Sara Johannes, (Top Chef, Season 11 and Executive Chef, Shoyu, MSP Airport) clearly loves burgers. Judging by the way she describes her top five picks in Milwaukee (pure poetry!) the subject is very close to her heart.
Sara says her ideal burger starts with a toasted and buttered potato or brioche bun and features a patty made from a blend of brisket and short rib, or Wagyu. "At Shoyu, my restaurant in MSP Airport, we get ours from an amazing farm in Texas called Strube Ranch. It is like wrapping a stick of butter in beef," she says. Toppings would be simple (so as not to disturb the balance), including good quality bacon, caramelized onion, iceberg lettuce and a ripe slice of tomato.
In Milwaukee, her favorite burgers range from old standbys to an up-and-comer with moxie. Scroll down to see which five burgers made the cut.
Sara Johannes' Top 5 Burgers in Milwaukee
1. Jake's Burger: If you want the classic "Burger Lover's" burger, then this is where you go. Jake's hits all the buzz words necessary to be a heavy hitter in the genre nowadays—local, grass-fed beef, sirloin-brisket-short rib blend for their burger patties, gluten-free buns, Atkin's friendly plates, trendy toppings galore including truffles, balsamic, arugula, Neuske's bacon. They know what they are doing. Are they the most interesting choice in the bunch? Maybe not. Are they going to give you a great burger every time because that is what they do? Yup. Sometimes you take the sure bet.
18905 W Capitol Drive # 110 Brookfield, WI 50345 (map); 262-781-1110; jakesburger.com
2. Elsa's on the Park: I personally think that one of the most indulgent meals in the entire world is a good burger and a glass of champagne. Next time you get that big promotion at work, celebrate at Elsa's this way instead. Trust me, it's way more satisfying than the fancy dinner at Chez Pricetag. It even seems a little naughty as you sit there, white linen napkin drenched in burger shrapnel and pinky finger extended as you sip some bubbly. I love that Elsa's pushes the envelope in a direction different than your average burger bar. It is great to find a place that marries farm-to-table and the burger, easily convincing you that not everything in the fine dining world needs to have foam or tiny portions. There is fine dining to be had between a bun. It is a magical time that we live in.
833 N Jefferson Street Milwaukee, WI 53202 (map); 414-765-0615; elsas.com
3. The Kiltie: An "oldie, but a goodie," I will argue that The Kiltie Drive-In in Oconomowoc is the Milwaukee area's most pure burger experience. There are certain memories of burgers past that have a special place in your heart if you grew up Milwaukee. Free burgers at Webb's following a Brewer's win were great, but burgers, shakes and onion rings delivered to your car at The Kiltie seemed so much more special. Here you got an actual server to come to your car (and you got to embarrass your kid brother to no end if she was cute!) You got to scope classic cars and eat a burger in its natural element—off of paper, presented on a window-hanging tray, straddling the middle seat with your sibs, and dipping fries in chocolate shakes while watching the sun go down. Sometimes a burger is made better by circumstance. This is that time.
36154 Wisconsin Avenue Oconomowoc, WI 53066 (map); 262-567-2648
4. Kopp's: Growing up in Brookfield, I have a soft place in my heart for the Kopp's burger. My brother worked there during high school, and I remember countless summer nights heading there after a soccer or softball game. Every time I head home to MKE, I try to stop and indulge in what I truly believe is the worlds most perfect meal: a Kopp's cheeseburger with the works, plus fried onions, onion rings, and a root beer float made with vanilla custard. This may be at the top of my list for last meals, only partly because I fear the caloric intake may indeed one day lead to my demise immediately after consumption. But I can think of worse ways to go. Like eating Mc Donald's...
Multiple locations, see kopps.com
5. Oscar's Pub and Grill: The new kid on the scene, and I like the moxie. No apologies, nothing too highfalutin. Who wants that by their burger anyway? If I have to put on a suit to read the ingredients list, then boo. Ditch the foie and 8-hour-sous-vide eggs, and stick with high quality classics. Bacon: thick, high quality, and ample amounts. Cheese: properly melted, copious, traditional choices with a few curveballs like, Boursin and Havarti. Appropriate toppings like properly sautéed, thick cut mushrooms, a well crafted guac, or chorizo (duh.) Make me a proper patty: 8oz Black Angus is a great start, top it with aplomb and serve it with grace. Toast the bun a long time, in butter, until it's crispy. Give the toppings proper ratio to burger and bun. Cook your beef to the requested temp. No, really, do it. It's harder than you'd think. You don't need all the notes for an opus, just the right ones. Less is more. Pair it with a $2 tall boy, and now you are really playing my song.
1712 W Pierce Street Milwaukee, WI 53204 (map); 617-492-9646; oscarsonpierce.com
Previous Burger City Guides
- Jamie Bissonnette's Favorite Burgers in Boston
- Tom Douglas' Favorite Burgers in Seattle
- Paul McCabe's Favorite Burgers in Phoenix
- Eddie Lakin's Favorite Burgers in Chicago
- Duff Goldman's Favorite Burgers in Baltimore
- Anthony Meidenbauer's Favorite Burgers in Las Vegas
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax