The Old Fashioned
23 N. Pinckney Street, Madison, WI 53703 (map); 608-310-4545 ; theoldfashioned.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Flawless burger from a restaurant that oozes Wisconsin
Want Fries With That? No idea, but the cheese curds are the best I've ever had
Price: Build your own burgers start at $5.95; The Old Fashioned House Burger, $8.95
In the shadow of Wisconsin's majestic Capitol Building sits The Old Fashioned, a restaurant that fits so well in the heart of Madison that it's hard to believe it's only a few years old. Founded in 2005 by three people with solid roots in the local eating scene, The Old Fashioned screams Wisconsin in every way.
The restaurant has a near fanatical focus on using local food from all over the state, ranging from meats to produce to more than 150 beers to cheese from over 25 producers. In addition to the burger I was there to try, The Old Fashioned serves up a wide variety of German and Scandinavian influenced dishes, something very appropriate given the state's history. And being friendly folk of the Upper Midwest, there's a daily meat raffle in which participants pay $1 for a ticket for the chance to win some fresh meat, with all proceeds go to a rotating pool of local charities (on my day it was 4-H).
There are two choices for burger eaters at The Old Fashioned: build-your-own or The Old Fashioned House Burger. Settling on the latter was an easy decision. Here's how it's described on the menu: made with local grass-fed beef, grilled over a live fire and topped with fried onions, Bavaria's hickory-smoked bacon, aged cheddar, garlic sauce, and a soft-cooked egg on a buttered and toasted roll. As delicious as that sounds, those words don't begin to do justice to how good this burger was.
Every patty at The Old Fashioned starts with a half pound of coarsely ground beef that is cooked the way a burger of this girth should be: on an open flame that builds a perfect crust around the burger with each flicker of fire. Mine was left on the grill about 30 seconds longer than I would have liked, but the resulting soft medium rare burger had plenty of beefy flavor.
The delicious patty is topped with an impressive pile of more deliciousness, including a generous mass of soft caramelized onions, a very thick slice of medium sharp cheddar that melts all over the place, and thick strips of bacon from Bavaria Sausage, a local company that's been making sausage in Madison for almost 50 years. All of that is topped with a perfectly cooked soft fried egg and placed on a soft, toasted roll that's just dense enough to hold together under the strain of the juicy patty and all of the toppings. Rounding out the experience is a garlic sauce that complements everything well but very much stays in the background. Together, this is an outstanding well-balanced burger that Madisonians are lucky to have around.
Burgers come with a choice of fries or tossed green salad at no extra but I opted for the cheese curds available for a $3 upcharge. While I would have been inclined to go for the curds simply because I was in Wisconsin, I had no choice but to get them after hearing the Madison native I went with rave about them with an enthusiasm I've never heard from her about any other food.
It turns out her excitement was entirely justified; these house-made beer-battered fresh cheese curds are the best I've ever had by a wide margin. The mild soft, gooey but not overly melted is perfectly balanced with the crisp and very well seasoned beer batter. The burger at The Old Fashioned is truly outstanding but it's possible the cheese curds are even better.