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.
1304 12th Ave., Grafton
Ordering a burger is seldom my first inclination when I walk into a barbecue joint. After all, the lure of meat that’s been coaxed to tenderness by a combination of smoke and time is usually the draw. But, when OnMilwaukee reader James Lunden wrote to me and told me that he’s been finding himself going back to Atlas time and time again for its burger … well, I decided it would be worth the trip to Grafton to find out.
I visited on a leisurely weekend afternoon. When we arrived, the dining room was dappled with guests. There were guys enjoying beer at the bar, families grabbing an early dinner and a young couple enjoying platters of barbecue while exchanging exchanging flirtatious glances at one of the back booths.
I ordered the Atlas Burger, which comes with a half-pound beef patty, North BBQ sauce and pepper jack cheese on a toasted pretzel bun topped with crispy fried onions, lettuce and tomato ($11.95).
The Atlas burger is an attractive offering. The deeply browned pretzel bun, fresh green lettuce, red onion, tomato and crispy onion strings and melted cheese form layers of color that draw your eyes to the plate.
The pretzel bun was soft and sweet with a slight crispness from being toasted. There are probably numerous buns that would work for this burger, but I had to admit that the pretzel bun was a nice choice. It added a pleasant sweetness to the mix and held up well to the juices of the burger.
I ordered my burger cooked to order, and it came out mid-rare, as requested. The patty was standardized in its shape and size, it fit the bun well and wasn’t so thick that it overwhelmed. In terms of flavor it was juicy with a nice beefy flavor and just enough seasoning. The charred flavor on the exterior gave it a backyard barbecue flavor that reminded me of burgers I've made at home.
Toppings on the burger were balanced in terms of their flavor, with no ingredient standing out particularly from the rest. The pepper jack cheese was very mild (it shouldn’t be a point of intimidation for anyone who prefers to avoid heat) and it was nicely melted, covering the burger sufficiently that it added a bit of flavor to each bite. The lettuce was fresh, and the red onion was sliced very thin, allowing it to give a bit of flavor but not an overwhelming punch. Meanwhile, the tomato was razor thin, it’s flavor disappearing into the mix. The "North" barbecue sauce is a sweet, Kansas City style sauce that stood in for ketchup, adding a subtle sweetness to the burger without being overwhelming. Meanwhile, the onion strings – although they were ever-so-slightly too greasy – were nice and crisp, adding a pleasant texture to the burger.
I’d put this smack dab in the middle in terms of value. It’s a nicely sized burger for the price. It’s flavors are satisfying and the portion is such that you’re not likely to go away hungry.
If you find yourself at this barbecue joint, but you’re not craving barbecue, the burger is a solid choice.
Atlas BBQ is open Monday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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.