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Sun-dried tomato burgers put an interesting spin on a classic meal

After an eventful week, sometimes it feels good to just get away from my usual routines and environments. So with my husband Jim’s band slated to play in LaGrange, I did not hesitate too long to tag along.

First, we took a sweet ride through Amish country, where farmers behind their horses worked in the fields and yards were lush green from recent rains. Then, in LaGrange, we headed for the small center, found a parking place and I turned into a roadie, carrying gear and guitars into the music venue.

I’ve been here before, but I’m always surprised. Chicago Joe’s is a two-room eating establishment on the corner of Detroit Street. Located in an old brick building, it might not be quite what you expect. It’s definitely a homey place, but in the middle of farming country, it offers a taste of Chicago. Joe and his wife, Cheryl, moved out of Chicago to get away from the big city life. But they missed the food. So they recreated their favorite foods and are serving them up in downtown LaGrange.

They run the place like a family.

As the band set up on the stage, I wandered around, looking at the autographed pictures of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin from their Chicago days and other mementoes of the big city. What I like about this place is Joe’s friendliness and his authentic food. The restaurant makes its own tomato sauce, pizza dough, meatballs. They run the place like a family. The first time I walked in, I got a handshake and a smile.

The food on the menu is not the food I usually eat. I usually try to stay away from hot dogs and too much grease. But I can’t resist ordering some fresh cut French fries and a cheesy garlic sandwich with homemade meatballs and sweet pepper and onions. To keep with the theme, a Goose Island beer is in order.

The crowd that comes in is eclectic: families with kids, couples on dates, foursomes just out to have a good pizza. They order, they eat. The music complements the atmosphere. For me, it’s a good time to see some new faces, step out of my usual rut and chat with folks from different walks of life.

As the evening wound down, one couple danced to the last song. Then it was time to pack up and go home. We drove back through the country with a spectacular lightning storm to take us. I’m happy to have spent a few hours outside of my world, and I realize that actually, it’s not that different from mine…

Here’s a burger recipe I make from time to time.

Sun-dried Tomato Burgers

  • 1 1/2 lbs. good ground beef
  • 2/3 c. chopped sundried tomatoes, soaked in water for 10 minutes
  • 1/4 c. grated onion
  • 1 1/2 T. basil 
  • 1 t. ground cumin
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper

Mix all the ingredients together, preferably with your hands. Shape into burgers (should make 4 generous portions). Keep in the fridge while making the topping.

  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 T. balsamic vinegar

Fry the onions in a little olive oil, until nicely browned. Add balsamic vinegar and simmer a few more minutes.

Grill, bake or fry the burgers. Put on a bun. Add onion topping. 

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