346 N. Broadway, Milwaukee WI 53202 (map); 414-501-2500; cafebenelux.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Belgian-themed restaurant where you can enjoy their full-flavored burgers on their huge rooftop patio
Want Fries With That? You could make a meal out of the fries. Don't forget to get a dipping sauce—sriracha mayo is my favorite
Price: Sprocket burger, $13.95; King of the Mountain burger, $11.95; Southsider Bloody Mary, $8; dipping sauces, 75¢
We've been waiting a long time this year, but it's finally patio season in Milwaukee. When it's nice out, Wisconsinites tend to take full advantage, probably because we practically hibernate through the winter. Restaurants capitalize by creating great patio spaces, and people flock to the best ones.
One such patio is at Café Benelux in the Third Ward, a trendy area just south of downtown. The sprawling rooftop deck extends the entire footprint of the restaurant and even has bussing stations, POS systems, and restrooms so customers don't even have to go downstairs.
While you're enjoying the unobstructed sunshine, you can snack on a Belgian-inspired menu, including some pretty tasty burgers. They packed a lot of flavor into a relatively compact package, especially when it came to the Sprocket burger ($13.95).
Though I couldn't tell that the egg was fried in duck fat as the menu stated, you can't really go wrong with any kind of fried egg. I would have liked it to be a little more over easy, but at least it saved me some messy fingers. Benelux ups the ante on the classic combo of fried egg, bacon, and cheddar by adding "garlic aioli"—redundant, I know—and tomato jam.
The jam wasn't as sweet as a fruit jam, and not as gel-like either, thankfully. Its sweet and tangy flavors cut through the heavy toppings and beef well, and it wasn't too wet as to soak through the bun. Although I don't usually like pretzel buns, it was great in this application; it seemed thoughtfully chosen instead of slapped on as a trendy bun. The aioli got a little bit lost in the shuffle, just adding a mild background note of garlic.
That same aioli was much more prominent in the King of the Mountain burger ($11.95) since the toppings of portobello slices, caramelized onions, and Swiss cheese were all mild. While the mushrooms were good, there needed to be more of them in order to stand out between the beef and the aioli.
Par for the course around here, the grilled half-pound patties were overcooked past the requested medium. For medium-well beef, though, they were still juicy, relatively speaking. Both the pretzel bun and the (very good) standard bun had a lot to soak up. The beef flavor was clean and bold, but the patties could have used a little more seasoning.
Don't skip the fries, and definitely don't skip the optional dipping sauces, even though they'll cost you extra. You'd expect a Belgian-style restaurant to have good fries, and these deliver. They're crisp on the outside, not too thin, and perfectly seasoned. (I prefer these to the fries I had at Café Hollander, run by the same restaurant group.) For the dipping sauces, I ordered the trusty sriracha mayo—it's really amazing here—and red pepper mayo, which reminded me of a roasted red pepper hummus. There are a dozen or so other sauces to choose from; I suggest you pick at least one!
Milwaukeeans, including myself, also love their Bloody Marys, so I ordered the Southsider, one of five different bloodies on the menu. The homemade mix was delicious, though I expected it to be spicier since it included peppercorn-infused vodka and extra hot sauce. It's a refreshing drink for a patio.
Benelux's patio is great, and their food is arguably better than some of the other spots run by the same restaurant group. Unfortunately, you'll pay for your spot on that patio with relatively high prices and the touristy location, but it seems worth it every once in a while.
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