Hooligan's Super Bar
2017 East North Avenue, Milwaukee WI 53202 (map); 414-273-5230; hooliganssuperbar.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A popular bar where you should only order drinks
Want Fries With That? If you have to eat something, order the fries. Even though they're frozen, they're still the best thing I had
Price: Hooli-Burger, $9; Better Butter Burger with bison patty, $10; buffalo wings, $8; mozzarella sticks, $7
I had high expectations for Hooligan's Super Bar. Up until 2011, they were voted best bar food in the city by OnMilwaukee.com four years in a row. Since I consider burgers a quintessential bar food, right up there with wings, nachos, and every form of fried cheese, it seemed like a logical spot for a great burg. But after my visit, I was left wondering how they've won any awards for food, let alone for their bar food.
The main problem with their burgers was texture. Both the beef and bison burgers—any burger on the menu can be made with either meat—were made with preformed, frozen patties and it was instantly apparent. The beef was worse than the bison; it had a sausage-like texture, and even though it was cooked medium, it was somehow bone dry. The flavorless patty was all around one of the worst beef patties I've had.
The bison was a little bit better, thankfully. Although it was cooked past the medium rare I requested, it was juicier than the beef by far (odd, considering the low fat content of bison). Although it lacked seasoning, it at least had more flavor than the beef. Its machine-packed texture was still off-putting, though.
The toppings on both burgers were disappointing as well. The Hooli-Burger—their best-selling burger according to the menu—was topped with cheddar, bacon, barbecue sauce, mayo, and a mixture of olives. Almost everything that could go wrong with those toppings did: the barbecue sauce was super sweet and sticky; the bacon had a chemical taste; and the olives were tinny, roughly chopped canned black olives. Even if you really liked olives, it was hard to get past the coating of corn syrupy barbecue sauce.
I ordered the bison patty on a simpler burger, hoping that the more intense flavor of the bison would come through. The Better Butter Burger is a simple cheeseburger topped with Monterey Jack and cheddar, and as an interesting twist, garlic butter. I love garlic, so it sounded like a great idea. Too bad it was really just garlic salt butter, and its metallic taste overpowered everything, including the bison.
Okay, the burgers are pretty bad, but maybe the other bar food is better? Not so much. Their buffalo wings in hot garlic sauce tasted like dirty refrigerator. The sauce wasn't bad, but there was no getting past the musky, less-than-fresh flavor of the chicken. Mozzarella sticks were pretty standard, though they could have been crisper.
By far the best part of the entire meal was the fries. The frozen fries. That's a pretty sad statement. The skin-on fries were cooked well, coming out nice and crisp, and their flavor was reminiscent of McDonald's fries. They were a better choice than the bags of chips we saw on plates at other tables.
I was less than impressed with Hooligan's bar food, to say the least. They do have a substantial menu, including daily specials, so perhaps I just didn't hit the right items. But for a bar to have award-winning bar food, wings and burger have to be great. Hooligan's just didn't cut it.