When a restaurant has a burger, oysters rockefeller, ramen, hummus, fried chicken, and a dozen other things on a menu that feels like it was created by a food court CEO, we get suspicious. Are we at a Vegas buffet? A dinner party on at an unhinged billionaire’s private island? Stumbled into the terrifying table scene from Pan’s Labyrinth? Maybe -in fact, hopefully - we’re actually at Gretel in Logan Square.
Did we mention the spaghetti, nachos, salad nicoise, and hot dog? No? Well, those are on there too. And the truly remarkable part about the random menu is that no dish feels like an afterthought, because Gretel pays attention to details.
The burger here is incredible, mostly because of their choice to use a perfectly griddled everything bun. The creamy hummus is dusted with sumac, topped with a poached egg, and served with pickled onions that cut through the richness. Chicken liver mousse comes with thick slices of fresh sourdough. And normally when we’re at a Chicago bar and someone announces they’re “going to get the lobster roll” we consider alerting the authorities. But here, the lobster is tender and buttery, with a toasted bun that would fully fit in on an Ocean City boardwalk.
Also, Gretel (which is from the team behind Little Bad Wolf) is the kind of small Chicago spot we just enjoy being at. It’s cozy and dark (seriously - the walls are painted black) and has a wall of liquor bottles with a rolling ladder that the bartender gleefully uses like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. It’s busy, and while they don’t take reservations, we’ve always been able to get a seat at a table, the bar, or even the chef’s counter without too long of a wait.
But as much as we like that we can walk right into Gretel and order a whole branzino, is that going to be our first choice? Probably not. That honor will go to the stellar burger or the pork belly nachos. But hey, we like options, and appreciate that this place can work for a lot of different situations. Drinks with a friend? Great, get some oysters. Catching up with coworkers? Order the cheese plate and charcuterie. On a date? Share a salad, pasta, and be thankful for the lighting that makes everyone look 75% more attractive.
But if you are actually in the terrifying table scene from Pan’s Labyrinth? Run.
We’re of the opinion that the burger here is better than the one at Little Bad Wolf. The two patties are juicy, and we like that it comes with both white and yellow American cheese. But it’s really the toasted everything bun that takes the burger to another delicious level.
This comes with a mostarda that changes seasonally (during our visits it was apricot), pickled veggies, thick pieces of toasted housemade sourdough, and a creamy liver mousse. You get plenty of all four, making it one of our favorite $10 appetizers to eat all by ourselves.
Despite the fact that nothing about Gretel indicates Cape Cod realness, the lobster roll here is delightful. You can get it cold or warm, lightly dressed with mayo or with drawn butter. And while the bun isn’t overflowing with lobster, there’s enough tender meat.
The addition of a poached egg gives the hummus extra richness, and the pickled onions add some nice acidity. We’d definitely order this again.
These baked oysters are topped with breadcrumbs, and made with enough garlic to ruin the day of anyone riding in an elevator with you the next morning. This, by the way, is what we consider the appropriate amount of garlic.
A perfect bar snack. The nachos are topped with cheese sauce, Carolina BBQ sauce, a squiggle of sour cream, guacamole, beans, and tender pieces of pork belly. The chips are freshly fried, and they don’t skimp on the toppings - so you shouldn’t skimp on the napkins.
Are we going to be writing epic poems about the pasta here? No, but it’s tasty and nothing about it is going to make you mad. The pasta is tossed in a miso mushroom sauce, and topped with parmesan and a little bit of maitake and truffle. We suggest saving some of that sourdough from the chicken liver mousse to soak up any leftover sauce.