Red Rock Saloon
1227 N. Water Street, Milwaukee, WI 53202 (map); 414-431-0467; redrockmilwaukee.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A gimmicky country rock bar and restaurant with a giant burger challenge, bland burgers, and great wings and other things
Want Fries With That? Junky frozen, stick with one of the other side choices, like chipotle mac and cheese or rings
Price: The Farm, $20; Foundation burger, $9; onion rings, $6; 8 wings, $8
Gigantic, gluttonous burgers seem to be all the rage lately. With shows like Man v. Food becoming popular in recent years, practically every bar has some kind of eating challenge. Red Rock Saloon, a western-themed bar and restaurant complete with a mechanical bull, has led the way in Milwaukee burger eating challenges. Their "Unforgiven Challenge" was featured on Man v. Food—and man won. The challenge: In 23 minutes, eat the Farm burger made of a half-pound patty topped with cheese, bacon, and deep fried chicken breast, topped with another half-pound patty topped with cheese, bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, and onion strings, along with sides of fries and six T.C.B. ghost pepper wings.
Lucky(?) for us, you can buy the challenge burger sans challenge. For the low price of $20, you too can stuff yourself to the breaking point all in the name of ... science? Pride? Stupidity? Take your pick. It's a deeply personal journey.
Well it's big, but is it edible? It's actually better than I assumed, though admittedly the best part was the deep fried chicken breast, not the two half-pound burger patties. The beef is free range, hormone- and antibiotic-free, and fed an all vegetarian diet. Usually that's a good sign, but in this case the beef was bland. Sure, it was lacking any trace of that metallic, minerally taste you sometimes get in supermarket-grade beef, but it was also lacking a pronounced beefy oomph. On the positive side, the beef was very juicy and actually cooked to the requested medium, a rare joy.
Other components of the giant sandwich were rather tasty, namely the fried chicken breast. It was tender and moist, something of a feat with super lean breast meat, and was perfectly seasoned. The over easy egg had just the right amount of ooze. I got a strange metallic aftertaste from the bacon though—almost like lighter fluid—but it wasn't too noticeable.
If you're not up for 3+ pounds of food, their standard cheeseburger—the Foundation burger—might be a better bet. It's got the same beef as the Farm burger—meaning it too lacked flavor—but in a much more manageable half-pound. The pre-formed, frozen patty also included a couple of small pieces of gristle. While it was plenty juicy and had a sufficient amount of crust, it was nothing special.
I was hoping to try Red Rock's chili because it's won a number of local competitions, but they were out of chili on my visit. So instead, I sampled some house-made onion rings and wings. The rings had a great flavor but lacked structural integrity. A lot of the batter fell off, leading to limp, half-naked onions. Regardless, based on their hush puppy-like batter, these are some great rings, especially if you get lots of little pieces that hold the batter well.
The wings were fantastic, though very different from wings you get in most bars. These wings are smoked (Red Rock does a lot of barbecue), meaning you don't get crispy skin, but the meat was meltingly tender and fell straight off the bone. Their wing sauces are made in house; in particular, the Desperado flavor was a very balanced barbecue sauce with a slow heat that crept up on you.
Fries were standard, boring, run-of-the-mill frozen pre-seasoned. Skip those and try the chipotle mac and cheese. Sure, it's mostly Velveeta, but the generous coating of chipotle and chile powder save it from being a bland wasteland.
While overall I have a good impression of Red Rock, the burgers didn't impress, besides the fact that the cooks can actually cook a medium, juicy burger. Everything else was much better. Red Rock should consider dropping the name brand beef for something made fresh; just that one change could make the burgers pretty awesome. (And for those of you wondering, yes, I took home a doggy bag ... or two.)