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. Fred's Frozen Custard & Grill
4726 W. Vliet St., (414) 771-6270
*Order online for quick, easy pick-up
I've got the Olivia Rodrigo song "Deja Vu" running through my brain as I write this. And, if you've been following along on the Burger Trail, you probably understand why. But bear with me on this one.
For over 50 years, Fred’s has been serving up a menu of burgers, sandwiches, custard and sides at a no frills stand on Vliet Street. Founded by the Geisinger family in 1967, the custard stand has become an institution in the Washington Heights neighborhood.
In August of 2019, I reviewed the double cheeseburger at Fred’s. But that was just before owners Jim and Carol Carter (who operated the stand for nearly a decade) retired and passed the business on to the current owners Sam Kassel and Alex Ogden.
So ... since Kassel and Ogden have since made some changes to the operations at the stand, including upgrades to the menu (think: hand-pattied beef and higher quality buns and produce), I decided to make a follow-up visit. This time, I opted for the (new) Big Fred burger and made it a double.
The Double Big Fred Burger features two jumbo smash patties with house-made thousand island, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame bun ($8.20). I ordered mine with beer-battered onion rings ($3.15) and a hot fudge malt ($4.85). You can get the single patty Big Fred for just $5.70.
When you wrap up a burger, it stays nice and hot, but it can also get a bit disheveled.
The Big Fred fared pretty well, with only a slight “scrunching” of the bun and a bit of melted cheese lost to the packaging. In fact, what you see in the photo is, indeed a jumbo burger with two patties fuzed together by hot melty cheese and settled in on a bed of fresh green lettuce. Not too shabby.
The new sesame seed buns are definitely an upgrade. They are soft and fresh, nicely toasted on the inside and their flavor is classic, with a touch of sweetness that complements the burger and toppings. More importantly, they are the right size for the jumbo burger patties, offering a proper bun-to-meat ratio (which I surmise would still be the case if you ordered a single patty).
Let’s start with how these burgers looked. They were lovely and brown with good coloration on both sides. The meat was fully cooked, yet still tender with a nice interior juiciness. The flavor was beefy, but somewhat bland when tasted on its own. A bit more salt and that flavor would have perked right up.
From there, the beef patties were large and slightly thicker than I expected. They had definitely been smashed (as promised), which offered the beef patty enough contact to reap the benefits of a solid Maillard reaction, giving the exterior of the burger a crust that helps to keep the fats and juices within.
In its best form, a smash burger also gleans crispy, sometimes lacey edges that eat like salty crispy beef candy. This burger had a bit of the crispness I expected on the edges (though they didn’t make it to the irresistible, irregular lacey stage. And since the burger didn’t have a notable salt content, the crispy edges that define the smash burger didn’t quite reach their full potential.
As for the toppings, they came together nicely. The cheese was nicely melted, offering the saltiness the burger lacked. The onions were thinly sliced, so they offered a bit of sweet sharpness without overpowering the remaining flavors. The lettuce was crisp, green and chopped, so it offered a bit of texture and helped distribute the sweet flavor of the the housemade Thousand Island dressing from bite to bite.
The pickles on this burger were thicker than average with a nice crispness and a pleasantly acidic pop (much like those on the St. Bibiana burger I reviewed last week). But, while the thick pickles were a bit too much for that burger (due to its size and flavor profile), they worked well here, likely due to the sheer volume of meat.
Overall, the toppings were nicely executed and came together to form a balanced burger that possessed a well-rounded profile showcasing sweet, salty, savory and acidic notes.
All that meat, plus good quality accompaniments, for just over $8? Not a bad deal at all. Knock it down to a single patty (which, in all honesty, is far more reasonable) and you’re looking at a good burger for under $6.
This burger was not without flaws (few are). But, I have to give it its due. I spent last summer eating burgers from frozen custard stands, and I published a list of the top ten. The original burger I ate at Fred's made the list, but their new score would knock the Kopp’s cheeseburger squarely out of the top scoring spot. Nice work, Fred’s. Check it out.
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.