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.
HotWax by Meat & Co.
2238 N. Farwell Ave., (262) 357-1308
It’s been a hot minute since I last reviewed a burger for the the Burger Trail series. Truth be told, after eating over 180 burgers, the series had begun to feel a bit stale. No longer inspired to find the next great burger, I decided it was time to take a pause.
But thanks to the rise of a few new burger joints, along with a renewed sense of excitement for indulging in beefy bliss, I decided to bring the series back for Dining Month. If all goes well, I plan to continue adding to the series on at least a monthly basis. I may even revisit some classic burgers and old favorites, just to see how they’ve held up over the years.
Among the burgers that inspired the return of the series is the HotWax Burger, a promising smash-style creation from Chef Ben Crevensten, the mastermind behind the deli-inspired Meat & Co. at Zocalo Food Park and HotWax, a concept inspired by art, old school record stores and creativity.
Hidden in the back of the East Side food hall Crossroads Collective, the restaurant pumps out a menu of inspired sandwiches – including a legit Nashville hot chicken – and comforting sides from fries and potato salad to roasted cauliflower with gremolata bread crumbs. They also feature occasional specials, which are always worth a gander (keep your eye on their Facebook page for those).
The HotWax Burger features double smash patties, Cooper Sharp cheese, caramelized onions, burger sauce and pickles on a Martin's potato bun ($14). You can add (a boatload of) fries for $5.
Visually, the HotWax Burger was a delightful mess. Bright orange cheese oozed over the rough edges of the dark burger patties followed closely by a slightly pink wash of burger sauce. Silky caramelized onions draped temptingly over the side as fresh pickle pieces popped out from beneath a visually toasted bun.
The marshmallowy softness of a Martin’s potato roll makes it a classic choice for burgers, providing a particularly nice textural counterpoint for the crispness of a smashburger. In HotWax’s case, the fresh, soft buns were nicely toasted on both sides. Their sweetness provided a lovely foil for the largely savory burger, and their size and airiness ensured that they didn’t violate the oh-so-important bun-to-burger ratio.
While the goal of your average griddled burger is often a loose, tender texture with a bit of exterior caramelization, a smash burger is all about the crust. You want craggy, crispy edges and plenty of textural caramelization on the exterior of the burger.
Judged against that criteria, the promise of two double smash patties came just shy of perfection on the HotWax burger. The patties were definitely smashed. They were thin and nicely browned and their edges were slightly irregular and dark. In a perfect world, they would have exhibited a bit more crispness on the edges, maybe a few more lacey salty bits. But, overall this was a very honorable effort.
Equally important, the beef itself was nicely seasoned and – when sampled on its own – exhibited a solid beefy flavor. As expected, the patties were crusty-yet-tender, with just the right amount of fatty moisture to keep them from being dry.
As for the toppings, they formed the “messy” part of the burger along with a balanced flavor profile that gave the overall sandwich its character.
The beautifully melted Cooper Sharp cheese contributed the familiar boost of umami and creamy texture that American cheese offers. But, as expected, its flavor was also decidedly more cheddar forward, an element that definitely made a difference in the final product.
That cheese paired impeccably well with the caramelized onions, which presented gorgeously with their deeply browned coloration and rich, sweet umami-laden flavor. They also provided a nice counterpoint to the classic, tangy burger sauce, which rounded everything out nicely.
What’s left? The pickles. These were somewhat unusual in the sense that they were cut into strips (and a few fell out as I was eating); but they did their job nicely, offering a bright pop of acid (which helped to balance out all the richness) and a slight amount of crunch.
It’s tough to find a quality burger for under $10 these days. Pair that with the challenges of rising costs associated with the pandemic and a $14 burger falls pretty neatly into the realm of expectation. Combine that reasoning with the quality and thoughtfulness of the HotWax creation and this burger comes in as a pretty solid value.
Who am I to argue with a tasty, indulgently messy burger? In a city whose burger game has grown steadily stronger over the course of the last five years, HotWax is definitely a contender.
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.