I visited Fat Louie's hoping to really like it. The developing west side area would do well to have a cheap and cheerful spot stick around for a while. I love the restaurant's retro remodeled gas station feel, the ultra-friendly service, the patio that promises much springtime fun, and the concept of old-school, high-cholesterol eats along the lines of Philly cheesesteaks and New Orleans po'boys. But much more care needs to be taken with the cooking, particularly in the area of seasoning -- and most especially with the choice of bread.
You got a beef with me?: The large sign out front boasting "Beefs, Burgers & Dogs" piqued my curiosity enough to stop by. Fat Louie's Chicago-style Italian beef, seasoned with crushed red pepper, oregano and garlic ($5.99), is available dipped or dry. We made the mistake of trying out the jus-soaked version, which was so wet it could have been wrung out like a washcloth. The thinly sliced, grayish roast beef was on the salty side, yet still palatable, but I imagine the roll on which it was served wasn't much of a winner to start with. Sproingy and rubbery, it didn't stand up to the lashing of pan juice and had already begun a rapid disintegration by the time it reached the table, forming a paste under the meat.
Texture, texture, texture: The Fat Louie burger ($5.99) sounds like it would be the sort of sloppy, junk-food orgy I dig, but it is doomed to the same mushy bread fate as the Italian beef. A savory, decent patty shoots out of a bun that quickly turns to pudding, leaving behind a wreck of lettuce, tomato, hickory sauce, mayo and cold bacon. Shredded cheddar cheese isn't the right choice for the burger, either, as most of it doesn't melt properly, forming a network of chalky strands glued to the bun. The Chicago dog ($2.95) appears to have promise until I take a bite. It's loaded with phosphorescent relish, kosher pickles, mustard, chopped tomatoes, onions and celery salt in the classic Chicago style, but the bun it's on is cottony in all the wrong ways. The hot dog is purportedly a Sabrett, but it lacks the characteristic natural casing pop, and instead is flaccid and sodden. Although accompanying fries are limp and too salty, they win points for being house-made.
Three strikes out: On a second visit, I spring for an Italian sausage and sauce ($6.75), hoping for a bracingly tomato-y, smothered sausage on a toasted bun. Instead, it's a super-salty sausage overlaid with a sheet of plasticy mozzarella and oversalted sauce on -- you guessed it -- a pale roll that goes from knife-resistant gummy to sauce-soluble in seconds.
Open about two months, Fat Louie's will hopefully pay attention to a few more kitchen details. With Butch Raphael of Pangaea as a partner in the business, I can't help but hope my experiences there are just growing pains and that the joint will stick around for a few more seasons to come.