The Original Billy Goat Tavern on Michigan Ave., like the Cubs themselves, has become an iconic Chicago munch-factory. Thanks to SNL and John Belushi, the phrases "Cheeseborger, Cheeseborger, Cheeseborger" and "No Pepsi...Coke!" have become objects of quirky pride for Chicagoans. (If you haven't watched the classic skit, you can watch it here on the restaurant's website!)
What is not a source of pride is the bastardized cousin of the restaurant that currently sits festering in Yorktown Mall in Lombard, IL. Though this iteration is officially sanctioned by the iconic feedbox, it is devoid of all possible soul and quality. I can only deduce that this pop-up tumor of a restaurant was created to cash in a few extra bucks.
First of all, the charm of the original BGT is the atmosphere of the place, which can't be replicated in a newly-renovated suburban mall. A slick, modern bar with marble tabletops and a Subway next door doesn't exactly sing "Lovable Dive." I actually visited this establishment a few months ago, out of curiosity and convenience, as my mother, sister, and I needed a quick bite in the middle of shopping.
We were greeted by a manager with the personality of a melted Hershey Bar and a scowl to rival Ed Asner on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
He was not outrightly malignant, but his whole attitude epitomized the phrase, "do you really need to eat right NOW?" I could see if there was a line all the way out the door or something, but the only other inhabitant of the restaurant was a man sitting at the bar looking like he was hung out to dry, nursing a domestic beer.
We proceeded to order a cheeseborger each for my mother and sister and an Italian beef for me. I like to fancy myself a true connoisseur of the Italian beef in all its radiant glory. Never has God in his infinite culinary glory every imbued such a perfect creation of mere mortals.
This sandwich, sadly, tasted like something that passed through the bowl of lucifer before landing smack dab in the middle of my plate. The meat was tough, to the point where, from the moment I sunk my teeth into it, chunks of fat and sinew were trapped between my teeth. My initial reaction was to retch, but I was able to spit it out just in time. The effect was truly that nauseating, like small pieces of shoe leather fashioned together to loosely form a sandwich. And I had to wait nearly fifteen minutes for this, which was the straw that spoiled the camel's appetite.
The cheeseborgers, according to my female compatriots, had good flavor. The problem was that the texture was spongy, the meat pallid and pale (and small, to boot), and the bun far too big for the meat. When you're thinking that McDonald's would be a better option for the money spent, you start to question the quality of the establishment.
I went into the experience wishing and hoping that I'd be able to add this beef to my wall of excellence, but the meal as a whole was downright sad. Here is a Chicago success story that is palpable, the original being a place the city takes extreme pride in. This bastard cousin begs the questions as to why we need satellite locations of famous eateries that fail to uphold even the most minimum standards? Why do we need a Chili's in an airport that serves frozen meat? Why do we need California Pizza Kitchen and White Castle dinners in the freezer section at the grocery store? If you want quality, you go to the source. Now, we all may not have the means to go to all the places we want to go to, but that's why we have options. You don't need to go to the food place you're lusting after right this second. Save up your time and pesos and buckle in for the real McCoy, instead of a dimestore replication.
But, that being said, the fries were good.