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.
3592 N. Oakland Ave.
I have nothing against counter service, though when dining out I tend to prefer to settle into a place with a nice dining room and a bit of atmosphere. Crave Cafe isn’t exactly that place, though it was surprisingly comfortable for a weekday lunch.
The dining area is small and basic, with seating for about 12 guests. But, it’s clean and bright with a few tasteful bits of abstract art on the walls to give the space a bit of flair. Although the restaurant is fast casual and you’ll need to order at the counter, the staff will bring your food to your table if you choose to dine in.
Crave Cafe is also filled with little surprises. For instance, the fries are served in Chinese takeout containers. It’s a cute touch. And it’s appropriate, since the owner David Wu also operates East Garden Chinese Restaurant across the street.
There are eight beef-based burgers on the Crave menu. And that could be daunting, since they all sound pretty delicious. However, when in doubt, I tend to default to the venue’s "signature" or named burger, if there is one. After all, if you’re going to put your name on it, it better be good. Right?
The Crave Burger features a ⅓ pound Angus beef patty, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, arugula and white truffle aioli ($8). I ordered it with a side of the ranch fries (you can also get plain, cheddar, bbq or cajun fries, if you prefer).
It’s a burger on a tray. But, it’s also an attractive burger on a tray, next to a cute little takeout box of fries. There’s no denying that this burger is a looker all on its own. Its bun is reflectively glossy and brown, the arugula fresh and perky. And you could glimpse the perfectly melted Swiss cheese just beginning to ooze over the sides of the burger.
Brioche, brioche, brioche. It’s a fine match for a great burger. And this one was golden and glossy and just the right size for the hefty burger. It was nicely toasted on the grill, giving it a bit of crunch along the edges. Even better, it held up to the juicy burger and aioli without going soggy and flat. The only thing that could've made it better would be if they made it themselves.
Burgers at Crave come medium, unless you specify otherwise. I ordered mine medium-rare, and it came out on the medium side of medium-rare. That wasn’t ideal, but it was forgivable, because the notably hand-formed burger itself was juicy and meaty. The meat was loosely packed and well-seasoned, offering up just the right amount of irony, beefy flavor.
The onions were gently caramelized, offering a nice sweet flavor that was great against the plentiful (and slightly peppery) arugula. The Swiss cheese was well melted, and there was enough of it that you could detect a pleasantly nutty flavor. And man, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the truffle aioli even ended up being an asset. I've never been a big fan of truffle oil, which is generally what's used to make truffle aioli (most are truly poor substitutes for the real thing and often made with chemical flavorings) so it's on my informal short-list of things I don't go out of my way to order. But, despite my hesitation, the flavors worked. The aioli was rich and earthy with just enough flavor and aroma to enhance the beefiness of the burger.
This was one of my favorite burgers so far (yes, even with the truffle oil). And at $8, it’s decently priced. The value here is in the quality of the flavor, which includes that big glossy bun and fresh, well executed ingredients. I was happy to note that all the burgers on the Crave menu are $8 or less (the Standard is $6 and the Korean BBQ burger is $7). It means I’ll be back.
If you’re looking for a "crave-worthy" burger, you’ll find it here. In fact, I’m looking forward to trying out a few more of their offerings, like the Korean BBQ burger, next time I’m in.
Crave Cafe is open daily from 11:30 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.