Karma Bar and Grill
600 E Ogden Ave, Milwaukee WI 53202 (map); 262-251-8444; karmamilwaukee.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A bar and lounge with grilled burgers and interesting sides—just be sure the kitchen doesn't overcook them
Want Fries With That? Fries are perhaps the least interesting side; go for the generous mac and cheese or hummus and veggies instead
Price: The Burner, $10.99; The Bad Mama Jamma, $16.99; Karma fries, $5 (happy hour special)
Anyone who's read any of my AHT reviews knows that overcooking burgers is an almost-epidemic size problem in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, I found yet another example of potentially good burgers gone bad due to overcooking at Karma Bar and Grill.
It's especially tough to swallow—pun intended—when a double burger with a pound of beef is overcooked and there are no sauces to give even a little respite from the meat desert. And I'm not talking about just being gray throughout. I'm talking about a ring of crunchy, charred beef circling the patty. Definitely a disappointment when other components of the burger and meal are tasty.
That double burger, called the Bad Mama Jamma ($16.99), was topped with cheddar, Swiss, pepperjack, bacon, jalapeños, and fried pickles. The pickles were the best part of the burger since their sourness cut through the richness of the cheese and meat. (Plus, they sure did look pretty on top.) They don't stay crunchy for long, so remove them and eat them separately from the burger if you prefer crunch. The jalapeños were omitted accidentally.
Grilling gave the beef a nice backyard smoke flavor, but the flavor was just a little too overwhelming near the crunchy edges of the patty. Somehow, the beef still was falling apart, so props to the kitchen for hand-pattying and not packing the beef too tightly. That implies that there's hope for these burgers, if you can get one that isn't cooked well done.
The Burner ($10.99) was much better since it had only one half-pound patty, plus a squirt of sriracha mayo that made up a bit for the dry beef. Still, it could have used a lot more, since everyone knows sriracha mayo is delicious.
The bacon was crispy and generous, and reminded me more of cured ham than smoked pork belly. It seemed like the kitchen was stingy on the pickled jalapeños, but after one bite I realized they were some of the hottest jalapenos I've had and there were plenty to go around. The buns were grilled on the cut side and briefly on the top of the bun as well, giving them a little crown of crunch.
Trying to choose a side with the burgers is a little overwhelming since there are 10 to choose from. I went with the mac and cheese—they play it up in their marketing—and a side of hummus and veggies to counteract the double burger. The serving of hummus was enormous—more than you can eat with the veggies they give you—and I liked that it was heavy on the garlic. Mac and cheese came in a sauce made with real cheese, not Velveeta, and a hint of beer.
That same sauce covered the Karma fries ($5), along with bacon, onions, and ranch. The fries benefited from the toppings; by themselves they weren't anything special.
If you emphasize that you want your burger pink and not overcooked, I think you could get a solid burger here. With the portion sizes and the interesting sides, there's definitely something for everyone.