Focusing on a single menu item is risky. If it’s great, then the restaurant is glorious. If it’s not, there’s no point in returning. But what happens when everything is right except that main dish? That’s the question I’m trying to answer about Parts & Labor.
A new Logan Square spot from the Boiler Room, Parts & Labor offers a $5 double cheeseburger, topped with pickles, mayo, lettuce and onion. There’s also a black bean patty available. Ketchup is on the counter. The burgers can be turned into $10 combos with the addition of a fried side (pickles, onion rings, fries or giardiniera) or salad, and a beer or shot (there’s a small beer selection and three taps dispensing Fernet-Branca; like Boiler Room, Parts & Labor is cash only, and showing your receipt from the on-site ATM will net you a free Fernet shot).
I appreciate the simplicity of the premise, which is a nod to owner Russ Grant’s family’s business, Grant's Wonderburger Grill, an old-school diner in Mount Greenwood. You’d think that would give the Parts & Labor burger some cred, but it doesn’t. The patty, made with beef and pork, is griddled, but there’s no char, no salt and no meaty flavor. The vegetables and cheese were all I could taste, and I gave up halfway through to focus on the other offerings—namely, a pile of big, tangy pieces of fried giardiniera, which comes with sriracha mayo. It’s spicy and there’s an ideal balance between coating and vegetable. The dessert menu takes a carnival route, with fried Twinkies and two floats—root beer and Green River, a Midwestern soda I hadn’t had before.
“It tastes like the color green,” the bartender said, and poured me a sample. The lime soda didn’t do much for me, so I went with a root beer float, which the bartender encouraged me to get with a shot of Fernet-Branca. The amaro adds some bitterness and depth and it’s a welcome upgrade to the float.
The restaurant itself is also welcoming—everyone is so friendly, and the industrial vibe, with ladders lining the back of the bar and wooden furniture, makes it a comfortable place to hang out. I just wish Parts & Labor was a place I wanted to hang out in again.