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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.
Cafe at the Plaza
The Plaza Hotel
1007 N. Cass St.
For years Cafe at the Plaza has been a favorite spot for Milwaukeeans to grab breakfast or lunch and enjoy an escape from the bustle of modern life. These days, the art deco cafe is still an exceedingly popular spot for impromptu weekday breakfasts and (particularly) weekend brunch.
There’s a lot of charm to be found at this 1920s-inspired cafe, which was originally a tea room where female residents entertained their guests. Today, the cafe sports a curved diner counter (installed in 1950), which offers guests a birds-eye view of the chefs at work. There’s plenty of bustle as eggs and bacon sizzle on the flat-top grill and busy hands prep beautifully plated dishes of pancakes, biscuits and gravy, and myriad other breakfast and lunch favorites.
Interestingly, for as many times as I've dined at the cafe, I've never ordered a burger. So, on my latest visit, I ordered up the cafe’s namesake burger: The Plaza Burger featuring a half-pound certified Angus beef patty, Wisconsin cheddar and American cheeses, onion rings, lettuce, tomato, and mayo on a brioche bun ($12). Add bacon for an additional $1.50.
This isn’t a bashful burger. It comes splayed on the plate with the burger on one side and toppings on the other. When placed together, it’s tall and stacked high with onion rings, lettuce and tomato and topped off with a shiny brioche roll.
The brioche bun is soft, buttery and slightly sweet. And it does a fine job of keeping the toppings in line and soaking up the juices from the burger, which if ordered medium-rare (as I did), is a juicy thing with which to contend.
The burger came as ordered: a tender, pink medium rare. The meat was beefy. It was only lightly seasoned, but it was tender and juicy and sported nicely crisped and caramelized edges that gave it a classic diner-style flavor.
The flavors on the burger were balanced and classic. Among the toppings were thick slices of half-sour pickles that tasted like those your grandmother may have made and served alongside cold cuts. If you’re pickle-inclined, they add a nice vinegary crispness that cuts the fat of the burger and onion rings and keeps things balanced. Meanwhile, the crisp onion rings offer nice texture and a dollop of mayonnaise was just enough to add a bit of flavor, keeping the need for additional condiments at bay. The "winter" tomato (read: pale and relatively flavorless) and leaf lettuce added more in terms of looks than flavor. And the slice of cheddar (my burger seemed to be missing the American cheese altogether) seemed to get a bit lost in the shuffle.
As I ate the burger, it occurred to me that something smoky would have been a nice complement to the flavors, so I’d recommend paying the $1.50 to add a couple of slices of bacon to the burger, should you choose to order it.
If you happen to be at Cafe over lunch, the burger is a solid choice. It’s cooked well, topped with a pleasant mix of toppings and served up looking like a burger you’d want to eat. At $12, it’s about average for a half-pound burger of its ilk.
There’s nothing fancy or fussy about it. In fact, The Plaza Burger is as classic as the cafe in which you’re eating it.
Cafe at the Plaza is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.