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.
Fuel Cafe on 5th
630 S. 5th St.
I’m probably not the only one who has fond memories of the original Fuel Cafe in Riverwest. The Bohemian coffee shop was (and still is) a hip joint where folks of all stripes hang out until all hours, pounding caffeine (and often cigarettes, prior to the ban) and occasionally grabbing one of the shop’s uniquely delicious sandwiches.
The cafe’s second location on 5th Street is a cleaned up version of the original Fuel with an expanded menu and spacious industrial chic digs compete with a cafe, mezzanine and plenty of seating at the bar and at a variety of intimate booths. They've also got a pretty stellar patio.
The menu is also bigger, featuring breakfast options, a wide range of starters, salads and sandwiches for lunch and a few additional plates for dinner. And, like the original cafe, there are plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans.
Among the choices are two burgers: the Classic Burger with cheese, lettuce tomato and onion ($11) and the Kitchen Favorite Burger featuring grilled poblano peppers, serrano mayo, grilled onion and your choice of cheeses ($12). Both come on a Sheboygan roll, and you can add a poached egg for an extra $1.
I’ve done a lot of classic burgers on the trail, but I was intrigued by the Kitchen Favorite, so that’s what I ordered up on my most recent visit.
The burger looks hearty with its crisp-topped hard roll, thick patty and toppings that are plentiful enough to spill out over the sides of the bun. It’s served up on a retro green and white plate with a plentiful side of fries (or a salad if you prefer). And, on looks alone, I would've guessed it to be a winner.
There’s points to be had in offering up a classic Wisconsin style hard roll with a burger, so philosophically, I was pretty into the idea. But, for all Sheboygan rolls have going on in terms of texture, they don’t bring a lot of flavor to the table. And as you’ll see if you keep reading, this burger needed a little more oomph. So, I put this bun right smack in the middle when it came to scoring. It wasn’t an amazing match for the burger; but, it wasn’t bad either.
The star of the show is definitely the burger. It tastes fresh. It has a great texture from being hand-packed. And it came to the table perfectly cooked to order (medium-rare). If it had just a bit more seasoning, it would have been near perfect.
Toppings are often the make or break items for burgers, especially one like Fuel’s which isn’t overly seasoned on its own. In this case, I was really torn. On the one hand, the fried onions were deliciously sweet, and the peppers were fresh tasting and well cooked. But, even with the addition of Gouda cheese, the burger on the whole needed a boost … a bit more umami, mayhaps, or the balance of a bit of salt and acid. I suppose ketchup may have done the trick to perk things up with a big of salt and vinegar; but, it didn’t seem the perfect fit for a burger that was otherwise well on its way to offering solid Tex-Mex flavors.
At $11, the burger makes for a filling meal. So, on a value scale, it doesn’t come out badly at all. In fact, if the flavor profile of the burger itself had been more balanced, it would have been a win-win all around.
The Kitchen burger had so much potential. It’s a big meaty burger with a nice texture. But, it was missing something in terms of flavor.
Fuel Cafe on 5th is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to midnight and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to midnight.
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.