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N48W36154 E. Wisconsin Ave., Oconomowoc
One of the hallmarks of spring in Lake Country is when The Kiltie Drive-in in Oconomowoc opens for the season. And there’s good reason for that. Almost nothing has more summer promise than a night at this nostalgic drive-in, which is open seasonally from April through mid-September.
Founded in the late 1940s, this classic drive-in has remained immune to the passage of time. And that’s just part of its charm. From the logo of a smiling Scotsman wearing a Tam o' Shanter hat, to its huge neon sign, a visit to The Kiltie will take you back to a time before there were digital ordering systems or drive-through windows.
In fact, the Kiltie has neither. Drive up to the restaurant and within minutes, you’ll be greeted by a kilt-wearing carhop, who will take your order with a smile and return with an aluminum tray filled with your order – be it burgers, sundaes or malts – to hang on your car window.
When it comes to custard, The Kiltie is built on basics. On weekdays it offers only chocolate, vanilla and a twist of the two. Special offerings, including mocha or mint custard, are reserved for the weekends. All are offered soft-serve style. There are also sundaes, shakes, malts and the like. It’s important to note that The Kiltie is cash only. So, be sure to stop at an ATM machine on your way there.
On my latest jaunt to the Kiltie, I ordered a double cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard and pickles ($5.60) along with an order of fries ($2.30) and a chocolate malt ($3.95), because why not?
It’s tough to judge presentation at a drive-in, where food is packaged and served up on a tray. But, what I can say is The Kiltie double, which came in a Styrofoam container, was packed neatly. It looked delicious, and it was easy to get out of the container without spoiling its composition.
The bun was a nice little guy, covered in sesame seeds. It had just enough heft to hold up to the burger and toppings without going soggy.
You have a number of burger options at The Kiltie. You can order up a half-pound or one-third-pound burger, if you like them thicker. Or opt for the classic thin, char-grilled patty, as I did. The meat in the double cheeseburger was fully cooked, with nice grill marks on one side. They were moderately seasoned and far from being dry, making them a nice match for the cheese and toppings. They were also a perfect fit for the bun (which tends not to be the case with the larger burgers).
I found myself pleasantly surprised by the quality of the toppings. Everything was balanced in terms of how it was applied to the burger, so nothing was overpowering. The lettuce was fresh, and the pickles were thick and crisp. The cheese was ample and well melted. Maybe most impressive was the thickly sliced tomato, which was flavorful and juicy.
The Kiltie’s double cheeseburger is as delicious as any in its camp. And at just over $5, it’s a deal, even when you have to pay a bit extra for fries or onion rings. Plus, the drive-in experience is worth every penny.
Nostalgia. Friendly service. Great burgers. You can find them all at The Kiltie Drive-In.
The Kiltie is open daily (April through mid-September) from 10 a.m. to 10:30 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.