“Oh, that’s cute!” I exclaimed as my companion unwrapped the Angry Reuben outside Burke’s Bacon Bar, revealing teeny slices of marbled rye. The sandwich is adorable. So is the tiny bacon dog, which is dragged through the garden. And the pink pig stickers holding the brown paper-wrapped sandwiches closed are the kinds of things I would have affixed to my notebook as a 10-year-old.
But cute, unfortunately, does not automatically translate to delicious.
David Burke opened Burke’s Bacon Bar last month in the James hotel, the same spot where you’ll find his Primehouse restaurant. There's a small counter, but no seating, so you'll need to take items back to your office or eat them outside on the sidewalk. The menu is simple—there are nine mini sandwiches (called “handwiches” because you can eat them single-handedly), and they’re $11 for three or $4 a pop, plus a few sides and desserts.
We tried four—the Big Kahuna Spamwich, Angry Reuben, Beef ‘n Cheddar and River North Bacon Dog—and most were merely fine. The Reuben uses beef pastrami from Indianapolis’ Smoking Goose Meatery and then mars it with bland bacon kraut and Swiss cheese. The Big Kahuna layers barbecue spam, pineapple slaw, bacon crumbs and pickles in a King’s Hawaiian bun and it’s soggy. I liked the Beef ‘n Cheddar, which folds braised beef, steak sauce mayo, bacon, cheddar and crispy onions into a baguette—it's rich, beefy and satisfying. Part of the problem is that bacon feels like an afterthought on each sandwich—if bacon is in the name of the restaurant, I want to actually taste the bacon.
The best item at Burke’s is the bacon chocolate chip cookie, which tastes like it’s made with bacon fat. It’s soft and salty, and studded with chocolate chips and pieces of bacon. These cookies may not be cute, but they’re the only thing I’ll be going back for.