Dear Anthony Bourdain,
I’m really sorry to inform you of this, but I think we have to break up. Kevin Pang has ruined me for you.
A food writer for the Chicago Tribune, Pang has covered an entire range of Chicago cuisine, but his heart belongs to the cheeseburger, and he’s channeled this devotion to the classic meat sandwich into an epic web series spotlighting the finest in the city’s cheeseburger creation. And it’s really, really good. Let me be clear about this — I’m a vegetarian who hasn’t had a cheeseburger since maybe 1996. And yet I still find The Cheeseburger Show to be educational and entertaining on a level with the best programming in this medium.
The Cheeseburger Show doesn’t seem to have any rules for its format — while sometimes this means episodes stretch as long as 11 minutes, there’s rarely any drag time, as we jump quickly from reality sketch to interview to hamburger review. While the show’s production values are definitely professional (Cheeseburger Show is a Tribune production), the show maintains an indie edge that keeps its voice fresh, never feeling like a corporate production.
And Pang is the secret ingredient, the bun holding the meat of the show together. Each episode opens with Pang out in the world, causing some sort of cheeseburger-related trouble: In the first episode, Pang uses his ethnicity to play ignorant tourist and learn what cheeseburgers random Chicagoans would recommend to strangers, while in the second he showcases the “legendary” customer service of Chicago’s Wieners Circle with literally laugh-out-loud results.
But he’s also a savvy food critic with a discerning eye for quality ingredients and preparation, profiling restaurants with unique spins on the cheeseburger format. His on-camera reviews are occasionally lacking in complexity, featuring a lot of “the grilled onions are nice”-esque commentary and comparing the cheese on one burger to the spreadable cheese from a Kraft Handi-Snacks. But you can hardly blame him for, occasionally, running out of things to say about burgers.
While there hasn’t been a new Cheeseburger Show for over a month, thankfully, the show’s official Twitter feed announced that six more episodes have been commissioned. We’ll see how long it lasts, though. Because the truth is that such a niche show is limited in its scope; eventually, Pang will either have to consider cheeseburger options outside of Chicago or shut the project down.
And although his devotion to his subject matter is clear, I have to admit to being quasi-hopeful that he considers taking on other topics. Not because I hate cheesburgers, but because The Cheeseburger Show represents one of the great truths in food TV: It’s the perspective that matters, not the cuisine. And I’d be more than interested to find out what else he has to say.