524 South 2nd St., Milwaukee WI 53204 (map); 414-224-7777; industricafe.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: High-end, locally-sourced and well crafted burgers in an urban chic loft setting
Want Fries With That? Steak fries are well seasoned but soggy; try the home made BBQ-seasoned kettle chips instead
Price: INdustri burger, $13.25; Cheese Attack burger (special), $13.25; Kettle chips, $4.25; Bloody mary, $13
The old adage that looks can be deceiving has never been more true as with the burger pictured above. It was really a hot mess: an explosion of unruly onions, curly bacon, and sticky barbecue sauce. I thought the taste would be as all over the place as the toppings, but it turned out to be an exquisitely crafted combination of flavors.
I was a little wary of INdustri Cafe at first—it's a little hipster, a little yuppie, and a little pretentious. Not exactly my style. But I was so pleasantly surprised by the food that I wouldn't hesitate to go back and try some of the other menu options. That is, if I could bring myself to not order a burger.
The winner of the night was the INdustri burger, a half-pound prime Angus patty topped with Wisconsin cheddar, poblano barbecue sauce, applewood bacon, and sautéed green apples and onions. First and foremost, the menu states that the burger will be cooked medium rare to medium, a good sign. I asked for medium rare, and that's exactly what I got. It was juicy and rich and well seasoned—no bland meat here. It was grilled over a high enough heat so that even at medium rare there was a very nice crust and grill marks. That, of course, also added that backyard cookout flavor, but this tasted a little cleaner, like if your dad had finally cleaned out the grease trap. I don't know where they procure their beef, but they're making the right choice. (They pride themselves on using local sources and supporting local industry, but they don't name suppliers on the menu—what gives?)
The toppings all worked together in total harmony. The cheddar was sharp, the bacon was smoky and salty, the onions were rich, the apples were tart, and the barbecue sauce was sweet. I wasn't sure what I was going to think about the apples, but it really worked. You figure apples and pork, and apple (in some form) and barbecue sauce are both pretty common combinations, so why not on a burger? Plus, since they were sliced very thinly and sautéed only lightly, they kept a nice crunch and didn't become too sweet. The barbecue sauce was complex but maybe a little too sweet—it left my fingers sticky.
The other burger I tried was a special that night, and with a name like Cheese Attack I couldn't really pass it up. (I vote they add an exclamation point to the end of Cheese Attack! from now on.) Cheddar, provolone, fried cheese curds, and sriracha mayo topped this one, on the same beef patty. It definitely lived up to its name with its super cheesiness. I appreciated that it was thoughtfully prepared with the curds sandwiched in between the other two cheeses to hold them in place. There was a ton of sriracha mayo, which is good if you like that sort of thing, but it was a little too much for me. It did help, however, to cover up the somewhat stale, freezer burned taste of the curds, which was the only major miss of the night.
The Cheese Attack(!) came out rare despite being ordered medium rare, but it ended up not being a problem due to the high quality of the beef.
I was a little skeptical of the kaiser buns both burgers were served on, but in this case you need a substantial bun to hold up to all the unwieldly toppings. The bun didn't have any problem holding up to all the meat juices; it was a good match.
Burgers are served with steak fries that are well seasoned with a blend of herbs, salt, and pepper. They're frozen though, and were a little undercooked and limp. Instead, I'd recommend ordering the kettle chips. By far the best home made potato chips I've had in a restaurant, they're seasoned liberally with a smoky sweet barbecue rub, making the aioli completely unnecessary. Some puffed like a pommes souffle, and they were crisp around the edges and a little tender in the middle.
They went well with the giant 24-ounce Bloody Mary, too. If you'd prefer to drink your side dish, this is the place to do it. It's smooth and not too sharp or spicy, and you can't beat the fact that it comes with a large, freshly grilled shrimp.
INdustri has been making a name for itself, one that includes supporting local businesses and workers and serving up interesting, quality food at relatively low prices. They've only been around for about a year now, but if they keep doing what they're doing I think they should be around for a long time.