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.
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 by the Geisinger family in 1967, the custard stand has become an institution in the Washington Heights neighborhood.
Nearly a decade ago, the business was sold to Jim and Carol Carter who will operate the business until later this year when they’ll retire, passing it along to forthcoming owners Sam Kassel and Alex Ogden, owners of 414 Events, who promise to maintain the stand’s reputation as a neighborhood gem.
I’ve enjoyed custard and the occasional malt from Fred’s over the years, but I’ve never stopped in for a burger. So now seemed as good a time as any to try them out.
The double cheeseburger features two beef patties topped with American cheese and your choice of toppings (lettuce, tomato, ketchup, yellow or brown mustard, mayonnaise, fried or raw onions and jalapenos), $6.85. I ordered mine with the works, minus the jalapenos, plus a side of fries for $2.15 and a hot fudge malt ($3.95).
Presentation on a carry-out burger can be a mixed bag. Depending on the journey a burger makes, it often gets a bit smashed inside its paper sheath. On this particular day, the bun was a bit crushed, and the patties were displayed slightly askew; but its assets were visible. The patties sported crisp, charred edges, there was visible melted cheese, thick slices of pickle and a peep of thinly sliced tomato. In the end, when judging a burger's looks, I'm really asking: Does this burger make me hungry? And yes, yes it did.
The soft, classic bakery-style sesame-studded bun was well-sized for the burger patties. It was fresh and nicely toasted. Even moreso, it provided a sturdy-enough framework for both the patties and condiments. And -- maybe most importantly, it provided the proper bun-to-burger ratio needed.
The well-done patties were much of what you’d expect from a custard stand. They had a nice crisp char, particularly along their edges. And, while "juicy" is not a word I'd use to describe these burgers, they weren’t at all dry or puck-like. On their own, the patties were well-seasoned with a decently beefy flavor. While not revelatory in terms of their flavor, they were tasty. And alongside the other components contributed to a classic -- maybe even nostalgic -- burger flavor.
In terms of toppings, there were both good and fair qualities. The cheese was ample and nicely melted. The pickles were thick and fresh, and the mix of condiments (in my case mayo, ketchup and yellow mustard) were judiciously applied, offering just enough flavor for each bite. The tomato slices were nicely sized, two thin slices covered the bulk of the burger; and although they didn’t pack much flavor, they offered a fresh presence alongside the crisp shreds of lettuce.
My burger was missing the fried onions I ordered, a fact I didn’t realize until I’d taken my first bite. I’m presuming my request for them, which came on the tail end of my order, might have simply been overlooked.
At less than $7, this was a substantial burger with all the flavor you’d expect from a classic burger stand.
There’s a reason why Fred’s has been thriving for over 50 years. If you’re looking for a classic burger, solid fries and the prerequisite chocolate malt, this is among a cadre of spots that truly delivers.
Fred’s is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 7 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.