North Avenue Grill
7225 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa WI 53213 (map); 414-453-7225; northavenuegrill.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Tiny "new American diner" that serves breakfast all day, along with homemade soups, sandwiches, shakes and amazing burgers
Want Fries With That? Fries are a MUST. They're hand cut, crispy on the outside, light on the inside, and seasoned well
Price: Peppercorn Horsey burger, $8.95; Build-your-own burger, $6.95; Oreo shake, $3.95
Milwaukee isn't really much of a diner town. We've got a few, but they're a little bit overblown and overpriced. It's a weird thing, really, considering Milwaukee's got working-class roots.
So it took a little bit of searching to find a diner that wasn't one of the big tourist-attraction ones. No, neither politicians nor Rachael Ray have visited it like some other diners (ok, one in particular). But I'm willing to bet that North Avenue Grill has some of the best diner food in the city—and I'd stack the burgers up next to any other restaurant's, too.
North Avenue Grill recently came under new ownership at the beginning of the year. I hadn't eaten there before, but it's hard to imagine that the burgers could have been much better than they are now. The owner, Mike Topolovich, is also manning the grill, which is a great thing in this case. You can tell by the food that he really cares about sending out great product.
The half-pound burgers were thick and juicy, even if they were a little bit above the requested medium. There was still a little pink in there though, which is certainly better than a lot of places do with "medium." And in the cooks/owners defense, a salesman happened to come in as my burgers were on the grill—it's an open kitchen—which may have distracted him for just a minute too long.
But no worries, they were still some of the best burgers I've had in a while. The beef was well seasoned with salt and a good amount of black pepper. They were griddled on a flat top but still retained a nice char around the edges.
Onions turned out to be the star toppings of the night, on both the Peppercorn Horsey burger ($8.95) and a build-your-own option. The horsey burger was topped with crispy onion strings, which were freshly breaded while the beef was on the griddle. They were perfectly crunchy and not greasy at all.
The griddled (fried) onions on a build-your-own burger were just as delicious. I mean, look at some of those deep, dark caramelized bits. They were mostly sweet but with a little bite left. They're exactly the kind of fried onions other onions aspire to be.
The Horsey burger was topped with a relatively strong horseradish cream sauce. If you like horseradish, you'll love it. There wasn't too much sauce to make the bun soggy, either. The only thing I'd change is applying the sauce underneath the onion strings, as they got soggy quickly in the sauce.
When I think diner, I think good old American cheeseburger, which is why I went with American cheese and fried onions on the build-your-own ($6.95). Sometimes you really just have to have that gooey cheese, and here it definitely worked. The cheese stuck the perfectly toasted bun to the patty, making one cohesive sandwich, and I love when that happens.
The fries that come with the burgers are not to be overlooked. In fact, I could go here and make a meal just out of fries. They're hand cut and perfectly crunchy on the outside while being light and fluffy on the inside. They're tossed in a bowl with black pepper-heavy seasoning before they're served.
They also just started serving shakes for the summer, so I snagged an Oreo shake ($3.95). While it was a little bit thin and could have used more ice cream, it's still a great compliment to a diner burger and fries.
North Avenue Grill may not be the most famous diner around, but it should be. It's tiny, quaint, and the food is excellent on top of being extremely reasonably priced. I'm looking forward to going back to try the all-day breakfast menu, in classic diner style.