735 E Center St, Milwaukee WI 53212 (map); 414-212-8910; stoneflybrewery.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Big, messy burgers and inventive bar food at a brewery known for its brunch
Want Fries With That? Fries were undercooked and underseasoned, but at least the tots were crisp and salty
Price: Burganator!, $9.75; Stonefly burger, $8.50; Jambalaya fritters special, $5
There's a little sleeper of a brewery that doesn't get much attention outside of its Riverwest neighborhood. It's got a grassroots, hippy vibe that fits right into its locale, surrounded by co-ops and urban bicycle shops.
Stonefly Brewing gets most of its attention for its weekend brunch (Milwaukee loves its brunch!), but I think it gets glossed over for lunch and dinner. That's definitely a mistake. I wasn't really expecting to have amazing burgers because I've barely even heard of the place, let alone in the same sentence with "burger," but man, was I wrong.
The winner of the night was the appropriately named Burgarnator! behemoth ($9.75). I've had beer cheese sauce on a bunch of burgers from different places by now, but I'd have to say this is my favorite of the pack. The sauce was thicker than most, and—if it weren't for my cutting in half for photos—it was nicely contained in a couple stacked rings of deep fried onion. That's the biggest complaint I've had with other burgers with cheese sauce: the sauce runs all over and there's none left on the burger. Not so in this case.
The smooth, lightly-lagered sauce covered a hand-formed, half-pound beef patty. Grilling gave the patty a backyard barbecue flavor and some light charring. Despite being cooked slightly above the requested medium it was tender and had an ample amount of moisture.
Bacon was a thing of beauty on this burger. There were at least four strips, all shatteringly crunchy with a mellow smoky flavor. The thick onion rings were a little bland, but covered in beer cheese sauce, it was hard to notice the deficiency.
Meunster, my undisputed king of burger cheeses, was my choice to top the Stonefly burger ($8.50), along with caramelized onions, romaine, and Roma tomatoes. The ton of cheese on top melted over the sides of the beef and oozed into the tater tots on the side.
The caramelized onions were sweet but seemed more like they were stewed than actually caramelized. The thickly sliced tomato told me that Stonefly would do well to use heirloom varieties in the winter. The finely shredded romaine underneath the patty wilted into nothing, unfortunately.
Even with those few shortcomings, the delicious beef and bakery bun made this a good burger. The bun looked a little dense, but was a nice middle ground between crusty, artisan-style rolls and the quintessential white bread bun. It had just enough give but enough weight to stand up to the beer cheese sauce.
Another standout was an appetizer special: jambalaya fritters ($5). Think Cajun arancini made of spicy rice, veggies, shrimp, and sausage deep fried in crispy breading with chipotle mayo for dipping. They were surprisingly amazing.
Fries and tots, both options as a side with the burger, weren't anything special. Fries were of the curly variety and underseasoned. Tots were nice and crunchy even though they looked a little pale. Next time I'll try the homemade applesauce.
If you haven't heard of Stonefly, don't worry—neither had I. But hopefully you'll remember now and make the trip, whether it's for burgers, brunch, or to try the brewery's beers.