Chain Reaction: Culver's
4327 W. Schroeder Drive, Brown Deer, WI 53223 (map); 414-371-0500; culvers.com plus 100s of other locations
The Schtick: Butter, a million pounds of butter. Great frozen custard, too
The Burger: Thin, smash method griddled patties on buns lightly toasted in lots of butter
Want Fries With That? Fries and rings are boring, but the cheese curds are pretty good
Price: Double butter burger with cheese, $3.69; triple cheddar butter burger, $4.99; sides, $1.79-$3.49
Since I'm a good little Wisconsin girl, I've been to Culver's a number of times, but it's been a while since I've had a butter burger there. Let's face it: When you're in Milwaukee, you're not ever going to be far from a burger and custard stand, so going to Culver's has never been high on my list of choices.
But let's put everything in context. Around southeastern Wisconsin, there's a ton of competition. Move farther afield, and into other states, and there are fewer, if any, butter burger and custard joints. After this visit for AHT, my opinion still stands: Culver's is hands down better than the giant fast food chains, but if I'm in Milwaukee, I'll pick Kopp's, or maybe even Five Guys, any day.
The real problem with Culver's butter burgers is the butter. I know, but hear me out. The butter should lend moisture, but not so much that it soaks the bun and turns it to mush. It should make the burger richer, but not so much that you feel like going on a 5-mile run. You shouldn't have two wads of greasy napkins after eating a burger—I'm not eating wings.
Unfortunately, it seems that on any given day, you'll never know whether you're getting a barely-there buttering of the bun, or a dip-in-the-butter-pool bun. If you're a person that is very grease averse, I'd suggest ordering a Culver's burger without butter, as sacrilegious as that might be. The two burgers I ordered, a double burger with cheese, and a monster triple cheddar with bacon, ranged from "This is pretty greasy" to, "I need more napkins, the bun just disintegrated in my hand."
If you ignore the heated butter debate, the burgers aren't bad, but they're not great either. They're small patties, just around two ounces, and they're cooked with the smash method. It's one of my favorite burger cooking methods because of the crust, and the one on Culver's patties is pretty handsome and uniformly brown. The meat itself, though, lacks flavor. Luckily, it also lacks that unnerving mystery meat quality in many fast food beef patties.
The cheddar on the triple added some bite to the burger, but by nature, didn't melt well. This is one of the instances where I prefer American for it's mild gooeyness. I ordered bacon and some veggies on the triple as well, but the bacon was missing. A quick run to the counter with my receipt, and bacon problem solved... Except that it was the super thin pre-cooked stuff that lacks flavor and substance. It looked sad in the paper boat it was delivered in.
The meat on the double butter burger was juicier, but it was also greasier, and by the last bites, the bun was an unappetizing mush. Onions were ordered on both burgers, and though I didn't specify anything, one had fried onions, and one had raw. I don't know how that happened, but definitely opt for the fried.
Sides were pretty typical. Crinkle cut fries that were nice and crispy; standard, if greasy, onions rings; and the ever-present cheese curds. The curds were definitely the best of the three, though I was perplexed by the fact that some were white, and some were yellow. No matter though, they were pleasantly chewy with that signature cheese curd sponginess.
If you need some cheap, greasy, hangover-curing burgers in an atmosphere about as sterile as a doctor's office, Culver's is a good choice. If you're on the highway in the middle of nowhere, Culver's is a good choice. If you're in an area with a plethora of other burger options, Culver's might be a pass. But whatever you do, don't pass up a chance to try their custard or delicious shakes for dessert—especially the blueberry.
About the author: Lacey Muszynski is an editor, freelance writer and restaurant reviewer from Milwaukee, WI. When she's not burgerblogging on AHT, she might be updating her food blog, making fun of the Food Network, or wondering what her art degree has to do with all of this. Her idols growing up included Martin Yan, Chairman Kaga, and whoever was on Great Chefs, Great Cities that day.