Before writing off Wahlburgers as Mark Wahlberg’s celebrity bankroll restaurant, know that co-owner Paul Wahlberg is a professional chef whose burgers have proven themselves worth a shot. “You gotta believe,” as Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch would say.
The casual dining, Shake Shack-like restaurant has already gotten attention with their opening on April 24 in the heart of River North at 2 E. Ontario St. It’s been highly anticipated, serving as the subject for 10 seasons on A&E Network’s Emmy-nominated reality show, “Wahlburgers.”
Wahlburgers had a few delays due to permit conflicts with the city, and they were originally scheduled to open late 2018, according to the staff.
“It’s been wild every day,” said Tracy Caldwell, a server and trainer from the Atlanta location who’s worked for Wahlburgers for two years.
Wahlburgers is founded and owned by the celebrity Wahlberg brothers — actor and former rapper from Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Mark Wahlberg; his brother Donnie Wahlberg who’s also an actor and former boy band member; and the chef, Paul Wahlberg, who founded his own restaurant named Alma, after their mother.
“Our family, our story, our burgers,” reads the tagline for the family-oriented restaurant, with an emphasis on hospitality in their mission statement.
“I love my coworkers, guests and the atmosphere,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been waiting tables for many years but Wahlburgers is the only place I enjoyed working.”
The atmosphere is hard to beat. The interior is filled with modern furniture and accents of vibrant green that keep the setting fresh, and casual for a lunch out.
A colossal TV hangs above the bar, accompanied by a few smaller ones and a wall filled with a city map making for an exceptional sports bar, customized to Chicago. But Wahlburgers still manages to keep a family-friendly atmosphere with walls lined with pictures of the three brothers, and even one life-size-cut-out of them.
The restaurant’s ceiling is covered by a comprehensive list of movies featuring a Wahlberg, a scramble of black and white words including “Ted” and “Band of Brothers.”
The seven burger options incorporate experimental toppings that were obviously spawned from Paul Wahlberg’s chef background. For example, the “Thanksgiving Turkey Burger” includes stuffing, orange-cranberry sauce and roasted butternut squash.
The “BBQ Bacon” burger is served with fresh jalapeños and avocado spread. “The Super Melt” is a twist on the traditional patty melt, topped with bacon, caramelized onions, pickles and mustard sauce.
The beef is unquestionably disparate, packed with flavor and juiciness without harboring too much grease. The buns don’t soak up the grease, staying light and fresh throughout the whole meal.
Despite the unappetizing name of “government cheese,” which is used on several of the burgers, the cheese has a delicious creaminess which accompanies a burger better than usual cheese.
The signature “Wahl Sauce” is featured on the house burger named “The Our Burger” but is also recommended with shoestring onion rings and tater tots. The sweeter version of Thousand Island dressing, “Wahl Sauce” comes with a spicy kick and pickle flavor which compliments the burger and onion rings.
The Wahl sauce tones down the overpowering red onion used to make the rings. The tater tots and french fries are disappointing — nothing that couldn’t be found in a high school cafeteria.
The expansive menu offers much more than just burgers. It includes “Wahlbowls” — a sandwich or burger turned salad bowl — sandwiches, macaroni salad and plenty of healthier options including cobb salad.
The beverage menu consists of many classics like a root beer float, creamsicle float, frappes and less traditionally, adult frappes. Adult frappes are essentially an alcoholic, icy milkshake. Finishing off a burger with a milkshake is considered by most a tradition, and flavors like Hot Fudge Sundae and S’mores, are just a few traditional flavors made into a boozy dessert.
Burgers range from $9 to $14, and sides and drinks cost extra.
Potential visitors can visit www.wahlburgers.com to see everything the new kid on the block has to offer.