18905 W Capitol Dr # 110, Brookfield WI (map); 262-781-1110; jakesburger.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Steak-like, half pound patties ground fresh from short rib, brisket and sirloin hold their own against great toppings
Want Fries With That? Fries here seem more like a filler than anything, especially since they got rid of their homemade chips
Price: Jake's burger, $9.95; Wisconsin burger, $10.95; extra patty, $3.95; fries, $3.75; side of pickles, $1.95; Spiked chocolate shake, $7
Jake's Burger in Brookfield has one of the best fancy-pants burgers in the Milwaukee area. Owners Jake and Karen Repogle also own Jake's Steakhouse in Pewaukee, and have been serving their fantastic burger there for many years. Moving this burger into a casual joint seemed a little out of place, though, like taking a steakburger out of its natural, upscale habitat.
Despite the slight identity crisis, one burger stood out: the Jake's burger. The best part was the beef, as it should be. You'd hope Jake's know what they're doing when it comes to beef since they come from a steakhouse background, and it's obvious that they do—at least, when they cook it properly (more on that later). The half-pound patties are ground short rib, brisket, and sirloin for optimum flavor and fat content. Knowing that, I ordered it medium rare, and it paid off.
The beef was coarsely ground and packed just enough to stay together during bites. Seasoning was simple, just salt and lots of sharp black pepper, enough that I could taste it distinctly when breaking off bits of meat to taste on its own. Biting into the burger was like biting into an ultra-tender steak that melted in your mouth.
Complementing the beef on the Jake's burger was cheddar (which largely disappeared), haystack onion strings, butter lettuce, oven roasted tomatoes, and a special sauce. For once, the lettuce wasn't an afterthought that I immediately picked off; the firm lettuce held its shape and crunch, a good foil to the beef. The tomatoes had a concentrated tomato flavor from the roasting, but fell apart and weren't that noticeable. The special sauce, which was more mayonnaise than ketchup, added just the right amount of sweetness and tang to the burger. Normally I'm iffy on Thousand Island-type sauces, but this one has me hooked.
What made the Jake's burger so good, besides the combination of flavors and textures in the toppings, was that the beef was cooked medium rare, like a good steak should be. The patties on the Wisconsin burger, however, were cooked well past the medium that's listed as standard on the menu and into well done, dry and mealy territory. Since I ordered it as a behemoth double, it was a huge waste of quality beef. (I suspect that many of the patrons think they want a medium burger, when actually they'd prefer it more well done, hence why the standard "medium" was really not.)
The beer cheese sauce on the Wisconsin had a great sharp flavor, but because it's a sauce, as soon as you take a bite, it oozes out and essentially disappears from the burger all together. If you order this burger, order the sauce on the side for dipping. Not only does it make it less messy, you'll probably taste it better as well.
Buns on both burgers were good, standard sesame seed buns. I wish they had been bigger, though. Even on the single burger, the bun was almost a joke and didn't do much in the way of holding anything together. The pickle chips are homemade with lots of mustard seed and fresh dill and can also be ordered as a side.
Side were pretty disappointing, especially compared to the quality of the Jake's burger. Fries were thick cut, skin-on, but weren't made in-house and needed seasoning. I was really expecting house-made fries. Potato chips, which had gotten good reviews in the past, were no longer on the menu...except that they were. Instead of crossing them out, they added an "out of stock" stamp to some of the menus, prompting us to ask what the deal was. Strange, and I bet the servers are sick of being asked about them. Spiked shakes make a nice dessert, or, let's be honest, water alternative.
We had some hiccups with service and noticed others did too. There was a 40 minute wait on a Wednesday night, so people were sitting at the small bar while waiting. Every time a table was ready, the hostess would ask the party if they had taken care of their bar tab yet, something I've never seen before. In every instance, the hostess waited while people squared up, even telling one party that it was not allowed to simply add the bar tab to their food bill. (Servers had no problem with spiked shakes, so the issue was not underage servers.) Luckily, the problems didn't go past the host or bartender, as our server was great.
This burger joint definitely caters to the upper class neighborhood it's located in, and if you can get past some rough spots, and be sure to order your burger rare, then you're in for a real treat.
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.