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.
Every time I walk from the underground parking structure at the Milwaukee Art Museum up to Cafe Calatrava, I think of "Star Wars." There’s something about the ambling corridor, with its stark white walls and the echo of my shoes against the floor, that reminds me of the stormtroopers marching through the halls of the Death Star. And trust me when I say that’s strange, because I’m not really that much of a fan girl.
Nonetheless, the "Star Wars" feel ends for me when I get to the Cafe, which is bright and clean with a stellar view of Lake Michigan. Best of all, there’s always something delicious on the menu thanks to Chef Jason Gorman, who pumps out innovative twists on classics as well as beautiful, well-executed Italian fare.
But more inventive dishes took a back burner on my last visit, during which I tried out the new "Sconnie Cheese Burger," which features a burger made from ground short rib, brisket and sirloin, topped with American cheese, dijonaise, Maple Creek Farms smoked bacon, melted onions, house pickles and a Miller Bakery Pretzilla roll with a side of housemade malt vinegar chips.
Gosh, this burger was pretty. Drool-worthy even. That Miller Bakery pretzel bun had a nice sheen. The lettuce was crisp, and the cheese was just melted enough that it was lilting down over the side of the burger. It was displayed on a lovely wooden board and flanked by a side of crisp housemade chips.
I like a good pretzel roll. They’re somehow light and airy, but still sturdy. Likewise, they’re savory with just enough sweetness to keep their bitter exterior balanced. In this case, the bun was a fair match for the burger. It got a bit soggy towards the end, but the flavor it added along the way was worth it.
The burger itself plays a strong game. It had a distinctive steak-like flavor, likely due to the blend of cuts used to make it (beef shortrib, brisket and sirloin). It was juicy, perfectly cooked to medium-rare, via my specifications. It was also well seasoned, moreso than almost every other burger I’ve had on the trail thus far.
It’s February, and winter tomatoes tend to make me sad. This tomato wasn’t amazing, but it was better than average. There was also gorgeous leaf lettuce, which I found added more to the beauty of the burger than its flavor. Melted onions were slightly sweet against the saltiness of that classic American cheese. Meanwhile, the crisp (seriously crisp, but not overdone) bacon wasn’t just there to add that signature smokey flavor. It also added great texture, a nice touch considering many burgers are pretty one-dimensional in that regard. Dijonaise added a nice tang that balanced everything out and kept the burger from needing anything more.
The quality of the ingredients make this burger well worth $12 (even the $16 for a double would’ve been fine with me, though I don’t think I could’ve eaten it all). From custom blended Black Angus beef to fresh vegetables and house-made dijonaise, there’s a sense of care that was taken in its design. And all of that paid off in flavor. If I paired those elements up with the great lake view you get while sitting in the Cafe (let’s be honest; it’s awesome), I could’ve given this burger closer to a ten.
Never thought of eating a burger at the Milwaukee Art Museum? Well, you should.
Cafe Calatrava is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with brunch service offered on Sundays.
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.