Michael Jardine, owner of Circle Tavern, shows off a double smash burger. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor)

Circle Tavern, 18 Conti Parkway, brings a laid-back vibe and sense of community to “the circle” in Elmwood Park, but don’t let this neighborhood watering hole deceive you — distinctly youthful energy is the driving force behind the business known for cranking out seriously noteworthy smash burgers. 

At the height of the pandemic, 27-year-old Michael Jardine turned away from his career in marketing and graphic design in favor of snapping up the Elmwood Park property. Thanks to some significant family ties, Jardine was already familiar with the Elmwood Park eatery. His Uncle Rich Mazzulla previously owned the building. He was the mastermind behind Baciami before transforming the space into 18 West in 2018. Jardine purchased the building from his uncle in November 2020 and after making some cosmetic alterations, opened Circle Tavern in January 2021. The pandemic allowed the novice bar owner and restaurant owner to ease into the role of proprietor. A year later, the hands-on owner is on-site every day the bar is open and prioritizes serving quality food, solid drinks and fostering a fun environment for customers and employees alike.

The double smash burger from Circle Tavern with house made tavern sauce, pickles and American Cheese is served with specially seasoned fries. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor)

“I really see this as a way to take the family torch,” said Jardine. ““There is nothing I wouldn’t want to eat on this menu and nothing I don’t think is good.”

When crafting the Circle Tavern’s thoughtfully edited menu Jardine intended to find the sweet spot between “limited and overwhelming.” The resulting menu boasts an affordable array of quality bar-fare. A robust selection of Italian influenced tavern bites, including toasted ravioli, baked clams and garlic knots join hot wings, salads and a smattering of thoughtful “sangwiches” including a patty melt, chicken focaccia, and cheesesteak. The standout menu item, however, is Circle Tavern’s take on the humble smash burger. 

Appetizers like Circle Tavern toasted ravioli complement a cold beer as a pre-meal treat. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor)

Whether ordering a single, double, triple or mammoth quad burger, fans of the smash will be pleasantly surprised that Circle Tavern is putting up a practically perfect version of this simple burger style. Freshly packed rounds of beef are tossed on well-loved flattop before being pressed to ensure proper meat to griddle contact.  The cook in the Circle Tavern kitchen has clearly mastered the maillard reaction — that super scientific moment during the cooking process when meat takes on the crispy, crunchy, toasty exterior synonymous with a perfect diner burger. A soft bakery bun stands up nicely to griddled patties and requires nothing more than a sort of “all condiments in one” style sauce, pickle chips and some ooey gooey American cheese to yield a sublime smash burger. Seriously, this burger is exactly what a smash burger is supposed to be.

Circle Tavern’s fries are memorable on their own, but bold diners can load ‘em up with bacon, cheese sauce, jalapenos, scallions and sour cream. (Melissa Elsmo/Food Editor)

Circle Tavern boasts a long welcoming bar and six tables scattered throughout the establishment. In addition of luring folks with burgers and fries, Jardine has introduced weeknight specials to beckon locals to pop in each night of the week. On Martini Monday bartenders whip up nine different martinis including blueberry, pear, and caramel apple varieties. Expect to find steak tacos on the menu on Tuesday, while Wednesdays are reserved for trivia or bingo and diners can snag two thin crust pizzas for the price of one on Thursdays.

“When he bought the place, I told him this would be his business not mine,” said Mazzulla of his nephew. “But I really couldn’t see it going to anyone else; I am proud of him.”

Circle Tavern, located at 18 Conti Parkway is open Monday through Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1a.m. The bar is closed on Sundays.