105 W. Freistadt Road, Thiensville WI 53092 (map); 262-242-2870; b1burger.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: High quality local organic beef is flavorful and juicy. The prime rib burger is just shy of phenomenal.
Want Fries With That? Skip the fries that aren't in the same league as the burgers and opt for the homemade chips instead
Price: Ground prime rib burger, $9.50; Cedarburger, $7.50; fries or chips, $1.50
Lots of elements have to come together to make a great burger, but arguably the most important thing—the thing that can break a burger, certainly—is the beef. I'm always on the lookout for restaurants that offer specialty beef, whether it's grass-fed, free range, waygu, or other endless possibilities.
That's why a little place called B-1 Burger that opened in early March in a small northern suburb of Milwaukee caught my eye. Their menu states that they use locally raised Ney's Big Sky Ranch all natural ground beef. A little researching on Ney's revealed that their cattle are free range, fed with animal by-product-free grain, given no growth hormones or unnecessary antibiotics, and the beef is USDA Certified Organic. That's quite a pedigree, but the kicker is that all their beef is dry aged for a minimum of 21 days on top of it. Now I'm really starting to get excited.
Turns out, the excitement was warranted. One of their specials (soon to be on the regular menu), a burger made with Ney's Ranch ground prime rib, melted in my mouth. I have never had beef this good in burger form. The 1/3-pound patty ground from the ribeye was cooked medium and full of juice that was gelatinous enough to stick to the meat instead of sopping the bun. It was tender, loosely formed, and if it wasn't for the ground texture, I would have thought I was eating a steak. The flavor was the pure essence of beef, lacking any mineral or iron taste. It was well seasoned, and when I inspected the bun I even noticed flecks of black pepper from the underside of the patty. The only possible thing to nitpick was the fact that there was little precious crust. In being hyper vigilant not to overcook the beef, I can see a cook perhaps being afraid to use a higher heat. It was the one of two things that made this awesome burger just short of phenomenal.
The other thing that disappointed me a little was that the bun wasn't toasted. It was a substantial bun with flecks of whole grains, but suffered a bit from dryness. Toasting it in a little butter would have been an improvement. I ordered it with aged white cheddar cheese, but honestly I didn't even taste it. I was probably too obsessed with savoring the beef anyway. The lettuce, roma tomato, and sweet red onions were all fresh and abundant. The pickles were nice and thick and crunchy, a good counterpart to the richness of the beef. Overall, this is the kind of burger I'd expect to pay double for at a steakhouse or celebrity restaurant. The fact that it's in a small town, unpretentious burger joint makes me giddy.
Another burger, the Cedarburger (a pun based on the location right next to the town of Cedarburg) was made with two patties of Ney's Ranch ground beef, also 1/3-pound and hand formed daily. This is B-1's standard burger patty, and as a more affordable option to the prime rib burger, it's a great choice. Again, the beef is seasoned well, though it's cooked to medium-well as per their menu. Luckily, the quality beef saves the well-cooked patties from being too dry, but I still would've preferred medium, given the choice. The one thing a longer cooking time helped is the crust and it had a deep caramelization. It had a bolder beef flavor than the prime rib and was also slightly mineraly. As a standard patty option, it's high above some others in the city.
The Cedarburger came with Big Mac-like toppings, and I also added bacon. Frankly, none of these toppings stood out, including the Thousand Island dressing. This is someplace you want to get a relatively plain burger, or at least more quality toppings like Gruyère, in order to really appreciate the beef.
Everything on the menu is à la carte, so I ordered fries and homemade potato chips. Hands down, the homemade chips were the winner against the frozen fries, but that's not much of a surprise. I'm not always a fan of homemade chips because many are overcooked in the quest for making a dry, very crisp chip. I've found that can lead to burnt tasting, soggy chips. Not in this case, though. Every chip was well dehydrated by the oil, leading to super crunchy chips. The fries were battered, similar to Burger King's fries, and really didn't stand a chance next to the burgers.
Sometimes, I think people put too much stock in organic foods, only buying organic because they assume it tastes better, without actually having compared it to other alternatives. In this case, and with organic beef from this particular ranch, I've done the comparison for you. The beef in these burgers—especially the prime rib burger—is hands down the best beef I've reviewed.