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[Photographs: Lacey Muszynski]

The Wicked Hop

345 N Broadway Milwaukee, WI 53202 (map); 414-223-0345; thewickedhop.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Big burgers cooked perfectly at a bar known for its Bloody Marys
Want Fries With That? Skip the undercooked, undersalted fries and choose fruit or soup instead
Price: Build-you-own-burger, $9, toppings $0.50-$1.50; Chili nachos, $11; Bloody Mary, $9

I often (ok, always) research a restaurant before I go to it, especially for review purposes. I read other reviews, the restaurant's own website, and Yelp/Urbanspoon/Google reviews. The Wicked Hop has been on my radar for a while now, mostly because they're often said to have the best Bloody Marys in the city, and I love a good Bloody.

In reading many of the Yelp reviews, a theme appeared: The Bloodies are great, but the food and service, bluntly, suck. So are they really just riding the wave of their one signature drink and hip location? Not so, I found. In fact, my experience was practically opposite of the predominant opinions on Yelp. I didn't like the bloody, and both the burgers and service were pretty good.

The only burger option on the menu is a build-your-own half pounder ($9). I guess that's great for picky eaters, but sometimes I like having interesting choices and combos put together for me. That's a small complaint though, considering both burgers I ordered had delicious beef patties, cooked perfectly.

Cross-hatched grill marks laced the patties with a nice char, and both burgers were cooked to the requested medium. They were so juicy they soaked the bottom bun. While the patties looked to be pre-formed, the beef was loosely packed and very tender.

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The beef could have used a bit more seasoning, just some salt or maybe a simple house blend. I noticed a bit of bitterness in the aftertaste of one patty, perhaps from a tad too much charring in spots. But overall the flavor of the beef was spot on.

Toppings were satisfactory, but nothing more. While both the cheddar and pepperjack had great flavor, I had to pick off bits of each before I even noticed it in either burger. Too skimpy, especially since I'm already paying a pretty penny for the burger and each topping.

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Bacon was crisp, but lacked flavor besides an acrid smokiness. Sautéed onions were nothing to write home about, but at least there were a ton of them. They didn't help the situation with the soaked-through bun, though. There were parts of the bun that were complete mush even before I was finished taking photos. A less Wonderbread-like bun would do wonders.

Fries were definitely to be avoided. They arrived lukewarm and limp. I'm not sure they were ever cooked to a crisp, and on top of that, they lacked salt. You're better off with the optional side of fresh fruit, which included slices of pineapple, melons, orange and a strawberry. It was freshly sliced and abundant.

Nachos as an appetizer were just OK. The menu states they're fresh, hand-cut chips, but they didn't taste like they were. The chili I opted for on top was also lukewarm when delivered and had an odd sweetness. At least the cheese was real, and not cheese sauce.

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Now on to the controversial part of this review: the Bloody Mary ($9). I thought I liked Bloodies with a heavy amount of seasoning, because I'm not a fan of plain old tomato juice. However, this one was over-the-top with seasoning. If you were blindfolded, I bet you wouldn't guess there was tomato in it. It was almost like a barbecue sauce with too many flavors going on, and too many condiments mixed together. Imagine drinking 16 ounces of barbeque sauce—it's not very pleasant. Plus, no celery! Sure, there are a million other showy garnishes, but I want my crunchy, refreshing stirrer. And I want to enjoy the DRINK, because that's what a Bloody is. This one's all garnish.

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So while there were a few misses, the heart of the matter is that the beef was delicious, and made up for the other burger shortcomings.

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.

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