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.
7342 W. State St., Wauwatosa, (414) 476-3070
Colonel Hart’s has been a fixture on State Street in Wauwatosa since 1985, though the building has a history that goes farther back. It’s a family-friendly spot which – particularly during better times – attracts a loyal crowd of bar-goers who appreciate the bar’s old school watering hole feel and menu of bar food staples.
Among the bar’s offerings, guests will find a long list of appetizers (think wings, nachos and mozzarella sticks) and sandwiches (including pork chop sandwiches, which some regulars swear by), along with popular items like thin crust pizza (half price on Saturdays and sometimes Sundays) and a hand-breaded fish fry on Fridays.
They also have a fairly healthy list of burgers, including the namesake Colonel Burger (lettuce, tomato, pickles and 1000 island dressing, $8.75), a mushroom Swiss burger ($8.25) and a Bleu burger with blue cheese, fried onions and mushrooms ($9).
On this trip, I opted for the Courage Burger, a hefty choice sporting two beef patties with bacon, lettuce, tomato, fried onions and mushrooms ($11.75). It comes with fries or potato chips. But you can upgrade to sour cream and chive fries, cajun BBQ fries or onion peels for $1 more.
The Courage Burger and onion peels were neatly packaged in a styrofoam container lined with cheerful blue and white paper that actually added a bit of panache to the presentation. As usual, I would have preferred to see packaging that was altogether less toxic and more earth friendly (I’d happily pay two or three times the $0.50 “To Go” fee that Colonel Hart’s charges if I knew I was getting a non-styrofoam box).
But I can’t complain about how the burger fared. It unpacked well, with little need for adjustment. And it looked (and smelled) quite tasty, its cheese-cloaked patties topped a mile high with visible fried onions, crispy curly bacon, fresh lettuce and sliced tomato.
The bun was fresh and soft with a pleasantly yeasty, slightly sweet flavor. Both cut sides of the bread were toasted mid-brown, not to the point of being crisp, but definitely enough to give a good show of color, particularly on the edges. It was well sized for the double patties, and held up well in transport. The weight of the burger smashed down the lower bun a bit; but there wasn’t a smidge of sogginess to be found.
The burger patties themselves were typical of those you find at many bars. The meat was uniformly packed (and tightly), giving the meat a fairly firm texture that wasn’t overtly juicy, but just greasy enough to keep them from being dry.
The burgers at Colonel Hart’s are cooked to order, which is a bit of a gamble for carry-out. So I ordered mine mid-rare, knowing it was likely to arrive closer to medium. In reality, judging from both its color (vaguely pink here or there, but mostly grey) and its texture, the burgers fell somewhere between medium and medium well.
As for flavor, they were moderately seasoned with a distinctive char-grilled flavor that obscured any clean beefiness they may have otherwise had. This was a clear case of a burger that was far better in context (on the sandwich, with toppings) than on its own.
The toppings were altogether quite pleasant. The American cheese was beautifully melted over the burgers. It also made for a fine resting place for the diced, fried onions which remained securely embedded in the cheese (rather than falling out, as they sometimes do). Their flavor was good, slightly sweet, and there were enough onions that their flavor came through clearly in each bite. Meanwhile, the mushrooms were applied more sparsely; you could sense their earthy flavor in some bites, but not others.
The bacon was a bit of a wonder: fried until ultra crisp and curled, it provided some really nice texture for the burger, working in tandem with the fresh iceberg lettuce to provide an audible crunch in each bite (along with its salty, slightly smokey meatiness). Even the tomato, which was rather pale (as winter tomatoes are) and without much flavor, added a bit of juiciness to the sandwich, which isn’t always the case.
These days, bar burgers come in many forms: some mimic cheap fast food style burgers, while others aim higher with custom-blended meat and elevated house-made ingredients. The Courage Burger fell somewhere in between in terms of both ingredient quality and execution. But at right around $12 it seemed a fair price for what it was: a balanced bacon cheeseburger with a few extras.
The Courage Burger hits most of the right notes as bacon cheeseburgers go.
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.