Don’t bother calling a doctor. It won’t help. The only way to treat it is to give in.
Milwaukee’s appreciation of all things meat has opened the door to many fine burger specimens – 27 of which you’ll find here. What makes a great one? It’s not just the superiority of the patty and the expertise of the cooking. It’s also the quality of the bun. Many burgers have been dragged down by the weight of a subpar bun.
Evolution has taken burgers far from their American cheese and fried onion beginnings. A classic, old-school burger can be a beautiful thing. But a growing number of chefs are taking things into their own hands, not just gobbing on unexpected ingredients, but taking the process of meat-grinding, bun-baking and even condiment-making into their kitchens. Hot? Definitely. But we won’t keep you. You have a lot of burgers to eat.
JAKE'S BURGER 18905 W. Capitol Dr., Suite 110, Brookfield, 262-781-1110 // Burgers $6.95-$10.95.
It was a lickety-split restaurant turnover. After closing Haute Taco last February, Jake and Karen Replogle were a few weeks later bunning up patties, lending Jake’s name to quickly remodeled digs. All the burgers – the patties are made of ground short rib, brisket and sirloin – are cooked sous-vide (low and slow), then finished off on the flat-top, ensuring that each is cooked to medium temp. Although there’s a basic number called Just a Burger, these babies are anything but: Brie truffle cheese (truffle oil, too), port-caramelized onions, oven-roasted tomatoes, arugula and others. Toppings that’ll spoil you. Points also earned for the homemade pickle coins and chewy toasted sesame-seed bun.
THE RUMPUS ROOM 1030 N. Water St., 414-292-0100 // Burgers $12.
Joe Bartolotta, czar of Milwaukee’s most diverse restaurant conglomerate, gets his burger notoriety from Northpoint, the group’s answer to fast food. But it doesn’t paint the full picture of Bartolotta burger-hood. The Rumpus burger gives your hands a welcome workout, keeping the thick, juicy patty together with melted cheese, homemade pickle coins, Russian dressing and a Sciortino’s bun.
OSCAR’S PUB & GRILL 1712 W. Pierce St., 414-810-1820 // Burgers $5-$7.25.
Mexico native Oscar Castaneda honed his flipping and topping skills at Sobelmans, then opened this near-National Avenue joint in 2011. His bun-rockers are topped Oscar style. He does the Big Aloha (with ham, havarti, avocado and pineapple) and the Big Foot (blue and Boursin cheeses). Although both are luscious, neither compares to the Big O, an Angus beast that goes for maximum height thanks to chipotle jack cheese, Gouda, bacon, jalapenos and chorizo.
STACK'D BURGER BAR 170 S. First St., 414-273-7800 // Burgers $10-$15.
Vertical is the direction in which a burger moves. This Fifth Ward force takes the notion of layers well beyond the prosaic. It’s a little like Joan Rivers’ face. More, apparently, is better. But a few qualities stand out here – the ability to build your own burger from oodles of ingredients, and the Stack’d options for gluten-avoiders and vegetarians.
BEST BURGER DEAL
Tuesday (5-10 p.m.) is Burger Night at SKIPPY’S (113 Green Bay Rd., Thiensville, 262-512-1240). For just one buck, you get a patty and a soft, average bun. Toppings like cheese, tomato, jalapenos, pickles and mushrooms are a quarter each. (Bacon or a fried egg, 50 cents each.) But even with the add-ons, you get a decent burger for $2.50 or $3. You could spend more than that on your sides! Potato chips ($4) and hand-cut fries ($3) come blazing hot from the fryer. Drink purchase necessary. Burger night runs through Labor Day.
SOBELMANS Three locations // Burgers $5-$9.
Not so long ago, Dave Sobelman’s burgers were an enjoyment limited to a former Schlitz tavern in the Menomonee Valley. Mr. Sobelman’s subsequent conquests include a strip mall on Farwell Avenue and a corner building on the Marquette University campus. Sobelman scrapped the Tallgrass beef (from humanely raised cattle) concept at the Farwell location, though such burgers are still available there. It goes without saying that Black Angus – a one-third-pound patty on a Breadsmith roll – is the sought-after beef here. The burger can be had 12 ways – mushroom and Swiss, patty melt, etc. – but the Loser Burger’s triad of fried onions, Colby cheese and Nueske’s bacon is a goody.
