Executive Chef Matt Erpenbach is the man in charge of turning out intimidating creations like the Neurosis, the Pig Destroyer and the Goblin Cock. Thunderous metal tunes fill the small room that the restaurant inhabits, but an inviting, friendly staff makes sure that Mom, Dad and Junior don't run screaming from the tattoos and piercings that seem to represent the typical Kuma's client.
Erpenbach took a few minutes from another frenzied lunch service to speak with us: Kuma's is still in the throes of the "Check, Please!" phenomenon, and the bar and grill was plenty busy before the WTTW program aired a few weeks ago.
Your neighborhood is pretty lacking for food destinations. Is there anything else in Kuma's neck of the woods that we might not know about?
There's a place called the Orbit Room, and that's it. Us and them. We're so packed that if you can't get a seat here at Kuma's, you can get a seat at Orbit Room. It's a nice quiet bar when we're five deep at [our] bar.
Kuma's has an excellent beer list and a new martini list as well. Where do you drink when you're not just a few feet from your beer coolers?
Cobra Lounge. All my friends work there; I've known the GM since I was 12. It's my kind of bar with my kind of people. And you can get a seat there. Besides that, I would have to say Gold Star.
Your menu is pretty intense, tune-wise, with burgers named after bands like Slayer and Motorhead and so on: If you had to recommend a band on your menu for a non-metal-head to listen to, which would it be?
A non-metalhead? Led Zeppelin. That's on our menu. It's not hard metal; it's not like Neurosis or Yob, some really hard, deep, doom, crazy metal. I don't even listen to that stuff. [laughs]
You're around burgers every day—where do you eat on your day off?
Either Pizza Metro or Tank Noodle. Or Pho Hoa. It's not burgers. It's not meat. It's good Vietnamese food. I can't even eat my burgers right now! I'm not sick of them, I just can't eat 'em. I have to come up with something different to eat, out of what I have from the ingredients, when I eat at work.
Pick a non-metal band to build a burger around. What would it be?
I would have to say Youth of Today or Blood For Blood. They're a hardcore band, that's what I listen to. I'd probably do a burger, maybe some marinara sauce, some mozzarella cheese—the blood's the marinara, obviously—and hot sauce. Another red hot sauce, so you've got two kinds of different red ingredients in there.
That sounds good. It's like a pizza burger, but angrier.
Right, exactly! [laughs]