340 W. Kilbourn Ave., Milwaukee WI 53203 (map); 414-271-3414; foodspot.com
Cooking Method: Flame broiled
Short Order: Juicy burgers like your dad used to make over a bonfire when you were camping. A billion TVs, free wi-fi, and mature crowd mean you never have to leave
Want Fries With That? Frozen, but passable. They don't come with the burgers so skip them or get wings instead
Price: Major bacon cheeseburger, $8.85; single cheeseburger, $5.75; fries, $2.25; wings, $8.25
Many Milwaukeeans, including myself, have been introduced to Major Goolsby's at Summerfest and the Wisconsin State Fair. They have permanent locations at each festival, and serve standards like burgers, chicken sandwiches, and wings.
But Major Goolsby's is a sports bar first and foremost. They have 45 TVs, including three big screen projectors, all in high-definition. (A big bonus for sports nuts: Since all the TVs are numbered, you can request a particular game on a TV near you.) The restaurant is located right across from the Bradley Center where Milwaukee's NBA, AHL, and NCAA teams play, and they get a lot of business before and after games. You might expect that a popular sports bar could get away with mediocre food, but the burgers are fantastic.
What makes Goolsby's burgers stand out is that they're flame broiled. The 1/4-pound patties have just the right balance of fire-seared flavor and fat. If I had ever done much camping, this is what I'd imagine a burger cooked over a bonfire tastes like. There is no chemical aftertaste like you sometimes get from charcoal grilling at home—just a well-rounded lightly charred flavor.
The beef was cooked well done (there were no other options), with a few spots that could pass as medium-well. It was not a problem, though. The meat was juicy, a bit greasy and sported a good amount of crust, a nice perk of flame broiling. All burgers come in "Major" double size or single size. The Major bacon cheeseburger included two beef patties, two slices of American cheese, and about four slices of deep fried bacon. Deep frying may sound like overkill, but it renders the fat in the bacon and keeps it crispy. The only downside is that the bacon ends up curly, making it difficult to eat on a sandwich. There was so much bacon that this bacon cheeseburger would make any bacon lover happy.
All burgers come with a generous amount of sliced pickles, two slices of tomato (which were surprisingly red for the middle of winter), and a handful of shredded iceberg lettuce. Raw or sautéed onions are served on request. The mystifying thing is that none of these toppings are served on the burger, but alongside it, even if you order a burger with sautéed onions. In this case, it was a blessing in disguise because the sautéed onions were atrocious. I honestly thought it was a little cup of applesauce at first, based on color and consistency. After trying a tiny forkfull, I wished I hadn't: The consistency was that of onions that had cooked in a crockpot for 10 hours and then had been puréed. Definitely pass on the sautéed onions and opt for the raw, which were fresh and ample.
Despite the onion setback, the single cheeseburger was just as good as the Major bacon cheeseburger, and plenty to fill me up. The buns on both burgers were light and soft but didn't fall apart. They were toasted to a deep brown and had been buttered. I was worried that the buns might have been crushed by the paper wrapper, but they must have been wrapped by a delicate hand. It would be nice to have some cheese options besides American, however. I think a stronger cheese like sharp cheddar could stand up to the flame broiled meat.
Unfortunately it was painfully obvious that not much attention was paid to the fries. The menu even boasts that they're Ore-Ida brand. I'm not entirely sure why a restaurant would want to herald the fact that they're using frozen, but at least they readily admit it. They arrived crisp and well done, and were highly seasoned—or at least colored like they were—with a hint of heat. Not great, but far from the worst.
What's a sports bar without wings? One order was over a dozen wings, available in mild, medium, or hot. I'm a spicy food lover, and usually don't think twice about ordering anything hot. These were right on the edge of being too spicy to eat more than a few, which was perfect as far as I'm concerned. They were breaded and fried and remained crispy even in the sauce. The real kicker is that the wings are sauced and sprinkled with a dry seasoning, adding even more flavor. We appreciated that our server waited until we were finished with our wings to put in our burger orders. Nothing is worse than entrées that come out before appetizers are finished, especially when they're as messy as wings.
Major Goolsby's has a lively sports bar atmosphere, but they actually have great food to keep people coming back. The burgers have a unique flame broiled flavor that I'll be craving, though the toppings could use a little more attention. Even if you hate sports, it's worth the trip just for the burgers.