PALOMINO 2491 S. Superior St., 414-747-1007 // Burgers $9-$11.50.
If Bay View has a Southern-fried corner, it’s where South Superior hits East Russell: the seat of Palomino’s dining domination. But not everything here is as country as a bowl of grits. The patties are pure Wisconsin grass-fed beef, best enjoyed (by this palate) medium-rare and dressed Haymaker style, with Swiss, mushrooms, onion strings and horseradish sauce. You’d also do well with the Blue (cheese) Pig burger. Also awesome: Two sides and one dipping sauce come with each burger. A perfect moment to introduce your beef to the tots with Pinky horseradish sauce.
HONEYPIE 2643 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-489-7437 // Burgers $10.
It's blasphemy, some people will tell you, to eat a burger with a knife and fork. I say it’s not only acceptable, it’s sometimes unavoidable, particularly with a burger like Honeypie’s – a third-pound of lean beef from Wisconsin’s Rare Earth Meats, not topped with but rather smothered in American cheese, caramelized onions, spicy mayo, the obligatory bacon and an egg cooked sunny side up. Messy? You betcha. But no complaints here.
MASON STREET GRILL 425 E. Mason St., 414-298-3131 // Burgers $11.95.
A restaurant can fall back on one burger, as long as that one burger is exemplary. The Pfister Hotel’s fine dining joint came up with its equation for the consummate burger – Muenster cheese, honey-glazed onions and house-made burger relish. It glitzes up the 10-ounce patty with a tangy sweetness and comes with terrific, well-seasoned frites inside a stainless steel cone.
DR. DAWG 6969 N. Port Washington Rd., 414-540-0400 // Burgers $4.99 and $6.99; sides and some toppings are extra.
Do not be fooled by the presence of the doctor’s last name. Dawgs – excuse me, hot dogs – are the bread and butter of this bright-colored, quick-service operation. David Ross, the doctor in question, provides a damn good burger – a Niman Ranch patty (your choice of one-third- or two-thirds-pound) on a soft brioche bun. Great char-grilled flavor and a nice variety of add-ons. Doll it up with caramelized onions, Danish blue cheese, beefsteak tomato and no-bean chili.
HINTERLAND ERIE STREET GASTROPUB 222 E. Erie St., Suite 100, 414-727-9300 // Burgers $12.
A burger is listed on this Third Warder’s menu, but trust me, it’s there. Because of the time-consuming nature of grinding the brisket, making the bacon, buns and even the mustard in-house, it hasn’t been inked on the print menu. But your faithful server should tell you about it. For full sandwich serenity, the half-pounder is best ordered medium-rare. Available in the bar and lounge until the burgers are, well, gone.
MILLER TIME PUB Hilton Milwaukee Hotel, 509 W. Wisconsin Ave., 414-271-2337 // Burgers $9-$15.
In the Popeye comic strip, Wimpy said, and I quote, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” What about two, or even three burgers? Twenty creations make up Miller Time’s “craft” burger list, which would surely send Wimpy, if we could see him now, into a tizzy. I’ve pulled many a flavorless, unripe tomato off a burger. So the burger with a thick, juicy-as-Niagara-Falls beefsteak tomato almost makes me ditch the patty. Almost. I also must give a shout-out to the Brew City, which hits every base with Merkt’s cheese spread, horseradish ale cream and onion strings.
KIL@WAT InterContinental Milwaukee Hotel, 139 E. Kilbourn Ave., 414-291-4793 // Burgers $10.
The textures and colors of this hotel restaurant are a modern contrast to a two-fister I have no problem ordering again and again – the double-decker Classic Big Boy burger (which gained fame at the old Marc’s Big Boy restaurants). It is fast food redux at its finest. Two patties, shredded lettuce, Thousand Island dressing, a soft sesame-seed bun. The accompanying frites are addictively crisp but not as flavorful as the truffle fries – an at-no-charge upgrade.
DISTIL 722 N. Milwaukee St., 414-220-9411 // Burgers $11.
