After what has been much too long of a hiatus, I have returned from the depths of schoolwork and med school applications — determined once again to bring you reviews of all the best (and sometimes not-so-best) places to eat off the CTA train lines.
Sitting at 666 W. Diversey Parkway, Kuma’s Too is like a black hole of death (metal music) amongst the colorful flowers outside the Trader Joe’s across the street, but in the best possible way.
The original Kuma’s Corner, which is a couple miles west of the Belmont Red Line stop, opened in 2005. In February 2013, a second Kuma’s was born in a much more convenient location just a couple blocks east of the Diversey Brown/Purple Line stop.
I haven’t been to the original location, but from what I’ve read on good old Yelp and what my friends have told me, Kuma’s Too has a much more commercialized look and is almost twice the size, making it a good starting point for those who may want a great meal, but aren’t ready to descend into the even darker black hole of death (metal) that is the original Kuma’s Corner.
Kuma’s Too struck me as small, though, especially after hearing that it was much bigger than the original location. The 20 seats at the bar and cluster of tables were enough to comfortably seat the Wednesday night crowd, but I could easily imagine there being a wait on the weekends.
The majority of the menu is comprised of 15 burgers named after the heavy metal rock bands whose music blasts through the speakers in the restaurant. The music isn’t obnoxiously loud, but it is noticeable enough that in the breaks between songs you realize you’re talking a little louder than normal. I also noticed the music was louder in the back of the restaurant, which also happens to be darker (at least during the day, when the light shines in from the wall of windows on one side of the restaurant), so if you or your friends are faint of heart, sit near the windows.
Although burgers are Kuma’s claim to fame, and rightfully so, I actually didn’t order one. But if I did, I would have had to pick between the Lair of the Minotaur, which has caramelized onions, pancetta, Brie cheese and bourbon poached pear, or the Led Zeppelin, which has bacon, pulled pork, barbecue sauce, sharp cheddar and pickles.
What I had been looking forward to all day, however, was in big bold letters but hidden at the bottom of the menu: “make your own mac and cheese.”
For $14 you get to pick two add-ins from a list of 15, including prosciutto, chicken, roasted red peppers, sweet corn and jalapeños. Each additional mix-in costs $2.
I chose bacon and scallions for my mac and cheese, while my friend chose chicken and broccoli. We also decided to split an order of barbeque pork fries ($12) as an appetizer (although I wanted the jalapeño poppers that were stuffed with cream cheese and chorizo and came with a jalapeño raspberry jam dipping sauce).
Our waitress, who like the rest of the staff must have had to pass a test before being hired to make sure she could do her hair in a unique and metal-esque way, informed us that sometimes the fries take longer to come out than the mac and cheese, so we said we didn’t mind getting them with our meals.
Then we played a very long game of “wait for your food while watching other people chow down on fried pickles and burgers so big that they demand to be cut in half.” The wait was too long, and I noticed other people who had sat down after us getting their food before we did. At one point, the waitress almost dropped off our check before we had even received our food.
After half an hour, when our food finally did come, she apologized profusely, was extremely helpful and continued to check in on us throughout the night.
The food was well worth the wait. The mac and cheese doesn’t look like much when it’s put in front of you, but the equal parts of creamy cheese and perfectly cooked macaroni, paired with the generous portions of whatever tasty add-ins you picked, will have you taking home leftovers.
I was pleased with my choice of bacon and scallions, both of which added unique flavors to the macaroni without being too overpowering. My friend was equally pleased, noting that the pieces of chicken and broccoli were the perfect size.
The barbeque pork fries, which actually arrived after our entrées, were also good. The salty, crispy fries were topped with Kuma’s slow-cooked pulled pork, which was tender and had a unique tangy barbeque sauce that made me think there had to be some alcoholic beverage cooked into it.
Verdict: Kuma’s Too is just one example of the great gems you can find all over Chicago, but it sets itself apart from the rest of the ho-hum burger joints with a wider selection of five-star food (aside from the eccentric burgers) and its connection to Chicago’s heavy metal community, which has rallied in masses to support both locations.