Milwaukee: Old Fashioned Burgers at Local Watering Hole Benno's
7413 West Greenfield Avenue, West Allis WI (map); 414-453-9094; bennosbar.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Burgers like grandma used to make, plus 30 different tap beers. Go Wednesdays for $5 Burger Night.
Want Fries With That? Hand cut fries are deep golden and crunchy—try them topped with garlic and Romano
Price: 1/3-pound burger on Wednesday Burger Night, $5; extra patty, $1.25; Buffalo wings, $4.29
While I support the (now trendy) "eat local" motto, there are other ways to support and encourage a local community. In Wisconsin, the state where taverns outnumber grocery stores in almost every county, bars are a vital part of the community and social scene—and we're damn proud of it, too!
Besides running one such neighborhood bar in West Allis for over 30 years now, Marty Weigel has served as a district alderman, organized a local biking organization, and been active in a parent teacher association. So it makes sense that he would open Benno's as another way of serving the community while bringing it together.
Benno's most important offering is beer—they have 30 different taps that change as soon as one barrel is done—but coming in a close second is Burger Night. You have to give people something to sop the beer up with, and that can happen Wednesdays on the cheap, when build-your-own burgers start at just $5 with practically endless toppings.
It's not just cheap junk to get people in the door, either—that would be a disservice to the neighborhood. These burgers, even on busy Burger Night, are awesome. They're exactly what your grandma would have cooked up for you as a kid, in all the best ways possible: irregularly shaped hand pattied beef, sesame seed-topped Wisconsin hard rolls, and three different kinds of mustard to choose from on the table.
The beef is seasoned very well and heavy on the pepper. There are divots and knobs in the third-pound patties where it started sagging through the grill grate as it shrunk during cooking. Surprisingly, they were cooked with pink in the middle, a happy thing after the server didn't ask how I'd like them cooked.
The beef's juices were soaked up instantly by the hard roll bun, one of my favorite parts of the burger, believe it or not. The insides of a hard roll are super soft and pillowy, but it's the thin, shattering crust that makes it a hard roll. The combination of the two textures is great on an old-fashioned hamburger like this, and the structured crust keeps everything in place.
You'll need that structure when you have so many free toppings to choose from on burger night. The price includes two choices from a list of cheeses, bacon, fried egg, guacamole, and other "big ticket" items. (You can add more toppings for 75¢ each.) Then there's a long list of sauces and other toppings that are all free, as many as you want. Talk about dangerous!
Some of the best choices included bacon, which was super curly and crunchy from being deep fried, and onion strings that were crisp and light. The fried egg was cooked perfectly over easy, as requested. You can't go wrong with cheese, of course, and being Wisconsin there were at least six kinds to choose from. The one thing I wasn't a fan of was the Cajun mayo because it had so much of a dry seasoning mix in it that it was overwhelming and chalky. Other free toppings run the gamut from jalapeños to sauerkraut.
Burger Night burgs come with chips, but you can upgrade to fries, pasta salad, or various other things for $1, and I definitely recommend doing so. The fries are hand cut and homemade, something that's a little hard to find around Milwaukee, so it's a treat and easily worth the measly buck. There's a ton of grated cheese on the garlic Romano fries, if you're so inclined. They were great dipped in homemade ranch leftover from an order of super saucy, meaty wings.
If I lived closer to Benno's, this would probably be my watering hole of choice. The food was great and incredibly inexpensive (not even considering the discounted burger prices; their everyday burger prices are also low, but a little higher than on Burger Night), the atmosphere was classic Wisconsin tavern, and the service was above and beyond. I can definitely see how Benno's has been in business for so long, and I'm disappointed I hadn't discovered them sooner.
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.