139 E Kilbourn Ave #2 Milwaukee WI 53202 (map); (414) 291-4793; kilawatcuisine.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Classic, solid burgers in an upscale, serene setting
Want Fries With That? Fries are a bit boring, but Italian-style pasta salad offers a fresh alternative
Price:Big Boy burger, $10; Wisconsin burger, $10
Kil@wat is a Milwaukee hotel restaurant that goes against the stereotype of stodgy, bland, mediocre hotel food. (It's not the only one, either, check out my review of Mason Street Grill.) It appears to cater mostly to business travelers and tourists, but there's a fairly brisk business lunch crowd as well.
For a while, there was only one burger on the menu, their rendition on the classic Big Boy burger. They recently added a second burger to the menu, but both burgers are still only available during lunch. It's worth stopping in for a leisurely lunch for either one of the burgers.
Even though the Big Boy burger has gotten all the hype, the newer Wisconsin Burger ($10) is what really stole the show for me. The biggest difference was the thick, half-pound patty of 80/20 grass-fed beef, compared to the Big Boy's grain-fed beef. It's really hard to beat that mellow, smooth grass-fed flavor, especially when it's cooked an almost perfect medium.
There's a nice char and grill marks on the meat too, cutting the beefy flavor with a little bitterness and smoke. I opted to get it topped with cheddar, which came in a thick slice. The onion, lettuce, and tomato were pretty standard but generous. I asked for bacon, but I never received it.
The Wisconsin Burger is served on a pretzel bun, which I'm not usually a fan of because I find them too dry and tough. But not this one—it was soft and supple. I also liked that it didn't have much pretzel flavor. Someone looking for substantial pretzel flavor might be disappointed.
The Big Mac-like Big Boy ($10) is made of two smaller quarter-pound patties that came medium-well by default because of the thinner shape. They were drier than the Wisconsin burger's thick patty, but the mild Thousand Island-like sauce made up for some of the missing moisture.
Tasting the Big Boy's grain-fed beef compared to the grass-fed reveals that the grass fed is far superior. The grain-fed tasted more mineraly, though I'm not sure I'd have noticed it if I didn't have the grass-fed to compare it to.
The other elements of the Big Boy were pretty tasty, though. The bun was crusted with sesame seeds, and the dressing was slightly tangy. Shredded iceberg lettuce was held onto the burger by the dressing. The American cheese helped cement all the layers together.
Both burgers came with a side of sliced pickle chips that were very tart but a little one-dimensional. On the plus side, they helped cut through the rich creaminess of the Big Boy.
You have the choice of fries, potato salad, pasta salad, or kettle chips with burgers. Out of the fries and pasta salad I ordered, the pasta salad was the winner. It had a light, fresh Italian-style dressing on al dente pasta with the standard veggies, plus feta. Fries were skin-on shoestring and nothing to really write home about.
So if you're in the vicinity of Kilbourn and Water (Kil @ Wat, get it?), Kil@wat is a quiet, second floor spot for a solid, somewhat nostalgic burger.
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.