicago burger. Sure, it wasn't the giardinera you'll get atop an Al's Italian beef, but it was excellent regardless and added a zippy, zesty crunch to each bite. Without that giardinera, the burger could easily have been too fatty, but the balance here was ideal.
My friends were less impressed with their choices: a BLT that professed to come with bacon, fried pork belly, and prosciutto, and a Bohemian burger on a whole-grain bun that I would never have ordered to begin with. The various porcine products in the BLT all blended together, and it was difficult to tell the difference between any of the three. "Pork overload," was my friend's consensus.
The Bohemian came on a very small bun that barely held its contents: Gouda, fried ham, pesto and wilted spinach. Again, I would never have ordered this. It sounded bad and tasted worse, its jumble of ingredients the oral equivalent of listening to a record played backwards at low speed.
I imagine that, with time, The Chopping Block will whittle its massive list of burgers down to the ones that really make sense. With 26 to choose from, that can't happen soon enough. It's a little intimidating to sit down and try to select just one during a lunch rush.
Otherwise, I can see the new burger joint becoming a bit of a destination in its own way—not in the same way that people trek to The Burger Guys for duck fat fries and Vietnamese iced coffee shakes and homemade condiments, but on its own merits. I know I'd go back for that Chicago burger in an instant, and I'd swap those fries out for some fried green tomatoes.