1331 Covered Bridge Rd Cedarburg, Wisconsin 53012 (map); (262) 375-9999; foodspot.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Better-than-average butter burgers in a classic '50s setting
Want Fries With That? Both fries and rings are unremarkable, but at least they offer shakes as well
Price: Big Wayne burger, $6.75; cheeseburger, $3.75; fries, $2.30; rings, $3.10; shakes, $3.10
If you've lived in Milwaukee or its northern suburbs for any amount of time, you probably know the jingle for Wayne's Drive-in in Cedarburg. I haven't been able to get it out of my head in the last week because it's so catchy—a nice way to put it. So I decided it's finally time to make the trip up there and see if the lyrics "Satisfies your appetite's every wish" are true.
Verdict: Mostly true. Not sure if every single wish was satisfied, but close enough that I can't fault them for false advertising. The burgers are definitely the star, which makes sense at a '50s-style counter restaurant (the Drive-in moniker is a misnomer; there are no carhops, unfortunately). Sides and shakes take a bit of a backseat, but you can't beat the ambiance and experience.
The burgers have a lot going for them: the beef patties, all quarter-pounders, are grilled and have good flavor; the buns are fantastic, some of my favorite in the city; and they're butter burgers with just the right amount of butter. Overall, the components add up to a pretty solid burger.
The signature burger, the Big Wayne, is a double bacon cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato (and in this case, I asked for pickles and fried onions as well). The beef is cooked well done, but any potential dryness in the meat is compensated by the tablespoon of butter they slap between the burger and the top bun. It looked a little overwhelming at first because it wasn't melted completely, but once it did it added the right amount of moisture. Adding butter to make up for dry patties isn't the best solution, though, and it'd be nice if there was a choice of temperature.
One side of each grilled patty had great grill marks and char, but the other side was pretty anemic, like they only cooked it on one side. That meant the cheese wasn't totally melted when I first got the burgers, but because it was American, by the time I was done with photos it was gooey. However, the flavor was great, with a good beefiness and a little bit of smoke from the grill. The bacon was bold and smokey, but was super thin and in a circle, so it got lost on the burger. The lettuce and tomato seemed like afterthoughts.
A single cheeseburger (again with pickles and fried onions) had a more appropriate filling-to-bun ratio. The pickles were generous and thick-sliced though not very tangy. The fried onions were a little bit strange, though, and really overpowered the burger. They were fried with heavy seasoning, like a generic seasoned salt, that included paprika and celery salt. There was just too much of it.
Wayne's uses hard rolls for their buns, something that I think should be done more often based on these burgers. If you're not familiar, a hard roll has a soft, white bread center, but a thin, developed crust. So you get a bit of crunch on the outside, with a soft—but not mushy—interior. They held up to the burgers beautifully and the thin crust lent a great texture.
Fries and rings were both standard frozen stuff. Both fine, cooked well and crisp, but nothing special (especially considering the price). I'd rather have a shake made with the Cedar Crest ice cream they carry. I ordered a Black Cow, with vanilla ice cream and Sprecher root beer. It was a little bit thin, but how can you go wrong with a burger and a shake?
Wayne's is open seasonally, and this year it's until late November, so if you need your fix before winter you've got another month to take care of it. Some things need improving, but I can definitely see the mass appeal of this place, from kids to families and senior citizens.