Hackney’s Inside Out Burger, Blue Cheese Burger and Onion Rings are featured on celebrity chef Guy Fieri’s TV show Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. Our very own Ed Hebson dazzles Guy with his burger-making prowess. (Plus Guy is wowed by the taste!)
The show originally ran in 2007, but you can catch reruns approximately every 15 minutes on the The Food Network.
The sole city location of the largely suburban family-owned minichain has the feel of a neighborhood pub and is frequently packed with regulars. Hackney’s, founded in 1939, is best known for retro-ish specialties, particularly the daunting french-fried onion loaf and the Hackneyburger, served on either a bun or dark rye. Other old-school offerings include a strawberry and spinach salad, chicken Waldorf salad, and tuna salad in tomato. That’s not to say that Hackney’s is behind the times: there’s a California burger stuffed with chorizo and queso fresco, a turkey burger stuffed with spinach and feta, and several vegetarian options, among them black bean and veggie burgers and a hummus wrap with apples and carrots. Desserts here attract cult followings, with some favoring the red velvet cake, others the Snickers ice cream pie or chocolate chip sundae (allow ten minutes for baking). There’s a decent selection of beers on tap.
Hackney's on Harms
Vibe: Hackney's is one of the younger pups in this litter of lively eating spots--it goes back to just 1939. But Hackney's has a certain panache that you get to love real fast. The outdoor garden is shadowed with magnificent trees as old as the place itself. An al fresco jewel.
Flavor: Hamburgers that have a heft and heavenly meat. Have it on a bun or black bread. Fries come with, and they are good too. The onion loaf is a hulk that will make you weep with joy. There's fish, too, and meatloaf, and a slew of sandwiches.
Hackney's on Harms has been around as long as I can remember and a lot of years before that. Opened in 1939, it's too bad it doesn't have a figure to throw around about the number of burgers it has served. Definitely, Hackney's is a hamburger kind of place. When you open the menu (snappy green cover), the first thing that catches your eye is the bold type that reads: "The Famous Hackney Burger." And those three words, by the way, are registered (the circled R is right there). Just below those three words is this choice information: "Since 1939, The Original half-pounder. Often imitated, never duplicated. Hackney's dark rye or bun, fries, sliced or grilled onion, Hackney's cole slaw." The next line notes the price ($7.75) and that for an additional 60 cents you can have your burger with American, Swiss or cheddar cheese.
Of course, there's more to ponder than just hamburgers. There are sandwiches galore (chicken breast, turkey, Reuben, corned beef and more), but Hackney's made it big with its beef, as in burger, so let's start there. When I did my best-hamburgers article a few months ago, I did not include Hackney's. I got a lot of flack about that. I mentioned some displeasure with a couple of Hackney Burgers while doing my research. I must have caught an off night.
Over the years, I figure I have eaten at Hackney's maybe 20 or 30 times, so I was a bit concerned that things might be slipping. After putting away a couple of burgers on a recent visit, I am happy to report that all appears to be well at this North Shore favorite. The burgers were every bit as good as I remembered (and wanted them to be), which means good meat that gave its all in flavor and pure enjoyment. At the risk of sounding like I am obsessed with hamburgers, I will say that I find total and ultimate satisfaction in a really good hamburger. Hackney's uses a good bun, too, one that held up to a firm grip (mine) and a gentle grip (my wife). A separate plate loaded with excellent fries was in the center of the table, and those disappeared really fast. A small cup of creamy coleslaw rounded things out.
If you are coming in with a heavy appetite, you should consider another "famous" dish here -- Hackney's original french-fried onions. The menu calls it a "brick," and it is just that -- a compact and mighty (height and width) brick of fried onions. The only way to eat it is to stab your fork into the loaf and shatter off hunks of the onions. Warning: This onion loaf is (most often) greasy, so if fried foods are a problem, go easy or not at all.
