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Interview Mon Apr 22 2013

Bad Apple's Got Good Ketchup

North Center's Bad Apple, like so many restaurants, has jumped on the all-natural bandwagon. The restaurant is free of chemicals, pesticides and preservatives, and has been since it opened almost four years ago. Everything has been all natural and as-local-as-possible since the day the restaurant opened its doors. Well, everything except for the ketchup.

Chef and owner Craig Fass opened Bad Apple with a mass-produced ketchup but quickly converted to making their ketchup in-house.

This housemade ketchup is made two to three times a week, 15 gallons at a time, producing over 120 gallons a month. The pot, larger than most toddlers, sits on the stove for six hours. If you're a cook at Bad Apple, here's your routine: put a burger on the stove, stir the ketchup, flip the burger, stir the ketchup, put the burger on a bun, stir the ketchup, add toppings to the burger, stir the ketchup. Get the idea? It's a time-consuming process.

So, why make housemade ketchup?

"For the kids," says Fass. "We opened up with another ketchup here and I saw so many kids come in here and the only thing that had high fructose corn syrup in it was the ketchup. It really bothered me. So I wanted to figure out how to make ketchup."

Unfortunately for Fass, making a ketchup worthy of the beef from New York's famed butcher Pat LaFrieda isn't easy. He tried 13 different recipes over 18 months before perfecting the recipe used today: a blend of Italian tomato purée, vinegar and sugar.

The ketchup was designed to elevate the flavors of the steak-quality burgers without overpowering, and still pair well with french fries. It's a Goldilocks balance of flavors with all the levels of acidity and sweetness just right. It's not a simple remake of the typical ketchup though. It's a darker red, it's not as sweet, and the consistency is smooth but not as smooth as mass-production makes possible.

"I make my ketchup with love," says Fass, and guests can taste it. It is an excellent addition to the line of housemade condiments at Bad Apple, including barbecue sauces, mustards and hot sauces.

bk_130416_175417_4418.jpgNot everyone is a fan though. Based out of Pittsburgh, Heinz dominates the ketchup market nearly worldwide. "I've seen people pull out Heinz and put it on the table." But don't try it. Bad Apple is not a Bring-Your-Own-Ketchup establishment.

"You come here for our food and our beers, so why not try our ketchup too?" says Fass.

The savory Bad Apple ketchup is currently only available at the restaurant, but Fass has hopes of bottling the tomato-based condiment. That is, if he can find someone to bottle it. He been on the lookout for a bottling company for 16 months without success.

But Chicagoans, don't worry. Despite being a ketchup connoisseur from New Jersey, Fass does not put ketchup on his hot dogs.

Bad Apple is located at 4300 N Lincoln Ave Chicago, IL 60618. Hours are Monday to Wednesday 4:30pm - 2am, Thursday and Friday 11:30am - 2am, Saturday 11:30am - 3am, and Sunday 11:30am - 2am. Photos by Brent Knepper.

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steve holt / April 22, 2013 1:03 PM

"If you're a cook at Bad Apple, here's your routine: put a burger on the stove, stir the ketchup, flip the burger, stir the ketchup, put the burger on a bun, stir the ketchup, add toppings to the burger, stir the ketchup. Get the idea? It's a time-consuming process."

I suppose that's why on multiple occasions I've ordered a medium rare burger and been handed an overly well down puck in a bun.

Dingus / April 24, 2013 9:46 AM

Their ketchup is terrible and is a major reason I don't go there anymore.

jaci / April 25, 2013 2:46 PM

Funny, I love the ketchup, I have wondered where it came from, as I do have a kiddo who loves it too.

Chris / April 25, 2013 3:52 PM

Although I don't normally use ketchup, I do eat theirs. From my perspective, the ketchup is excellent. Also, have never had a problem with an overdone burger. I've been going since the week they opened and I've always been very satisfied.

Dale Gribble / April 25, 2013 4:52 PM

I agree with Dingus. Their ketchup is not very good. I don't care for the texture or the taste. And the burgers are over-seasoned and usually overdone as well. While I'm at it, what's up with the terrible music? Every time it is just god awful.

Great beer though!! :)

Officer Jack Houfferson / April 29, 2013 12:13 PM

I too have received a well done burger when I requested a medium rare. However, the poutine is delish. I don't recall if the ketchup was all that fantastic or not.

john / April 30, 2013 1:43 PM

FYI Bad Apple is actually in North Center not Lincoln Square. Know your geography before posting the story.

Tom / January 26, 2014 4:42 PM

We were just at The Bad Apple last night and I knew there was something different about the ketchup... and now I know. Thanks! Everything was delicious.

Joe / August 1, 2014 11:55 PM

I actually got yelled at for bringing in my own ketchup. I was asked to put it away. Rather off putting, but the good was great... Except for the ketchup.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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