Milwaukee Brat House
1013 Old World 3rd Street
Milwaukee, WI 53203 (map); 414-273-8709; milwaukeebrathouse.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order:German sausage bar serving up a great burger, with or without a bratwurst patty
Want Fries With That? Fries are limp and anemic; try the standard tots or baked beans instead
Price: Belly Buster Burger, $11; Wisconsin burger, $10.50; w/tots, +$1; sausage sampler app, $11.95
Milwaukee's German heritage can't be denied, and one of the areas where its influence is most apparent is in food, especially sausage. (And beer, but that's another blog!) In fact, when President Obama made a campaign visit to Milwaukee on Saturday, he made an unscheduled stop at Usinger's, one of the biggest sausage makers in Southeastern Wisconsin. Lucky for Milwaukee Brat House, they are located directly across the street and got to serve up brats to the President and his entourage.
Naturally, they serve Usinger's sausages. And because sausages and burgers are cousins in the great family of cookout/tailgate/backyard barbecue foods, they go pretty dang well together. Sometimes even in the same sandwich.
If you can't decide on a brat or a burger—and you're really hungry—just get both at once. The Belly Buster Burger ($11) combines a half-pound Angus beef patty with a third-pound brat patty, topped with sautéed onions and Wisconsin cheddar. It's definitely a mouthful and a little ridiculous, but that's half the fun.
The burger patty, requested medium but cooked medium well, was super juicy with pronounced crisp, blackened grill marks. It tasted fresh and mild, and though it was a little underseasoned, the heavily seasoned brat patty compensated for that. The difference in texture between the beef and sausage is striking when put together like this, especially since sausage in patty form is denser than in log form. As long as you know to expect that, though, I think it's easily worked around.
I gilded the lily a bit and added bacon as well. It was lightly smokey and not overpowering, which I liked against the heavily seasoned bratwurst.
If you deconstruct this burger to eat it—and you might have no other choice—be sure to dip the brat in Secret Stadium Sauce. Made famous at the old home of the Brewers, County Stadium, it's a richer version of ketchup with a background of "sweet" spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice.
The Wisconsin burger ($10.50) featured the same beef patty—again, slightly overcooked but still very juicy and very good—topped with cheddar, fried cheese curds, and roasted red peppers. The cheddar was a bit of a mystery. It was almost like a sauce, but it was definitely real cheese and reminded me of Kenji's cheese slice Burger Lab.
I'm not really sure how the roasted peppers echoed the Wisconsin theme, but combined with the cheddar, they created a delicious pimento cheese effect. The curds got a bit soggy, but they had the authentic spongy texture.
Fries can definitely be skipped. They're thin cut, anemic, and boring, despite the token sprinkle of Parmesan. The tater tots are a much better choice, but you can also pick from onion rings, baked beans, and potato salad for the included burger side.
Since no trip would be complete without more sausages, I recommend the sausage sampler app ($11.95). You get one each of grilled bratwurst, Polish, and Italian in red sauce, all around a bed of kraut, sautéed onions, mushrooms and roasted red peppers. All the sausages have a snappy casing and are cooked perfectly. The pretzel bun gives a bit of a reprieve from rich, greasy meat.
So when some of your group wants burgers, and some want brats (and everyone wants Schlitz!), get everyone what they want at the Milwaukee Brat House.