Harry's Bar and Grill
3549 N. Oakland Ave., Milwaukee WI 53211 (map); 414-964-6800; harrysbarandgrillmilwaukee.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Lively neighborhood bar and grill with slightly upscale, interesting food, but solidly mediocre burgers, if not worse
Want Fries With That? If frozen, seasoned waffle fries aren't your things, try the salad
Price: Big Kahuna Burger, $12; Triple By-Pass Burger, $16; Tobacco onion rings appetizer, $8
I've been to Harry's Bar and Grill a few times in the last decade or so, and it's always been on my short list of places to review for AHT because everything I've eaten there has been above average. It's a vibrant place with interesting menu items and specials at fairly reasonable prices.
I had never had a burger there, however, and that's where things went wrong. My expectations were a little high, but even if I hadn't been there before, I wouldn't be going back for a burger. They weren't offensive in any way, but they were far from very good. How much can you say about a mediocre burger? They're definitely held to a lower standard than the other food I've had there.
The better of the two I tried was the Big Kahuna. I have no idea why it's named that—it's not Hawaiian nor is it super large. It's topped with caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, and sour cream (standard veg and pickle come with every burger). The cheddar had such little flavor that I forgot it was there. The unpleasantly gray onions were sweet, but also had a strange metallic taste. The bacon, while it had a great smokiness, was overcooked and very dry. There was a ton of sour cream, and I ended up taking most off before I cut the burg in half for fear of sour cream blowout. It didn't lend much of anything to the sandwich.
The meat itself is a half-pound grilled patty with nice seared grill marks and that backyard cookout flavor. It was moderately juicy and soaked the bottom bun in spots, though the melty sour cream might have had a part in that too. The patty isn't bad, but top it with a bunch of mediocre toppings and put it on a slightly dry, too-big bun, and it really can't save the sandwich. As usual in this city, it was cooked past the requested medium, which certainly didn't help things either.
The massive Triple By-Pass burger was so close to being saved by some delicious toppings, but both half-pound patties were way overcooked and dry. That's just too much dry meat. In between the patties was a layer of amazingly tender braised short ribs that tasted like your grandma's best pot roast. Too bad they were swallowed up by all that overcooked ground beef. They should really offer the short ribs on a single patty burger.
The menu states that the Triple By-Pass burger is topped with red port wine cheese spread, but this one was served with the same unremarkable cheddar as the Big Kahuna. Perhaps the creamier cheese would have added some much needed moisture to the burger.
Fries were seasoned, frozen waffle fries. I have a fondness for waffle fries, so I enjoyed them about as much as you can a frozen fry. They could have had a little more time in the fryer, though. If you're tempted to try the onion rings (actually, strings) from the appetizers, don't. While they looked fantastic, they were so overseasoned with salt and pepper that they were inedible after a couple forkfuls. The ketchup they're served with is an uninspired choice.
If you find yourself at Harry's and something on the specials list catches your eye, do yourself a favor and order that. (Bonus points if you're on the lovely newly-built patio.) The two burgers I tried ranged from mediocre to bad, a major disappointment from a restaurant that's enjoyed popularity for a long time.