Meatheads: Munster, Indiana

Meatheads had a ribbon cutting today for their first location in Indiana on Calumet Avenue in Munster. The chain has 13 locations in Illinois and this summer they'll expand further into Indiana with a location in Schererville.

The Meatheads concept revolves around fresh, quality ingredients to create meals that are always made to order and allow for a variety of customization with various sauces, cheeses and toppings. The beef is certified angus with no additives or fillers. The chicken is all natural and hormone free. The fries are freshly-cut and made through a 32-step process. The New England-style hot dog rolls are flown in to provide an authentic bun. The shakes are made from hand-dipped ice cream with fresh ingredients. A lot of thought and care goes into putting out a top-notch product.

I had a chance to sample a variety of menu items and I'd return to order any one of them. The grilled chicken sandwich was miles above what you'd get from your typical fast food joint. The all-white meat was as tender as you can get, served on the potato buns made exclusively for their stores.

The chicken tenders are some of the best I have ever had. I learned that what gives them their distinct flavor and juicy texture is that the chicken is brined in pickle juice and then dipped in buttermilk along with their blend of spices before being fried in canola oil. Yes, they are still fried, but I'd feel much better ordering these for my kids than the nuggets of frozen mystery meat that you commonly get in a kids meal. I love that they are not even breaded until you order them. You can't get more fresh than that.

There's some stiff competition in these parts for a good burger, but theirs definitely measures up at a fraction of the cost of some similar gourmet burgers you'll find. This 1/3 lb. burger had "the works" - ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions.

I love the number of topping options, which also includes sautéed mushrooms, sauerkraut, roasted red peppers, pineapple, giardiniera and fresh jalapeños. For an additional charge, you can add chili, applewood smoked bacon, avocado, a fried egg or an extra patty. The 1/2 pound is made with three thin patties, the 1/2 pound with two thin patties and the lil' meathead is made with one patty. The 1/3 lb. is a pretty sufficient serving for the average adult, especially if you're ordering fries. At $5.00 for the 1/3 pound burger, it's pretty reasonable.

The freshly cut fries come in original or cajun at $2.00 for a regular order or $3.50 for a large. Any of their 10 signature sauces can be added for 75 cents. I tried out the bacon ranch and the cucumber wasabi (which was a killer combination with the cajun fries.)

As a big avocado afficianado, I was eager to try out The Californian, one of the six "Chef Inspired" sandwiches offered. It come with pepper jack cheese, cucumber wasabi sauce, avocado, lettuce and tomato. Normally, I'd be scared off by the sound of pepper face and wasabi as I often tend to pass up the hot and spicy items on a menu, so I'm glad I had a chance to try it out. It had just the perfect amount of kick along with the coolness of the avocado, which made the flavors all meld to perfection.

Next up in our sampling was the New England-style dog. Having spent my whole life eating Chicago dogs, this was something new for me - a foot-long Vienna beef hot dog on a specially-made split bun (since no one in the Midwest makes them, they're brought in from a long distance) that is toasted on both sides and topped with mustard and raw, diced onion. Dare I say I'd be likely to grab one of these over a dog on a poppy seed bun with cucumber and tomato and celery salt and all that Chi-town stuff.
That toasty bun just does it for me!

And there's also the chili cheese version, which is no less fantastic.

For the non-meat eaters, you can customize a grilled cheese with one of six Wisconsin cheeses, order an A.L.T. (avocado, lettuce and tomato) or the veggie melt with a heap of grilled vegetables and cheese sauce on rye bread.

Hmm…what else you need to know before your visit?

- They are big community supporters, giving back 10% to charities, local youth sports teams and schools through fundraising dine-out days
- They have wi-fi
- They have Coca-Cola freestyle machines with about 120 drink combinations
- They are open from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily.
- They have a summer reading program for kids called "Voracious Meatheads Reading Rewards." You can stop in for a form and kids age 6 - 13 read 5 books to earn a free kids meal.
- They also serve organic milk
- Everything is made fresh to order, so it takes a few minutes to cook (but it still pretty quick by restaurant standards)
- In the fall, their community board (which will be devoted to the reading program during the summer) will have local high school football schedules and scores.
- All food arrives fresh. The only freezer on the premises is the one that stores the ice cream for the hand-dipped milkshakes.
- I'm told the "Cajun Sunrise" is the most popular specialty burger with a fried egg, pepper jack cheese, bacon, bleu cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato and fresh jalapeños. Coming in second is the NY Reuben Burger.
- There's a Munster mural in the corner of the restaurant being the long "community table." The mural features Munster landmarks and the long table is designed to seat a couple groups and encourage interaction between guests.
- Toys get handed out to kids when orders are placed to occupy the little ones while the food cooks.
- Meals are brought out to your table.
- The first location opened in 2007 in Bloomington, Illinois.
- The restaurant was designed very much with families in mind with hand-picked playlists and booths that are designed to give kids families lots of room.
- There is a chopped wedge salad on the menu (pretty much the only thing I didn't try), but it sounds fabulous - iceberg lettuce, bleu cheese, bacon, tomatoes, onions, bleu cheese vinaigrette (or one of five other dressings)
- Kids meals are $5.50 with choice of lil' Meathead burger, chikden tenders (2), New England-style hot dog or grilled cheese and are served with fries and a soft drink.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I finished off the meal with a good old-fashioned hand dipped shake - Oreo flavor. They also have vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coffee and mocha.

***Disclosure: I was provided samples of food for the purpose of a review. All opinions are my own.