By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Apr 07, 2009 at 2:58 PM

For as long as I can remember, I've been smitten with Bella's Fat Cat. To me, it's always been that perfect mix of old school Milwaukee charm (read: creamy custard and big burgers) and progressive-minded menu planning.

The jumbo beef patties and dogs are hearty enough to satisfy any hungry carnivore and the meat alternatives never play second fiddle. The veggie burgers are unlike any variety I've found in this city or elsewhere: gigantic, dense, savory and filling. They even kind of look like the texture of real meat; not that that was important to me, but still. They look like a solid meal, and combined with the mixed bag of salty fries and onion rings, they were.

I've also always appreciated Bella's efficiency. On those nights that are too busy to cook or sit down at a restaurant, they always satisfied my need for time-saving satiation. On recent hectic weeknight, I stopped in at the Kinnickinnic Avenue location looking forward to that familiar veggie burger, as it had been a while since I'd eaten one.

I ordered it with the usual array of toppings and condiments and waited. When I unwrapped my faux burger I was surprised to see a thin, flat vegetable patty that resembled something like a Gardenburger, but I can't say for sure. All I know is, the burger had changed and not for the better.

My favorite fake burger in the city was gone, and I was not happy about it.

Like any concerned citizen, I e-mailed the company. Thankfully, Bella's VP of operations Mike Schmidt was listening and responded to my inquiry. The bad news is that vegetarians and / or veggie burger lovers are going to have to deal with the current replacement for a while. The good news, he says, is that it's not forever.

Here's the scoop, in his words:

"We were devastated to find that the company that made the veggie burger that we have been selling for eight-plus years went out of business. Since we have been unable to find a replacement suitable to our standards, in the next couple of weeks we will be working to try to create one, from scratch, that will be unique to Bella's.

"We look forward to a 'Veggie Burger Launch' promotion in the near future. We had been educating buyers of our veggie burger and soliciting feedback as we sold them, but as time went on that dissipated, I apologize that wasn't conveyed to you at that time. Thanks for the feedback and your support of Bella's. We look forward to having you try the new one."

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”