A basic unvarnished burger with a slice of American cheese slapped overhead would be an awkward bedfellow alongside the “house-made” everything that defines this swanky SURG Restaurant Group-owned bar’s artisan menu. Fittingly, the one burger they offer is a beef patty (ground in SURG’s butcher room) with “house-made” garlic mayo, cheddar and bourbon onion jam on a Breadsmith bun with copious, crusty, juice-soaking heft. Served with good house-made potato chips.
KARMA BAR & GRILL 600 E. Ogden Ave., 414-220-4118 // Burgers $8.99-$16.99.
In the annals of burger-ology, much has been written about side dishes. OK, the upshot is that some patty purveyors take sides really seriously. At Karma, the server has a mouthful to utter about the burger sides: tots, fries, house slaw, baked beans, mac and cheese, chips and salsa, hummus and veggies, and it goes on. There’s little I wouldn’t do for a tot. (For more on that, see “Sidekicks,” Page 44.) The karma – good karma – extends to the burgers, which get deliciously out-of-control in versions like the Greek, with blue cheese and spring lettuce tossed in buffalo sauce. Yow!
HOOLIGAN'S SUPER BAR 2017 E. North Ave., 414-273-5230 // Burgers $8-$9.50.
Many years ago, I watched a local band perform at Hoolie’s, the members using the bar as a stage. I reminisce about this as I eat my Beelzaburger, but not for long. Because the Beelzaburger lulls me into a chipotle pepper cheese spread stupor. The mix of bacon, cheese spread, pepper jack cheese and jalapenos works so well together, there could be an old shoe on the bun, and I wouldn’t notice. Another char-grilled charmer: the Hooli-Burger with cheddar, bacon, mayo and BBQ sauce.
B-1 BURGER 105 W. Freistadt Rd., Thiensville, 262-242 2870 // Burgers $5-$7.50. Fries, onion straws or dynamite homemade potato chips for a buck-50.
The bones of this place scream “former Pizza Hut,” but the pepperoni pies are in the past. Nowadays, it’s old-timers drinking tap beer at the U-shaped bar, and beef lovers worshipping before the esteemed wax paper-lined burger basket. “Dry” is not part of B-1 vocabulary. Grass-fed cattle from Ney’s Big Sky Ranch (an operation based in Manitowoc) are the source of the beef, hand-pressed into one-third-pound patties. Grilled up, they’re especially juicy when medium-rare and given the royal topping treatment, like the California burger’s avocado, applewood bacon, jack cheese and jalapeno mayo. Good as it is, it can’t compete with the black truffle burger’s Gruyère cheese and generous black truffle butter.
TRISKELE'S 1801 S. Third St., 414-837-5950 // Burger $9.50. Cheese, an extra 75 cents.
Walker's points is the hottie of hot neighborhoods. But drive south of Greenfield Avenue, on Second or Third streets, and it turns residential and slightly off the grid. It’s among the narrow little houses with colorful lawn art that Triskele’s offers its simple, fresh, comfort style of cookery. The menu has changed seasonally since it opened in 2007, but the grilled third-pound burger has never taken a hiatus. It shouldn’t. It starts with a golden toasted bun, which supports a delectable, juicy, third-pound Angus patty topped with romaine and Roma tomato and, if you’d like, cheese. (For me, Gorgonzola!) Chef/co-owner JoLinda Klopp serves it with super chile powder-seasoned fries, salad or the often-stellar soup of the day.
LULU CAFE & BAR 2261-65 S. Howell Ave., 414-294-5858 // Burgers $9.75-$10.75.
Yeah, I like the LuLu ramen slaw and homemade potato chips, too – enough that you’ll meet the chips in “Sidekicks” (Page 44). For now, you need only think of the Half Pound Heart Attack burger. If the EMTs are going to come for you, it’s a good way to go out. Holy Gorgonzola and bacon!
HARRY'S BAR GRILL 3549 N. Oakland Ave., 414-964-6800 // Burgers $10-$16.
The bar that anchors southern Shorewood had a facelift last year, which resulted in a raised patio and a dining room that went the Dublin, paneled-wall pub route. I couldn’t see the Harry’s underneath until I fixated on the burgers. Yes, it’s the Harry’s of yore – juicy half-pound mess machines that will keep you busy for at least a half-hour. Suggested chew: the Portland Slider.
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