Other eating possibilities at Hackney's include steaks and ribs. And then there are the daily specials on the back page of the menu. For example, Wednesday is meatloaf, Thursday is corned beef and cabbage and, of course, Friday is seafood, as in lake perch, walleyed pike and sea scallops. The only special I can comment on is the corned beef and cabbage, which is quite good (and plenty). I am not throwing out a bunch of superlatives here, because what's there to say about slices of tender corned beef laid atop cooked cabbage? On the other hand, the price of $7.95 makes it that much more special.
Hackney's is a bar and grill made good - good enough to expand into a Chicagoland chain of five. The original Hackney's in Glenview shows the success is no fluke. Prices may be a dollar or so higher than at some other burger joints, but standards here are pretty high.
Smokers get to sit on the dark, booth-lined bar side of the restaurant, and the pink-lung crowd occupies the more brightly lighted area. When the weather cooperates the best seating for all is outdoors, under the trees.
The tavern's renown rests mainly on two items: its burger, served between squares of dark rye, and the loaf of deep fried onions.
Lets start with the onions ($3.45 half order or $4.45 full), as most of the customers seem to do. This dish has to be the brainchild of an enterprising grill cook tired of herding batches of onion rings through the deep frier. Instead of being allowed to run loose, raw rings of Spanish onion are drenched with batter, dusted with flour and packed into a small deep-fry basket before frying. The result is a sweet, delicately crispy tangle. A half-order easily fills the appetizer needs of two or three.
Two other fried appetizers - the mushrooms ($3.95) and clam strips ($3.95) - aren't quite as good because they use a cracker-meal coating instead of the onion-loaf batter.
On to the burger, a half-pounder they will serve on an egg bun instead of dark rye, if you ask. Well textured and beefy, it satisfies any burger cravings you might have. Accompanying fries are plentiful and perfect: golden, crisp and just the right size. The dollop of coleslaw is the creamy sort.
Fat-conscious burger-lovers can try the buffalo burger ($7.45) or the Tom T turkey burger ($6.45); both come with fries to negate any health-giving properties. We tried the turkey burger, which requires a dose of ketchup to counter its blandness. Among the dozen sandwich choices (all with fries and coleslaw) is a fine Reuben ($6.95), generous with its lean (if preternaturally pink) corned beef topped with crisp, fresh-tasting sauerkraut and melted Swiss cheese between slices of grilled, buttered rye.
A house salad ($2.25) is colorful with deep green lettuce and shredded carrots and not much else, but the greens are crisp and well dried before dressing: No wet salads here.
Daily specials range from bratwurst on Monday to a Friday fish fry. Steaks, ribs and grilled fish are available but start at $10.95, just out of Cheap Eats territory.
For dessert try a tall wedge of apple pie ($2.95). The tender but not very flaky crust can barely contain its load of chunky fruit, which is mercifully free of the goo found in many pies. When asked whether you would like it warm, with cinnamon ice cream, say yes.
Servers are fast, helpful and adept at negotiating the minimal space between tables filled with families. A full bar and several tap beers are a given; a test of the bartender's skills produced a creamy, well-poured glass of draft Guinness.
This pleasant suburban restaurant with an outdoor patio under tall silver poplars is one of a small local chain that has built its reputation on hamburgers. Huge hamburgers: one-half pound of rosy beef, encased in a dark crust, arrives at your table on rye bread, the implication being you could eat it like a sandwich. But it is way too big to pick up in your hands, and the juicy red meat tends to fall apart (unless you have it cooked well done and therefore mummified). So you dig in the mighty mound with a knife and fork. A Hackneyburger comes with French fries, coleslaw, and sliced raw onion, but those in the know pay extra for fried onion rings--a glorious stack of them with a devilish crunch.
Hamburgers are Hackney's glory, but we must also tip our hats to the dandy daily specials that have been on the menu at least since we became regular customers back in the 1960's: bratwurst on Monday, hot turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes on Tuesday, meat loaf on Wednesday, corned beef and cabbage on Thursday, and a crunchy fish fry on Friday, when the choice includes midwestern favorites lake perch and walleye pike.