In this series, we’ll be hiking the burger trail to find the latest, greatest and most delicious burgers in Milwaukee. Click here for an explanation of the criteria used to rate each burger. Where have we been? Check out the complete catalog of burger reviews here.
Since carry-out is king, and there’s little better than frozen custard during the summer months, I’ll be focusing on "custard stand" burgers for the next few weeks.
Ferch’s Malt Shoppe & Grille
5636 Broad St., Greendale
For some, nostalgia is found at drive-ins like The Kiltie in Oconomowoc. For others, it’s found at places like Ferch's Malt Shoppe and Grille, a spot that belies its mere 33-year history by adeptly conjuring the 1950s era through elements like the shoppe’s soda fountain, marble counter, red swivel stools and a jukebox.
Unlike other custard stands, which offer a selection of staples (like chocolate and vanilla) with rotating specials, Ferch’s takes a different tact. "The home of over one million flavors" features a marble top creamery which allows customers to create their own treats using custard flavorings (from licorice, bubblegum and key lime to rootbeer, rum and tiramisu) and mix-ins including fruit, nuts, candies, cookies, cheesecake and brownies.
Ferch’s also offers a menu of lunch and dinner items including wraps, salads, a Friday night fish fry and burgers. Among the latter is a build-your-own burger option, plus a choice of three signature burgers: The Mushroom [Swiss] Burger, the Guacamole Bacon Burger and a burger which, by its very name, might be considered their signature: The Greendale Burger.
The Greendale Burger features a certified Angus beef patty topped with American cheese, raw onions, sweet relish, jalapenos, lettuce and tomato. It’s served with crinkle-cut fries for $9.79, or guests can substitute garlic fries for $1 or onion rings for $1.49.
The burger itself was quite attractive, neatly packed into a wax-coated cardboard take-out container which was tall enough that it prevented the sandwich from being smashed. Collapsing one side of the box revealed a tall nicely grilled burger – hoisted to new heights by a generous portion of iceberg lettuce – and covered with a cloak of well-melted American cheese. Peeking out from above the burger were thick slices of deep green jalapeno, which I was surprised to find were fresh, rather than pickled.
The white bakery bun was soft, but sturdier than most, with a nice loft. It also boasted a beautiful crisp crust on both cut sides, thanks to a deft toasting on the grill. In fact, that quality alone made this a bun worth remembering.
The burger itself was thin and uniformly rounded, but also beautifully caramelized, with its smooth edges roughened by little crispy bits along the edges. Its texture was pleasantly firm, yet juicy, and its flavor quite beefy, though a hint of seasoning would have served to bolster its flavor fairly significantly.
I ordered the Greendale, in part, because of its name; but I also chose it because the combination of toppings struck me with curiosity. What makes this burger a unique representation of Greendale? I’m still not certain I know the answer.
Biting into the burger, I found a series of fresh, high quality ingredients. As I ate, Ii couldn't help thinking that the toppings mimicked, to great extent, those of a Chicago dog which had been "dragged through the garden." There were sweet, crisp bits of white onion, the tell-tale sweetness of the bright alien-green pickle relish (the syrup of which dripped down my wrist as I took my first bite) and a thin slice of tomato, which added just a bit of a fruity tang. It was a tasty combination. And yet, it didn't quite hit the Chicago dog mark, largely thanks to the absence of both the tang of a dill pickle and the sharpness of mustard.
And yet, there was something here. In fact, it was the bold crunch of both the lettuce and jalapeno slices (which were more green peppery than spicy) – combined with the audible crunch of the toasted bun – which gave me pause.
The burger boasted a flavorful mix of sweet, salt and umami; but even moreso, it was a feast of textures. That’s not something you find terribly often on a burger, let alone one from a custard stand.
A tasty burger and fries for around $10 is a pretty fair deal. But quality ingredients, combined with a good experience make it far more than fair.
The Ferch’s Greendale Burger might not have offered me insights into the nature of Greendale, but it took me on a textural ride that was well worth $10.
Ferch’s Malt Shoppe & Grille is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Patio seating is available.
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.