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.
Benji’s Deli & Restaurant
4156 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, (414) 332-7777
8683 N. Port Washington Rd., Fox Point, (414) 228-5130
It’s been 55 years since Benji’s Deli first opened its doors in Shorewood. But the menu hasn’t changed much over the years. In fact, the menu is still littered with countless favorite items including hoppel poppel, hand-sliced corned beef, potato pancakes, matzo ball soup and huge deli-style dill pickles at the restaurant’s two locations in Fox Point and Shorewood.
Originally named Benjamin’s, the deli was founded by the restaurant’s namesake, Werner "Benji" Benjamin. Today it’s owned by brothers Mike and Chris Price, who have made an earnest effort to stay true to the deli’s roots while meeting the needs of modern diners.
Benji’s Deli has been a favorite among OnMilwaukee readers for years, primarily for its breakfast offerings and sandwiches. So it only made sense to see if its burgers also lived up to all the hype.
On our latest visit, we tried the Benji Burger which features hand-pattied beef, sliced corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing (along with optional lettuce, tomato and raw or fried onions) with a choice of chips, french fries, slaw or potato salad ($12.59).
This burger is a beauty. Nicely toasted brioche is topped with layers of well-appointed toppings, from the well-caramelized burger, beautifully browned fried onions, perfectly melted Swiss, bright pink slabs of tender corned beef and a small mountain of kraut drizzled with dressing. The top of the bun is served alongside with plenty of bright green leaf lettuce and two generous slices of tomato.
When I think Jewish deli, I don’t think brioche. I think salted rye and Kaiser rolls. But the soft, sweet bun was a nicely appointed choice for this burger. It came beautifully toasted and was well sized for the burger and toppings. Remarkably, it also held up to the mountain of toppings without going completely flabby.
The burger didn’t boast an extraordinary pedigree, but it was beefy with nice grill marks and a fair amount of caramelization. It was tender and just greasy enough to give it that lovely diner-style burger flavor. And, on just about any other occasion, I’d say it was probably under-seasoned. But that was an asset in this case, since there was plenty of salty umami from the accompanying corned beef.
Our server assured me I could order my burger mid-rare, and so I did. That was likely a good call, though by the time the burger reached me (and I’d taken its picture) it boasted nary a bit of pink on its interior. But it’s a thin patty, so I’ll assume my delay in cutting the burger open to give it a taste was part of the issue.
I’m always skeptical when a burger is piled high with anything – let alone a number of fair-sized slices of corned beef, sauerkraut and the like. Unlike most "overdressed" burgers, this one remained nicely balanced, and you didn’t lose out on the burger for the sake of the other ingredients. Big kudos, Benji’s!
In a perfect bite, you get a bit of kraut, the crunch of the beautifully fresh lettuce, a bit of beefiness from the burger and a salty meaty pop from the corned beef. That’s balanced out with bits of sweet onion, nutty Swiss cheese and just enough dressing to give it a bit of tang.
Most impressively, the toppings were well balanced. There wasn’t too much tang from the kraut or the dressing. It wasn’t too salty. But all the components you want in a burger – sweet, salty, umami and tangy – were all present, creating an honestly delicious sandwich.
Just over twelve bucks for a loaded burger. You bet this was a good value. Add that pile of just-fine fries to the mix, and you’ve got a filling lunch or dinner that didn’t make my wallet balk.
Feeling torn between Benji’s tender corned beef and that burger craving that’s been nagging? You can have them both in this beautifully balanced diner burger.
Benji’s Deli is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 8 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.