Milwaukee: In Which I Profess My Undying Love for Kopp's Butter Burgers
Kopp's Frozen Custard
5373 N. Port Washington Road, Glendale WI 53217(map); 414-961-3288; kopps.com
Cooking Method: Griddled
Short Order: Big, flat butter burgers that everyone in Milwaukee grew up with at the quintessential custard stand
Want Fries With That? Thin, skin on fries taste slightly like the onion rings, but that's a great thing
Price: cheeseburger, $4.45; double cheeseburger, $6.35; french fries, $2; onion rings, $2.25; single scoop of custard, $2.25
We've all got that meal that takes us back to when we we kids, the one that you still crave when you're feeling homesick, or nostalgic, or maybe just sick of being an adult. For me, that's Kopp's. When I think of home, I get this Pavlovian urge for a burger and custard, most likely stemming from the fact that this was usually my family's first meal back home after a trip. Now, it's like a butter-laden homing beacon.
Daniel Zemans wrote about Kopp's a couple years ago, and covered all the factual stuff pretty well. To sum up: the burgers are big, flat, fast food style, about 1/4-pound, and have lots of butter. They must be followed by custard, or at least washed down with a shake (preferably hot fudge, as I wrote about last summer on Drinks), and must be eaten outside for full effect.
Now, let's just get all the bad things about this burger out on the table: The beef is well done and there's no option on that, and the sandwich often gets smushed in the paper wrapping. But I don't care. I'm sure nostalgia plays a part in overlooking the flaws, but one thing I love the most about these burgers is how the butter and gooey cheese wicks its way through the loosely formed beef, making a kind of patty melt with the flat, soft bun.
Getting a crust on the patty can be hit or miss, but I think it depends on which location in the Milwaukee area you visit. The one in Glendale, which I went to for this review, succeeded in getting a nice little char around the edges of the patty, similar to a smash-method burger. From experience, they're normally nicely seared at this location.
My go-to order has always been a cheeseburger with pickles. When I'm feeling saucy, I add fried onions, which are really fantastically caramelized for a fast food joint. Neuske's bacon is always a welcome addition. And if you order pickles, you will have a pickle slice on top of your bun. I don't know why they do that, but it's the way it's always been.
One thing I'm going to disagree with Daniel on is the fries. I love these fries. Yes, they're frozen, but I prefer them over many of the frozen fries in sit down restaurants. You know the secret? They cook them in the same oil as the onion rings, and you always get a hint of that sweet onion flavor in the skin-on fries. If you've driven by a Kopp's, then you're familiar with the distinct smell of the fryers. The fries taste like that smell.[
Of course that means the onion rings are good too. They're breaded and always super crunchy, as opposed to crispy. Crispy is too delicate. Wash it all down with a Sprecher root beer on tap, the same price as the other sodas. A treat and Wisconsin specialty.
You saved room for dessert, right? No? Too bad; get custard anyway. Grasshopper fudge is my favorite flavor, but they're all good, really. It's almost a shame, since their amazing vanilla often gets overshadowed by the flavors of the day. Bonus: You get a little triangle wafer cookie when you order custard in a dish, like a surrogate waffle cone. These are fought over, so watch it if you don't eat it right away.
Kopp's would be my last burger on Earth if I could choose, and it's the only burger I ever really crave in between AHT reviews. They've been around since 1950, so I don't think I'm the only one with this nostalgic addiction to their butter burgers.
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.