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.
Don’s Diner & Cocktails
1102 S. 1st St.
What’s a diner? Depends who you ask. In the case of Don’s, it’s both a trip back in time and a step into the future. And that future is a place where comfort food is kicked up a notch and served up with a boozy shake on the size.
I’d be tempted to tell you to go to Don’s Diner & Cocktails for the fried bologna sandwich alone (I was shocked by how good it is, and that’s coming from someone who generally shuns bologna). But I’m thinking you might also want to try the burger.
And yes – before you read any further – I’m going to acknowledge that the burger’s price tag is beyond any I’ve reviewed so far. But, if you’re feeling a bit indulgent, you should overlook that. Consider this an investment in your gustatory satisfaction. Or something.
Don’s Burger features an Angus beef patty, aged cheddar, charred onion and demi-glace on a brioche bun ($17; $22 with foie truffle butter). Your choice of sides includes red potato salad, house sauerkraut. You can also get a twice-baked potato for $4.
There’s no mistaking that this burger is a bit different. After all, it’s swimming in a pool of richly colored demi-glace that’s as reflective as a pool of ink. Glossy orange cheddar droops over the side of the meticulously formed burger patty alongside a trail of nicely browned onions. And yes, you could also glimpse the disc of promisingly fatty truffle and foie gras-infused butter, which I watched intently for a moment just to see if it would spontaneously combust, melting down the side of the burger in a fatty flood of flavor.
Taking a look back at the burger, everything is shiny. And shiny (in burger language) means fat. And fat … well, we all know that equals flavor. Right?
Yes, even the bun is shiny. After all, it’s brioche. And brioche is filled with milk and butter and sugar … all the things that make the American diet simultaneously wonderful and dangerous.
But seriously. The sweetness of brioche is really lovely here, as it balances out the intense umami richness of this flavor-bomb burger. And the softness is nice, since you’re likely going at this burger with a knife and fork. I spent some time thinking about what I’d put in its stead and I couldn’t come up with anything. So, there you go.
The burger here was pretty stellar. First, it was properly cooked. I ordered medium rare, and I got medium rare. I shouldn’t be as surprised by that as I am. But the truth is, most burgers in most restaurants don’t make that mark. Secondly, it’s got plenty of flavor. That’s due to a nice sear on the flat-top grill and finished in flavorful demi-glace. Just. Plain. Yum.
Breaking everything down, you’ve got beautifully browned onions, not quite caramelized but definitely sweet. And when you pair them with the the demi, you get a flavor somewhat reminiscent of French onion soup.
You’ve got slightly sharp cheddar that shows its age in a very nice way. And you’ve got a big fat pat of butter filled with fatty poultry liver and earthy fungal notes (trust me when I say that’s way better than it sounds). So, it’s fatty and sweet and savory and rich and almost more than you really need at any given moment in your life.
The biggest issue with this burger (and the toppings overall) is that there is nothing … nothing … to cut the richness. Maybe order the sauerkraut on the side. You know, for balance’s sake.
Is this burger pricier than average? Yes. Is it also comforting and indulgent? Yes. It’s a tasty departure from the norm that’s rich enough that I found it difficult to eat the entire sandwich in one sitting. In fact, I took half of it home … and then I ate it straight from the fridge the next day. It was almost as good cold.
Eat this. Your heart will not thank you, but your taste buds will.
Don’s Diner is open Sunday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 11 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.