512 W Layton Ave, Milwaukee WI 53207 (map); 414-481-5520; foodspot.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Hand pattied, no frills burgers are cooked perfectly to temperature but could use more seasoning
Want Fries With That? Fantastic light, crispy hand-cut fries. Try them with ranch seasoning and sour cream
Price: Belly burger, $8.99; Mushroom Swiss burger, $6.99; Ranch taters basket, $2.99; Buffalo wings, $7.99
The south side of Milwaukee is a very no-frills, blue collar kind of place. (In fact, Milwaukee's airport, located on the south side, almost ended up with a giant sculpture of a blue shirt.) Beer Belly's fits in to that model in name and concept.
The bar takes up most of the small building, making it literally the only focal point. The grill and small kitchen reside at the back of the bar, so you can watch your burgers (or steaks for those special occasions!) as they sizzle on the grill. PBR tallboys are practically mandatory.
Amazingly, burgers ordered medium came out medium, even when they were different size patties. Overall these burgers tasted like they were from a really good backyard cookout, complete with perfect crosshatched grill marks that looked better than anything I've achieved at home. The grill cook knew what he was doing and obviously takes some pride in his work. The only thing the meat was lacking was seasoning. It was a little bland, and some more salt and pepper would have livened things up a little.
Burgers come standard with 1/3-pound patties made of Black Angus beef that's hand pattied daily, or you can get a 1/2-pounder for $1 more. I normally prefer the 1/3-pound, but these buns were very large in circumference, so I'd recommend upgrading to the 1/2-pound for a better bun-to-meat ratio.
Topping choices are all pretty standard. The Belly Burger ($8.99), which is their signature and comes standard with a 1/2-pound patty, is topped with cheddar, Swiss, bacon, sautéed mushrooms, onion, lettuce tomato, and Thousand Island dressing. The bacon was extra smoky and flavorful, making up for the underseasoned beef. The Thousand Island dressing came on the side, which turned out to be a good thing since it didn't appear homemade.
Mushrooms on the Mushroom Swiss burger ($6.99) were fresh and sautéed lightly. I only wished that there were more of them on the burger since they added a nice umami element.
Fries here are handcut and fantastic. Think Five Guys fries, only lighter and crispier, with less of a muddy taste. They come with the burger, or you can do what I did and just order the giant plate of ranch taters from the appetizer menu. Put your ranch dressing snobbiness aside for a second—these are seasoned with dry ranch seasoning and served with sour cream for dipping. And what's ranch seasoning more than garlic and onion powder and herbs? When you think about it that way, it's delicious, and a steal for $3. Wings were similarly bargain-priced at $7.99, and I suspect the restaurant even lost money with the large pool of hot, sweet sauce on the plate.
All kinds of people come to Beer Belly's for food from burgers to crab legs, and it's not just because it's located a couple blocks from the airport. The generous nightly specials, good service, and no-nonsense food seem to keep the locals coming in.
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.