The red Weber Grill has been a staple of American backyards since the 1950s, but you may not be aware that the iconic kettle was born right here in Chicago. In 1952, George Stephen Sr. was a part-owner of the Weber Metal Works in Chicago crafting marine buoys. Inspired to create a better grill than the one he had at home, he sliced a buoy in half and planted the seeds of that dome-shaped red grille we all recognize.
Besides conquering the grill market, Weber Grill also expanded into the restaurant industry in 1989, proving the worth of their product to hungry Midwesterners. Today the Stephen family still runs the five Weber Grill Restaurants—three of which are in Illinois. The Chicago River North location opened in 2002 and was the site of a recent dinner to celebrate the return of their $5 bar burger for National Burger Month and unveiling of the secret “Weber Way” burger.
What is a Weber Grill Restaurant Like?
That was the biggest question in my mind as I walked up to the red kettle grill that hangs over the entrance to their State Street location. Would it be a throwback to the 1950s Americana of the grill’s birth, a TGI Friday’s competitor, or something else entirely?
First off, the River North Weber Grill Restaurant is huge. There are multiple big dining areas, a massive kitchen that runs along a large section of the restaurant, and a huge bar that was full of businesspeople on a Thursday evening. All of that is bordered by an also impressively-large three-season patio.
It’s a very lively restaurant that mixes casual dining with refined steakhouse décor and a bit of an old-school gentlemen’s club. Sipping on an old fashioned, I felt a little like Don Draper at a fancy lounge, except that I could eat a burger topped with barbecue and a molten lava cake for dessert.
Old School Cocktails and Local Craft Brews
Walking into Weber Grill, I immediately noticed the substantial amount of business people having a great time at the bar. It’s clear they take their drinks as seriously as their grilling. Adding to the steakhouse lounge attitude is a full list of classic cocktails that are done right. My old fashioned was expertly on point, and surprisingly strong, and my date equally loved her whiskey sour. Sure, Weber isn’t reinventing the wheel, but their cocktail menu hits all the classics from a Manhattan to a Mai Tai.
If cocktails aren’t your thing, there’s an equally impressive list of spirits, wines, and craft beer. Though a chain and a national icon, the restaurant clearly hasn’t forgotten its Chicago roots and highlights local breweries. When I first sat down, my waiter offered me a beer from local Bedford Park brewery 5 Rabbit, which I, of course, couldn’t say no to.
I really like the idea of businesses actually demonstrating the quality of their products. When you visit the Weber Grill Restaurant, the meat and the burgers are cooked on actual Weber Grills. And if I didn’t live in a basement apartment in Chicago and wasn’t averse to cooking, I’d definitely be sold on buying a Weber after eating here.
The restaurant has a very large menu of steaks, seafood, and even pizza, but I was here to try a burger. Specifically, the $5 bar burger that used to be a regular happy hour feature, then disappeared off the menu, and has been brought back to celebrate National Burger Month and Memorial Day Weekend.
The bar burger is pretty much the perfect size for happy hour. It’s not too huge where you’re going to feel stuffed and awful, but fills you up with enough room for a couple drinks. The meat is tender and crumbly with a satisfying charcoal char that gives you the flavor, but isn’t overbearing. Topping it is your choice of cheese, along with fresh onions, tomatoes, and lettuce between a pretzel roll (always a plus in my opinion). I also really enjoyed the side fries that were just the right amount of crispy with the right amount of potato inside.
With any burger you choose, there’s the option of having it the “Weber Way.” That means adding Merkts cheddar cheese and topping the burger with smoked chopped brisket. The brisket is tender and not very saucy—I love barbecue burgers, but not the mess—and the smoky brisket compliments the seared char burger rather than overwhelming the flavor or competing with it.
The bar burger left me with just enough room to take a look at the dessert tray, and my waiter convinced me with the S’mores Molten Chocolate Cake. Weber Grill ups the ante on the gooey chocolate cake everyone loves by topping it in melted marshmallow, graham cracker, and adding a side of vanilla ice cream.
Meanwhile, my date tried the key lime pie cheesecake, which she said was well suited for spring and summer and would be great to eat on the patio. Both pie and cheesecake elements were well balanced and complimented each other nicely.
Though a multi-location restaurant, Weber Grill Restaurant recognizes its Chicago roots and repurposes the classic American steakhouse in a large-scale, casual environment well suited for River North. Whether you’re snacking on a bar burger and sipping a classic cocktail with co-workers or want a classier dinner with your family that doesn’t break the bank, Weber Grill should appeal to a wide range of diners.
Weber Grill Restaurant
539 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654