October is the third annual Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2009."
OnMilwaukee.com's ongoing "Take the Milwaukee Challenge" series takes on a plethora of locally-made products, everything from custard and coffee to wine and water (Milwaukee vs. Waukesha).
This time 'round, we pit Kopp's locally famous butter burger against the one offered by the Wisconsin-born Culver's fast food chain. We didn't demand that everyone eat the same toppings, just that they eat the identical burgers at both eateries. Molly had cheese, Andy ate his plain and Bobby had the works, for example, but, in the end, none of it mattered as Kopp's swept the title unanimously.
But, maybe this is just round one. Stay tuned as Kopp's considers taking on another challenger.
Molly Snyder Edler
For me, there is not a burger out there, including the Culver's burger, that beats Kopp's massive meat feast on a bun. Seriously, everything about the Kopp's burger blows away the Culver's burger. The Kopp's burger is juicier, cheesier (I chose to add cheese to my burgers) and -- if requested -- has perfectly-grilled onions that take the burger to a new level of fast food decadence. (Oxymoron? Not in the case of the Kopp's burger!) The one thing I really liked about the Culver's burger, however, is that it's a bit smaller. I'm not great with portion control, so I appreciate when it's imposed.
Regular readers know that I'm a burger fanatic. I love burgers and could eat them every day. But, I'm not a snob. I can find joy in a gourmet-type burger or one that comes in a tiny cardboard box. The contestants in this challenge both were solid. I've enjoyed both in the past, but this was "research." The Culver's burger didn't present particularly well. The meat peaking out from under the bun looked a gray and a tad unappealing. The taste was fine, though. Maybe it's the butter, but it was much more moist than it appeared. The flavors blended well. The lettuce, tomato and onion seemed fresh. The burger held together and wasn't as sloppy as some. The bun was decent, but unspectacular. The Kopp's burger seemed larger. It also had fresh toppings. The burger was messier, with each bite threatening to cause a stain. But, it was tremendous. I think the secret is in the liberal use of brown mustard and the way that flavor plays off the other ingredients. I'd give the Kopp's burger a solid "A" grade, while the Culver's effort was a "B-plus."
Before this challenge even started, I could tell you I'd never turn down either of these burgers. Both perfecting a balance of texture, flavor and grease, they are two "fast food" favorites. But, when pushed for a decisive choice, I'd opt for the Kopp's burger. Don't get me wrong, Culver's does it right. The decadently buttered bun sandwiches a decent-sized burger piled with toppings of your choice. It's delicious and consistent but not necessarily addictive. On the other hand, there's something about Kopp's classic, large burger that keeps me coming back for more. Yes, it is somewhat messy -- but in a good way. The thin, wide patty slides around on classic burger bun topped with ketchup, mustard and pickles. Add a slice of cheese and the whole experience holds together tightly. It's savory to the very last bite no matter how many times you indulge.
I can't say I'm really shocked that Kopp's won the challenge, but I am a little surprised that Culver's didn't do a little better. I eat there occasionally -- although I usually don't have a burger -- and the food is usually a notch up from other fast food restaurants. But the other day, we stopped at Culver's on the way up to Kopp's -- so the taste of one would be fresh in our minds when we sampled the other -- and ordered a straight-up butter burger. The Culver's version was small, the patty was dry and the bun -- which seemed like maybe it had once been frozen -- was thin. Worst of all, the sandwich ($1.99) had almost no flavor. Contrast that with a big Kopp's burger ($2.95), which is the opposite of dry (in fact, it drips) and set inside a bun that is fresh and flavorful. Culver's may be the home-state fast food eatery, but Kopp's remains the undisputed heavyweight champ in this challenge.
Not only was this challenge not even close, it was also the easiest contest I've participated in throughout the storied history of the Milwaukee Challenge. Culver's offering was fine, I suppose, as fast food goes. If it had been years since I'd eaten a Kopp's butter burger, I might have thought Culver's is what one is supposed to taste like. But I found the bun to be average, the burger to be dry and devoid of butter, and the taste to be overall unremarkable. On the upside, the small burger was cheap and quick -- but that's as far as I'll go in my praise. Kopp's, on the other hand, was heavenly. As always, the giant burger dripped with butter, and the bun made the salty, seasoned patty simply delicious. It cost an extra dollar, but boy, was it worth it. Also as usual, the order took forever, even though Kopp's wasn't particularly crowded. But I guess you can't rush perfection -- and in my book, Kopp's is, hands down, the best burger in Milwaukee.