102 King St, Madison WI 53703 (map); 608-287-1455; tipsycowmadison.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Fantastic smashed burgers in a little, casual bar that can compete with the more well-known spots on Capital Square
Want Fries With That? Beer battered fries are crispy and well seasoned—try them topped with chili or any number of other ways offered. Don't pass up the cheese curds, either
Price: Tipsy Burger, $8; pimento burger (special), $7; cheese curds, $7; chili cheese fries, $8
Now you can add another relatively new spot to the list, Tipsy Cow. Located a stone's throw from the Capitol, this bar and adjacent small dining room serves up inexpensive (relative to the area) smashed burgers, sandwiches, and all kinds of tasty sides.
These burgers are exactly how you want smashed burgers to be: quarter-pound patties with a rich, crispy crust sandwiched by a soft, squishy bun to sop up any juice or grease. The beef comes from Knoche's Market, a local third-generation butcher shop, and is super juicy and tender even though it's cooked well done (the standard temperature for smashed burgs).
A layer of crackly crust completely covers one side of the patties, and you can tell the griddle must be pretty well seasoned for a crust that smooth. The beef is freshly ground and flavorful enough that you probably don't need the substantial crust. But I wouldn't pass it up.
Burgers are ordered In-N-Out style, such as 1x1, 2x2, etc. The signature Tipsy Burger ($8) is a 2x2 topped with three-year cheddar, brick cheese, fried or raw onion, Nueske's bacon, a homemade sauce, and house pickles. It's a mouthful and a little bit of a mess, but totally worth it.
The homemade "tipsy" sauce has more tang than the typical Thousand Island-style sauce, including a little bit of heat, something I've never had in a house sauce before, and quite liked. The brick cheese is pretty underused, even here in Wisconsin, and is mild and easy-melting. Three-year cheddar had great sharp contrasting flavor, but was grainy when melted. Nueske's, as we all know, is fantastic bacon, and these slices were super crunchy for a great texture.
One special when I visited was a pimento cheese burger ($7). Pimento cheese is starting to spread up here from the South and is catchy on slowly. This was a great rendition and a delicious little burger. The same crusty patty was topped with a dollop of smooth, creamy spread made with five-year cheddar. The roasted sweet red pepper wasn't overpowering and everything melded this sandwich together perfectly, with the soft bun holding it all in place.
Since melted pimento cheese is pretty rich, the homemade pickles served with the burgers (or as an appetizer) were a refreshing break. They're slightly sweet but still crisp and you could taste that they started out life as a vegetable.
There's a ton of sides and apps (burgers are à la carte) to choose from, but I had to try the cheese curds ($7) and chili cheese fries ($8). The curds were the real star. They had a super thin, light batter made with Spotted Cow beer from New Glarus Brewery—arguably the state's most popular and beloved beer. The white curds were sponge-like and salty, just the way they should be.
Beer battered fries weren't bad, but the three-bean chili that topped them was better. It wasn't spicy, but there was a lot of chile pepper flavor, along with a healthy dose of beer. You can get fries topped a number of different ways, including buffalo and blue or sour cream and onion.
There's a ton of great places to eat in Madison, but if you're around Capital Square I'd suggest giving Tipsy Cow a try if you haven't yet. Even better if you try it on a Tuesday, when 1x1 cheeseburgers are buy one get one free.