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Alton Brown's Umami burger was good, but three locally are as good or better

A friend sent me a text a few weeks ago suggesting a road trip.

To eat a hamburger. In Chicago.

That’s a three-hour drive on a Friday afternoon. It went better than the three-hour tour in “Gilligan’s Island.”

Umami Burger is a burger chain based in Los Angeles. There’s a location at 1480 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

But what drew us was Alton Brown. Or, more specifically, a burger he created in collaboration with Umami Burger.

Brown is well-known for his “Good Eats” show and is host of other shows on Food Network. He’s one of my heroes. He knows food, as well as fashion and motorcycles.

His burger, which was available for about a month, had “a beef patty studded with bacon lardons, cheddar cheese, smashed cheesy tater tots, miso-maple bacon, fried sage leaves, coffee ketchup, and — just to ensure the lily is fully gilded — a fried egg,” according to Umami’s website.

Lardons are just bacon cut crossways. The rest is self explanatory. And filling. And decadent.

We had fries with truffle-laced cheese. We had sweet potato fries and onion rings. We managed not to order any of the salads that were available. Though perhaps we should have biked from Goshen to Chicago to work off the burger’s calories, we had ridden nearly three hours in a car. After surviving the Loop, we were hungry.

Umami is the fifth flavor after salty, sweet, sour and bitter. Think mushroom. Or as “Brown points out that four different national cuisines depend on a particular umami-laden sauce: Japan (soy sauce), England (Worcestershire), France (veal stock), and the U.S. (ketchup),” the Umami site said.

Brown added coffee to ketchup for his burger. The ketchup was different than the traditional version, but didn’t have as much flavor as the Umami ketchup with truffle flavor added. That stuff was money.

The burger was moist. The egg yolk made it messy. The cheesy tater tots and bacon were amazing. I never got the sage taste, but the burger was a mash-up of all these other amazing flavors. It was like a symphony orchestra that truly worked in harmony. It was so rich that finishing it was a challenge. My friend Jason Lehman and Pete Gilbert (who happens to be vegetarian) ate a lot, but I’d had a salad for lunch and have no regrets.

Fun trip with a friend, but it was cool to learn that we have burgers in northern Indiana that stand up to this one. We have some that are just as good and a lot closer.

Jason said he actually preferred The Ringer burger at 41 Degrees North, 104 S. Main St., Middlebury.

It has a fresh burger patty topped with an onion ring, house-made barbecue, lettuce, tomato, bacon and muenster ($12). It’s a great burger.

And though I love Brown and was delighted to try his burger, I like the Bacon 3-Way at Miles Lab, 3763 E. Jackson Blvd., Elkhart. It has a burger pressed onto bacon crumbles and cooked, then topped with bacon strips, balsamic bacon jam, lettuce, tomato and American cheese. If you get it with an egg on top, it’s a lot like Brown’s burger.

At Flippin’ Cow, 51330 S.R. 19, Elkhart, the Stella Moo is a different take on a burger, but packs a lot of flavor into a sandwich. The Hangover has the egg on top, and french fries, and bacon. Whew. But the Stella Moo has brisket, jalapeño bacon and an alehouse barbecue sauce, along with other goodness, for $9.49.

I’d go back to Umami Burger, which is in Wicker Park, but if I go to these other places, I don’t have to wonder if I’m hip enough. I only have to wonder if I’m hungry enough.

Marshall V. King is food columnist for Flavor 574 and community editor for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805,, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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