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.
These days, carry-out is king. And, as the days begin to warm, custard stands are among the best places to be. In that spirit, I've decided to dedicate the next few weeks to "custard stand burgers," with the goal of determining which spots deliver on – not only tasty frozen treats – but burgers that are worth your while.
Gilles Frozen Custard
7515 W. Bluemound Rd.
As custard stands go, Gilles is among the first to bring the delicious treat to Milwaukee. In fact, the venue has been going strong for over 80 years, making it the oldest operating custard stand in the city of Miilwaukee. The family-owned stand, originally founded by Paul Gilles in 1938 was officially sold to the Linscott family in 1977; the Linscotts not only kept the Gilles name, but have passed the custard stand down through the generations for over 40 years.
In addition to serving delicious frozen custard (including a different flavor each day), shakes, malts, sundaes, and floats, you’ll also find myriad novelties including Gilliecookies (cookie sandwiches) and large format items like custard pies and log rolls. Gilles also offers a full menu of casual American fare from burgers to Friday night fish fry.
Fun fact: If you’ve been pronouncing the Gilles name as "Gill-eez," as so many people do, you’re not alone… but you’re also not correct. Gilles’ is actually pronounced "Gill-us-es." And now you know.
On my latest trip, I ordered up the Big Daddy Burger, which features a Gilles burger patty topped with ketchup, onions, lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise ($6.30). I added American cheese for an additional $0.50 and onion rings for $3.50.
Carry-out burgers are always a little bit smashed by the time they make it out of their wrappers, and the Gilles burger was no exception. Fortunately for the Big Daddy, there were other elements that came to its aesthetic rescue, including the tomato, which made the whole affair look reasonably inviting.
The bun itself is of the classic sesame-seed-studded variety. It’s ultra soft, but less lofty than some, which is good from the stand-point that it maintains a fairly good burger to bread ratio. The bun was also evenly toasted, showcasing a pleasantly golden brown color on both interior halves.
The thin burger patty didn’t really stand out much from the usual fast-food burger crowd, though it sported a nice exterior color with visible grill marks on its exterior. It was tender and slightly greasy (when I say this, it’s nearly always a good thing) with a subtle grilled flavor.
As for the toppings, some fared better than others. The tomatoes, for instance, added a great deal. They were colorful and nicely sliced (also plentifully applied) and they offered a mild but fresh flavor.
Similarly, the condiments were deftly applied in a combination that offered a classic "burger sauce" flavor and the diced onions were mild and sweet. The American cheese wasn’t entirely melted; but it did its job in rounding out the classic burger flavor. Unfortunately, the chopped iceberg lettuce didn’t fare as well. It was somewhat crisp, but very sparse; so most bites were missing the fresh, textural crunch that makes lettuce worthwhile on a burger.
A regular cheeseburger at Gilles will put you back by $6.25, so the Big Daddy is a fairly square deal at just 5 cents more, and even if you add cheese and onion rings to the mix, you’ve barely gone over the $10 mark.
The Big Daddy isn’t big. But the nostalgia it offers definitely is.
Gilles is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. You can call in your order for contactless pick-up at the West side drive-thru window.
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.