400 W Canal Street
Milwaukee, WI 53201 (map); 414-287-2789; motorrestaurant.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order:The most chic, upscale biker bar you've ever seen, connected to the Harley Davidson Museum
Want Fries With That?Skip the boring fries and go straight for the fantastic, crispy beer battered onion rings
Price: Dynamo burger, $13.95; Stuffed Motor burger, $12.95; onion rings, $6.95
There's a big event coming up in Milwaukee, one that is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of people and their thunderous two-wheeled rides. Harley-Davidson's 110th anniversary celebration is only a few days away and the city is buzzing in anticipation.
About five years ago, Harley-Davidson opened a museum here in Milwaukee, the birthplace and still home of the company. It's got a few different dining options in the complex that runs a length of the Milwaukee river just south of downtown. I decided that with the impending anniversary, now was a good time to try their main restaurant, Motor.
The interior of the restaurant and bar is, unsurprisingly, heavily themed. But surprisingly, it's quite dramatic, artistic, and interesting, with soft touches like the warm, antique-style lighting. The burgers fit in well in this environment, as they're pretty over-the-top and dramatic in their own right.
Of the two burgers I tried, the monthly special for August, the Dynamo Burger ($13.95), was the better one by far. A half-pound of hand-formed beef was topped with roasted poblano and corn salsa, grilled onions, pepperjack cheese, chipotle crema, lettuce, and tomato, all with a fried tostada shell sandwiched in the middle.
There was a lot of flavor going on in this burger. The thick layer of pepperjack was well melted over the beef. The onions were abundant and worked well with the relatively mild chipotle sauce. The corn and poblano salsa tasted great, but there was hardly any of it—the burger definitely could have used more.
The tostada ended up being the surprise winning addition. It didn't taste like a big, commercially-made tortilla chip,—it was light, crunchy, and flaky. It got a little bit soggy in the middle from being stacked between the beef and the tomato, but the edges stayed crunchy for a great texture.
I requested medium and it came out pretty close. The beef was juicy and coarsely ground, and while it was a little bit tough, it had a robust flavor amped up by the grill. It could have used a little more seasoning, though, especially for a patty that thick.
The beef on their regular menu burger, the Stuffed Motor Burger ($12.95) stuffed with chopped bacon and cheddar cheese, was a little bit worse for the wear. The beef was a little bit more sausage-like in texture, perhaps from the extra handling and shaping.
My server recommended getting the burger medium well so the stuffing would be heated through and melty. I am glad they recommend this—cool filling is not pleasant—but it demonstrates the inherent stupidity of stuffed burgers, if you ask me. The beef was dry, of course, though not desert dry.
The burger came topped with more cheddar and bacon, along with barbecue sauce. The extra cheese on top made up for the cheese that got lost in the middle. The barbecue sauce was super thick and clung to the outside of the burger, making it less messy than usual.
Fries tasted stale and pretty bland. I'd skip them in favor of onion rings, whether you order them off the appetizer menu like I did, or get an upgrade from fries (+$1). They were beautifully coated in beer batter that didn't flake off, and the onion was tender enough to bite completely through. They were some really top notch rings.
If you're headed to the Harley-Davidson museum, coming in for the 110th, or just want to try someplace new, check Motor out, but be warned that the prices are a bit steep. It's worth it though to soak up the atmosphere, whether inside at the bar or out on one of the two patios along the river.