4629 North Port Washington Road, Milwaukee WI 53212 (map); 414-332-8808; foodspot.com
Cooking Method: Griddled in butter
Short Order: The ultimate butter burgers, including a pool of butter on the plate. Solly's also serves breakfast, shakes and homemade pies.
Want Fries With That? Fries are good, but onion rings are better.
Price: Burgers and sandwiches, $3.79-$8.99; sides, $1.99-$4.19; shakes/malts: $4.49 ($4.59 for banana)
Butter burger. Those words either strike fear into you or make you salivate. If you're from Milwaukee, chances are salivation will be swift and urgent. You'd be hard pressed to find a burger with more butter anywhere else besides Solly's Grille, one of the oldest and most well-known burger joints, serving up butter burgers since 1936.
Look closely at your burger when it arrives—you'll see a thick layer of not-yet-melted butter smeared on the inside of the top bun. Within a minute, the butter will have melted from the heat of the burger and dribbled into a pool on the plate. You'll notice they typically use small plates for the burgers; one can only assume this is to contain the melted butter neatly around the sponge-like bun.
All of that butter makes for a velvety mouthfeel, but you'll need lots of napkins in between bites. I ordered a Super Solly Cheeseburger, a 1/3-pound ground sirloin patty topped with American cheese and stewed onions. The menu states that burgers will be cooked "till they're done," which apparently means well-done. The burgers are cooked on a griddle with butter, of course, so while well-done, the meat was far from dry. In fact, it seemed more like it was slow-cooked than griddled, as there was barely any crust and the texture was such that when you took a bite the patty almost fell apart. It offered almost no resistance in a bite and matched the texture of the butter-soaked bottom bun.
The Cheesehead burger, another signature sandwich, is made with two 1/3-pound patties and topped with Swiss cheese as well as American, raw and stewed onions, and grilled mushrooms. Plus the butter, of course. On both burgers, the stewed onions dominated the overall flavor, but I found myself missing the sweetness you'd get from caramelization if the onions had been griddled instead of stewed. The white raw onions on the Cheesehead burger were very sharp and pungent—the restaurant may be better off choosing a milder type of onion or rinsing the onions. Both patties still lacked much crust. On both burgers, the bun had been lightly toasted, but it was really wasted effort once you add the butter.
Fries are included with the Cheesehead burger, but are à la carte with any other sandwich. I'd choose onions rings instead of the fries anyway. Both were crispy and well-cooked, but the fat, crinkle cut fries seemed less remarkable and could have used some more salt or other seasoning. The onion rings were fried to a dark brown and carried a nice crunch.
Like any other counter service diner-style restaurant, Solly's has great desserts and always offer a couple types of homemade pies that day. But if you think you might be too full for pie at the end of dinner, drink dessert with your meal. I had the house specialty shake, a banana chocolate malt—it wasn't too heavy on the chocolate, so it was more light and refreshing than it sounds. Shakes and malts are served in the metal cup they were mixed in, and you can easily get two (or more) full glasses out of one shake. There's no bar, but they do serve a selection of specialty sodas from Sprecher Brewery, which is just across the street.
Solly's serves comfort food at its best: juicy and buttery, in a home-like atmosphere where 95 percent of the seating is at a counter. The only hint of the restaurant's popularity is in the vestibule, where articles about the restaurant from national magazines and signed photos of celebrities who have visited grace the walls. Solly's is worth a visit, even if you're counting calories: You can order your burger easy on the butter, though you might get a few funny looks.