Food & DrinkKaraoke krazy

S.A. Burger, dinner with a side of guichy, guichy, ya, ya, ya

SA Burger's grilled veggie sandwich, spicy BBQ chicken wings, and Ranchero burger. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

Karaoke drives me crazy. Maybe it's memories of listening to bad ABBA (is there any other kind?) in bars during the '70s, or maybe it's the odious form the sport takes in Asian restaurants today. Whatever the setting, just the thought of sitting through an evening of American Idol wannabees warbling into a mic as they try to catch up to words that always seem to be running just a step or two ahead is frightening. So, as you can well imagine, S.A. Burger's advertised X-treme Karaoke was off the charts on the you-couldn't-pay-me-enough scale.

I had it all figured out: If I arrived at around 7 on a Friday evening, I'd be just in time to catch a little of the set-up action, but too early for the singing to have started. Wrong. "Paint Me a Birmingham" was being rendered by an earnest contestant as I arrived, followed closely by Cowboy Jerry (names have been changed to protect the innocent) serenading any willing-looking woman with a heartfelt rendition of "I can't get you out of my heart ..." Next, a woman sporting a glowing headband a la Fiesta presented "Proud Mary." And so it continued: from an unabashedly big lady earnestly belting out a Christian pop tune to a Tejano duet in Spanish to a tentative torch singer offering up "Lady Marmalade." I was riveted.

In part, because I thought that if I waited long enough I'd make my own American Idol discovery. No such luck: Although they all know the songs, there's no Clay Aiken among the hopefuls waiting in the wings at S.A. Burger. And I also found myself seduced by the super-South-Side setting. From cowboys to chicanos, pre-teens to seniors, the audience was genuinely enjoying the show. We were clapping, cheering, and carrying on to such an extent that the KJ's occasional exhortations to "get rowdy" were hardly necessary. My grilled veggie sandwich grew cold in the process.

Oh, yes, there was food. At lunch earlier in the week I began with the El Ranchero burger, a 1/3-pound pattie topped with Monterey Jack, sliced avocado, and grilled jalapeños, to which I added sliced tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and a few, knee-jerk pickle slices from the toppings buffet. It was a substantial-looking piece of work when completed, but the sesame-seed bun did a fairly good job of containing the lot. Verdict? The only sour note was the meat itself. It was cooked to acceptable health-department standards and tasted properly of the grill, but not much more. The accompanying steak fries were impressively large, appropriately golden, and expectedly mushy inside. Thumbs sideways on these.

S.A. Burger

1946 SW Military
11am-10pm Mon-Thu,
11am-12pm Fri,
noon-midnight Sat;
noon-10pm Sun
Price range $3.59-5.99
Credit cards accepted
Bathrooms not wheelchair accessible
To the fight-or-flight defense against karaoke, we can add one more possibility: Eat. In addition to Erika's Veggie Sandwich, I fortified myself against the evening of song with onion rings and spicy BBQ chicken wings. I watched someone else's rings come out of a freezer bag, pale and unappetizing, but as served, they're not at all bad. The coating stays put, and the onion inside retains an adequate degree of integrity. The skinned wings may also be a food-service product but, lean, meaty, and just sufficiently anointed with feisty chipotle sauce, they aren't half-bad.

Two wings way up in this case.

Now for Erika: The only off-key element here is generosity. The stack, which included grilled zucchini, classy orange bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, cheese, and a handsome cap of sliced avocado, was a slippery lot, and quickly escaped the confines of the bun. I gave up and went back for a plastic fork. Despite structural flaws, the sandwich tastes even better than the sum of its already talented parts. Not only does it know the material, but it can actually sing. My vote for the evening goes to Erika, who, for all I know, might have been one of the contestants. Guichy, guichy, ya ya ya...

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