Milwaukee: The Decent, the Bad, and the Ugly at Milwaukee Ale House in Grafton
Milwaukee Ale House
1208 13th Ave, Grafton WI 53024 (map); 262-375-BEER; ale-house.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Major kitchen issues turn ok burgers into bad or worse; stick with the brews
Want Fries With That? The frozen fries are the least greasy and offensive of all the sides and apps I tried
Price: Red Hot burger, $8.95; bacon stuffed bacon burger, $10.95; Ale House cheeseburger, $8.50; beer batter cheese curds, $7.95; bowl of steak chili, $4.99
Well, I finally did it—I sent a burger back to the kitchen. I've always made it clear that I only intend to send back a burger if it is in some way inedible, such as if eating it could potentially make me sick or if something non-food accidentally got in there.
I wasn't expecting to have to send a burger back at Milwaukee Ale House's Grafton location. In spring of 2011, the owners of North Star Bistro, a well-respected restaurant here in Milwaukee, took ownership of the Grafton location and revamped the menu. There's been talk of implementing the new menu at the flagship downtown location as well (where the actual brewing of their beers takes place), but to my knowledge that hasn't happened yet.
Let's start with the bad. I ordered the Red Hot burger, a patty made of Niman Ranch beef mixed with chorizo, topped with jack cheese, jalapeños, red hot sauce mayo, and pico de gallo. I instinctively ordered it medium, to which our server corrected me that this particular burger is cooked well done because of the pork chorizo. That made total sense—and maybe it would've been fine if they had actually cooked it well done.
I cut the burger in half for photos and thought, "Wow, this sure is juicy," then, "Wow, this sure is mushy...uh-oh." The culprit: undercooked, raw ground pork with the texture of raw breakfast sausage. I alerted our server it was undercooked, and at first, without looking at it, she told me that the chorizo makes it pink like that. I had to argue that it's not the color that's the problem, it's the texture. She relented and asked me if I'd like the kitchen to cook this one a little longer. My options were to recook that same burger or get something else. I opted for "something else": a plain old cheeseburger.
That turned out to be the correct choice, as the plain cheeseburger was the best burger of the night. It wasn't great by any means, but it wasn't bad, and it was certainly better than raw pork. Although it came out closer to rare than my requested medium, at that point I wasn't going to send another burger back since we had been at the restaurant for almost an hour and a half.
The half-pound beef patty was mostly bland and needed more seasoning, but it had respectable grill marks and smokiness from the grill. The complimentary lettuce, onions and tomato were fresh and crunchy, but the bun was dry and a little stale. It was fine, just nothing to go out of your way for.
A third burger, the Bacon Stuffed Bacon burger, is described on the menu as a "burger patty stuffed with bacon, mushrooms, caramelized onions and topped with cheddar cheese and bacon." I envisioned some grilled mushrooms, onions and bacon slices inside a patty, in recognizable form. What was really stuffed in there was a mostly unidentifiable brown slop. It tasted vaguely of bacon and mushrooms, but mostly of Worcestershire. It just looked absolutely horrible. I'll let the photo speak for itself.
Every side and app I tried was not worth eating. The cheese curds were super greasy and soggy, and the chipotle mayo served with them was flavorless. I didn't really appreciate that the basket was mostly fries, either. The onion rings suffered from the same pool of grease as the curds. The steak chili was mostly tomato sauce with little flavor, and the red-skinned potato salad tasted a little off and almost curdled. The frozen, standard fries were by far the best bet, even though they were pretty boring themselves.
It was a rather frustrating, slow meal, but our server comped both the Red Hot and the plain cheeseburger replacement. I hope I just hit the kitchen on an off night, as the restaurant was relatively crowded for a weeknight, and it appears popular. If the only issue was the undercooking of the pork, I'd be more willing to try them again. But as it is, I'll be sticking to their brews instead of their food.
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.