Thanks to a television show, name recognition, and a fairly aggressive national roll out, you have assuredly heard of Wahlburgers restaurant. The name sake of the Wahlberg brothers, it has pushed it’s way into the fast casual landscape with it’s selections of burgers and chicken. It’s newest location is in St. Charles, Illinois. Coincidentally, myself and my brother were in the neighborhood, thanks to a Facebook marketplace related impulse buy by my brother. Jukebox in hand, we decided to the new Wahlburgers. And as you can tell by the title, it was a goddamn disaster.
Some things can be excused. For example: this location had been open for less than a week. We showed up at 11:20 AM, after they had been open for only twenty minutes. There were a lot of employees with a questionable amount of training. Covid.
Now that we have the pleasantries out of the way…this place just absolutely had no idea what they were doing. We got there at 11:20 and used the outdoor To-Go setup to order food. There were two people in front of me waiting to order. It still took twenty minutes to order food. They were getting orders in at a rate of once every ten minutes, and this pace, shockingly enough, did not improve as the day went on. Remember those old credit card readers where you had to put the card on a metal surface on some transfer paper and you would use your hand to make it go “whoosh whoosh” and it would all be a very slow, glacial process? That would have been infinitely faster than whatever process Wahlburgers was using.
As the line got progressively longer, as tends to happen when you are literally, not figuratively, only taking one order every 10 minutes. The one thing that gave me hope was that with so few orders coming in, the kitchen should have no issue getting food out in a timely manner. There are like eight items on the menu. It should be a breeze, unless they are butchering the cows and killing and de-feathering the chickens in house, and i’m not totally sure St. Charles would give them the zoning for that!
The old saying goes “Hope in one hand, shit in the other, and let me know what fills up first.” Hope slowly faded for an efficient food transaction. Time went on. And on. And on.
An interesting thing happens when you are waiting for food. You go through the seven levels of food grief. As such…
Level 1: Patience. It’ll be okay. Food won’t take that long. The orders we made were super basic. No special things asked for. Just a double cheeseburger with onion rings, and a Jen’s Chicken Sandwich with onion rings. It will be out soon and we will be back to eating and on the road in no time.
Level 2: Slightly irritated but the food will be coming soon. This isn’t a Red Robin. It doesn’t take that long to get food made. This place is one of the near endless supply of fast casual restaurants in the vein of Panera and Poke Bros and even Five Guys. That means that everything has an efficient cooking and packing process. But there are hiccups in new businesses and this is no different. Give them time.
Level 3: Just drive the car through the wall and fight the entire staff. Oh come on. It’s a burger and a goddamn grilled chicken sandwich! I have started fights over less!
Level 4: Let’s just say screw it and get Taco Bell and call it a day. You know how much you have to completely give up to say “Screw it, they can have the 31 dollars. Let’s just get the hell out of here and eat the Washington Generals of fast food, instead?
Level 5: Accepting the fact that we will die in this parking lot.
Level 6: We get our food, 40 minutes later.
From the moment we pulled in until the moment we left, we were there for an hour. At a burger joint. A burger joint that is essentially In and Out with celebrity branding. To put this in perspective, Nobel House, a really good gastropub, is ten minutes away, has a great burger, and can assuredly get people in and out within an hour at 11 am on a Sunday. Even more starkly, Bien Trucha, one of the most celebrated taco places in the entire state of Illinois is located even closer than Nobel House. They open at 11, and would have also been able to seat us, serve us, and get us out of there within an hour. But again, Wahlburgers, which is only taking an order every ten minutes, can’t handle a double cheeseburger and a grilled chicken sandwich.
Yes, Brandon, we understand that the nuts and bolts of this godforsaken is horribly flawed. But how is the food?
Meh. I mean, it’s okay. I guess.
The chicken sandwich, whose namesake is former Playboy Playmate, one of the most beautiful women in the world, and current anti-vaxxer kook Jenny McCarthy, is fine. It’s okay. But nothing really jumps out about it. Everything is just….fine. Whether i’d gotten this sandwich after ten minutes or three hours, it just kind of exists. It’s essentially a Wendys Grilled Chicken Sandwich, only three times more expensive.
The double cheeseburger? “It tastes like a burger you can get anywhere. It’s fine I guess.” -My brother
It was fine. It was 12 dollars for two 3 ounce patties. 12 bucks for a burger that doesn’t even weigh in at a half pound. Wahlburgers isn’t Au Cheval. It’s closer to being Arbys than it is a big time burger place. In terms of quality, it is a step behind even Meatheads or That Burger Joint. It’s miles behind Five Guys.
Oh, and let’s get into the biggest issue I had. I ordered onion rings for my side. When you think of an onion ring, what immediately comes to your head? Does it look like this?
Correct, that’s also what I had in mind. I love onion rings. If I have an option between fries and onion rings, then I always pick onion rings. Fries are bastard potatoes and are permanently inferior in the pecking order of sides. A lot of the ills in the world could have been solved with a really good Onion Ring accompaniment. So what did I get?
Correct. I got onion calamari. This is what you do to onions when they act as a garnish on a burger, or in some grosser situations, steak. These aren’t rings. They are strings. They have zero crunch, with all the chewiness of calamari that you would find at Olive Garden. Beyond that, these taste like they were dredged almost exclusively in salt. I am not making this up at all: I can still taste salt coating the back of my throat two hours later. What even is the point?
From start to finish, this has been an unmitigated disaster. The entire process made me angry at the concept of even having to eat here again.
Now i’ve just gotta hope that my brother never makes any more impulse buys in Kane County, ever again…