Monk's Bar & Grill
220 Broadway, Wisconsin Dells WI (map); 608-254-2955; monksbarandgrill.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Juicy classic burgers in a Badger bar that serves as a beacon in a sea of crappy tourist restaurants
Want Fries With That? Typical bar food, but it's better than what you can get in your hotel
Price: Original Monk's cheeseburger, $5.19; Double jalapeño cheddar burger, $8.74; onion petals, $5.99; fries, $2.99
I was born and raised in Wisconsin; therefore I love the Wisconsin Dells. And you probably do too. Not because it's the best place for a vacation, but because you thought it was when you were eight. Your parents took you every summer (starting with mini golf and ending with an OD on fudge) and now it's the holy grail of nostalgia for entire generations of Wisconsinites.
But something happens when you go back as an adult, and it's more than just realizing that wave pools are actually pretty disgusting. You're hungry and there's not a damn thing worth eating. The Dells are a gastronomic wasteland with very few exceptions (Del Bar and Cheese Factory among them), but luckily you can get a very respectable burger at the downtown location of Monk's Bar & Grill.
Monk's has been around since 1947. That's before Tommy Bartlett, the Wonder Spot, and even Storybook Gardens, so they've outlived some of the most well-known tourist attractions. Even during my off-season, mid-afternoon visit when much of the rest of downtown was closed, there was a steady stream of customers, presumably including some locals.
Burgers are griddled (but not smashed), hand pattied, and irregularly shaped in an endearing way. They're one-third pound and the menu states that they're served medium unless specified—which in Wisconsin means that there's little to no pink. There were a few pockets of pink because of the irregular shape and thickness, but definitely not enough to consider it medium. However, I wouldn't go so far as to say they were overcooked, as the juice dripped out of them when I took a bite. They're greasy and buttery—I didn't find them dry at all.
The beef had mild flavor and could have used more seasoning, but there were no hints of freezer or other off-putting flavors. The crust was well-developed on the griddle, which made the underseasoning seem like less of a problem. On these types of burgers, I prefer American cheese for its meltiness, but the cheddar ordered on the double jalapeño burger was unusually gooey in spots, even though it appeared to not have been fully melted.
The soft kaiser-style buns held up fantastically, even with the amount of juice and grease coming off of the beef and toppings. The thick-cut bottom bun really added to the structural integrity of the burger (especially when they're served on parchment instead of plates).
This is the kind of place I'd recommend getting a relatively simple burger, maybe cheese and one topping. The beef and bun combination is a great one and most of the toppings just took away from the experience. Bacon was thin and mild, and jalapeños overpowered everything. Fried onions were better, but only order them if you really like onions since they pile them on.
Sides are ordered à la carte, including fries and onion petals. The fries had a crispy coating and were acceptable, not remarkable. Onion petals were a bit better with sweet, tender onions and a mildly spicy ranch dressing for dipping.
If you find yourself in the Dells and you're sick of overpriced, substandard food by the second day, then Monk's is an oasis of greasy deliciousness. At least now when I'm wanting to get my nostalgia on, I can count on something good to eat while I'm doing it.