Dotty Dumpling's Dowry
317 N Frances Street, Madison WI 53703 (map); 608-259-0000; dottydumplingsdowry.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Expertly cooked, juicy burgers with a variety of delicious homemade sauces
Want Fries With That? Fries are some of the best frozen I've had. Breaded onion rings are also a standout, just be sure to get sauces for dipping
Price: Melting Pot burger, $7.79; Heart Throb burger, $7.29; Southwest burger, $7.49; jumbo fries, $2.79; onion rings, $4.49
Dotty Dumpling's Dowry is a Madison institution. It's had to move locations a couple times, but it's still packed with UW students, urban professionals, and state workers on any given night. What they come for is a dark, intimate setting to enjoy some great burgers and fries.
The star of the burgers is really the house sauces. Choose your sauce carefully, because it's what will stand out most in your burger. That's not a bad thing, though, as all of the sauces I tried were incredibly good. Together with the locally raised, mild-flavored beef, each burger was a lovely little masterpiece.
My favorite—though in this case that's like choosing a favorite child—was the Melting Pot burger. According to the menu, it's also a lot of other peoples' favorite too; it's their number one selling burger. The 6-ounce hand-pattied beef is topped with cheddar, Swiss, and provolone cheeses, bacon, and their English garlic sauce. I can never have too much cheese on a burger, and it's not often you see provolone as part of a combo instead of American. All together, the cheeses are slightly sharp and nutty, but came out not completely melted. The English garlic sauce is mayonnaise-based with garlic and parsley, kind of like a bold aioli.
The menu states that all burgers are cooked "pink in the middle," which is a reassuring sign considering Milwaukee's subpar track record. Both the Melting Pot and another burger, the Heart Throb, were ordered medium, and by god, they were medium (if not a little under!). Who knew I'd have to go to Madison to get an actual pink burger? A third burger, the Southwest, was ordered medium well, and it came out perfectly cooked as well. All the burgers dripped with juice and were real pleasures to eat.
The Heart Throb sauce on its namesake burger was another standout. It's cilantro, jalapeño, and garlic in a supposedly cream cheese base, but it wasn't really creamy and seemed more like a cilantro pesto. It added a real punch of flavor and had a nice heat from the jalapeño, perfect for cutting through the richness of the beef. The bacon on all three burgers was excellent: crisp, dark brown, and smokey.
BBQ sauce on the Southwest burger was sweet and sticky but applied lightly so it didn't overpower the rest of the sandwich. Its placement between the beef and the cheese worked much better than the sauces in the other burgers, which were applied under the beef directly on the bottom bun. In both of those cases the bun was almost completely disintegrated. Although I normally enjoy these light, airy sesame seed buns, they really do a disservice to the structural integrity when copious sauces are introduced.
Fries and other sides are served à la carte and by the basket for sharing. The skin-on fries are frozen but quite good and are great dippers for all the various sauces. The onion rings are breaded instead of battered, making them extra crunchy.
In the name of science, I tried two more sauces with the fries and onion rings: a lemon and herb mayonnaise; and Boomerang, a mayo-mustard combo with black pepper and anchovies. The lemon and herb was refreshing and cut through the grease, while the Boomerang was assertive with black pepper.
It's hard to decide which burger to order at Dotty's. All of the sauces are fantastic in their own way, and the expertly cooked beef is good enough to stand on its own. It might be best to go with a few friends and order plenty of sauces to share, especially if you're indecisive. Or you might just have to go over and over again to try them all. That's definitely not a bad thing.