PORTAGE PARK — Since opening Leadbelly a year ago, Steve and Nicole Masse O'Brien have grappled with one huge problem while launching their gourmet burger joint in the Irving-Austin Business District.
It's too popular.
"We are jam-packed all the time," Steve O'Brien said. "We built a small place for Portage Park, and it turned into something much bigger than we anticipated."
To meet the demand for the burgers lauded by Chicago Magazine, the Chicago Reader and Chicagoist as some of the best in Chicago, the O'Briens — who grew up in Portage Park — will open a second location in Gladstone Park in April.
"The restaurant is just too small," O'Brien said. "We never expected to be this popular."
Leadbelly, which pays homage to the legendary blues and folk musician Huddie William "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, will take over the former Caspian Cafe, 5691 W. Milwaukee Ave., which closed in September.
O'Brien said he rejected offers from landlords in "trendier" neighborhoods like Logan Square and Wicker Park for Leadbelly's second location.
"We are underserved in this area," O'Brien said. "People don't understand the greatness of the Northwest Side."
The Gladstone Park Leadbelly will offer the same "crazy burgers" that feature ingredients made from scratch like beef ground on site and buns baked daily. Craft beers and handcrafted shakes are on tap to help diners wash down the huge burgers and baskets of fries topped with everything from garlic and parmesan cheese to chili cheese Fritos and Polish sausage, O'Brien said.
"The support of the neighborhood and the community has been overwhelming," O'Brien said.
To celebrate the first birthday of the restaurant at 5739 W. Irving Park Road, O'Brien created what he calls the ultimate Chicago burger in collaboration with Pete's Pizza #2, another Portage Park restaurant.
The burger features two Leadbelly burger patties — which combine ground beef and ground pork belly — separated by a Chicago-style deep dish pizza featuring pancetta, ricotta, roasted tomatoes and arugula. Two of Leadbelly's homemade buns finish off the gigantic burger, which will be available starting Saturday, O'Brien said.
As Leadbelly expands and starts its second year, O'Brien said he wanted to become more involved in the community. Partnerships are in the works with Hagan's Fish Market for a burger with smoked lobster, as well as a collaboration with Portage Park microbrewery Lake Effect Brewing Co.