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.
139 E. Kilbourn Ave. (Inside Intercontinental Hotel)
There are reasons to head to Kil@wat, a hotel restaurant you might ordinarily overlook. It’s a great, easy spot for a business lunch, a fact that’s easily witnessed by a trip to the restaurant on any weekday. It’s also a convenient dinner spot if you’re planning a trip to nearby theaters. The food is accessible, but also modern and well-executed. And there are always standout options, like their roasted red pepper bisque, which you should order if you happen to spy it on the menu.
But, Kil@wat also possesses a secret weapon: The Classic Big Boy burger, an often sentimental draw for those who remember Wisconsin burgers of yore.
The Marcus Corporation entered the restaurant industry with the opening of the first Marc's Big Boy, a family restaurant that debuted on Milwaukee’s Northwest side in 1958. Within four years, there were six locations. And, by 1970, there were 64 locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. However, despite the restaurant’s efforts to compete with cheaper, faster chains like McDonald’s and Burger King, the last of the restaurants closed in 1995.
But the Big Boy burger lives on as a fixture on the Kil@wat menu. So, of course, we had to try one. The double-decker burger is $12 and features two beef patties, shredded iceberg lettuce, American cheese and Big Boy sauce.
The presentation for this burger is far from unexpected. It arrives, sporting its familiar sesame-seeded bun alongside a hearty portion of fries. The round, diner-style plate is replaced with a more modern, rectangular plate. And a knotted bamboo skewer holds everything together. But it’s pretty much pure nostalgia on a plate.
There are so many similarities between this burger and a McDonald’s Big Mac. And that resemblance starts with the bun, which is soft and sprinkled with sesame seeds. There are no heavy sauces or super-juicy beef patties to battle, so the bun does its job just fine, holding up until the very end.
If you’re expecting to order your burger medium-rare, you’ll want to opt for one of the other burgers on the Kil@wat menu. By necessity, the thin patties on the Big Boy come cooked medium-well to well-done. And they’re not really the showpiece. In the end, the Classic Big Boy is less about the burger, and more about the sum of its parts.
The Big Boy sauce is tangy and offers up just enough moisture to keep the burger from seeming a bit too dry. The lettuce, which steams upon contact with the hot griddled burger, is a bit too wilty to add texture, but it would be wrong any other way. And that classic American cheese, well, it not only adds flavor, but also acts as a binder to keep everything in place.
At $12 the Big Boy burger felt a bit spendy for what it is: an old-school diner burger with wilty lettuce, a soft bun and special sauce. It is, however, a good old-school diner burger that might bring back some memories for you if you recall the Marc’s Big Boys of yore. And sometimes nostalgia is worth paying a bit more for.
If you bear a fondness for the original Marc's Big Boy burger, there’s a walk down memory lane to be found at Kil@wat. The Big Boy Burger is available for lunch; but, it can also be found among the appetizers on the dinner menu, served cut into quarters for $10. Interestingly enough, if a craving hits and you can’t leave your home or office, The Big Boy is also available for delivery through Grub Hub.
Kil@watt serves breakfast Monday through Friday from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m., lunch Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner Monday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. Brunch is available on Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 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.