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.
2265 S. Howell Ave.
Head to this eclectic cafe in Bay View and you’ll find a dimly lit cafe will walls brightened by a rotating selection of art from local artists. At the cafe’s myriad tables, you’re likely to meet up with a mixed crowd of locals and destination diners.
The cafe -- which has been a fixture in Bay View since 2001 -- features menu of unique hot sandwiches, salads, and soup along with weekly specials, craft beer, wine and cocktails. In fact, I have distinct memories spanning the last 15 or so years, of sitting in the cafe with friends, enjoying items like the East Indian chicken pita or the Florentine melt (complete with a half-and-half combo of crisp chips and Asian slaw).
But one thing I’ve never thought to order at Lulu is a burger. So, that became the mission of my latest trip.
I was tempted by the Half-Pound Heart Attack, which boasts blue cheese and bacon, but my curiosity was piqued when I read the description of The Smokehouse Burger, which promised a "smoky blend of spices" along with crisp bacon, sharp cheddar and red onion. The burger is served with a choice of house chips, Asian slaw or a bit of both ($11.95).
This burger looks good right out of the gates. The browned patty, cloaked with melted cheddar glistens with fat on a bed of frilly green leaf lettuce and crisp red onion. Even the bacon is a sight: visually crispy and tucked just beneath the hat tip of its bakery roll.
The bakery roll was soft and yeasty, with a nice give and enough oomph to support the half-pound burger. The bun was also nicely toasted, giving it a bit of a crunch and providing a barrier for sogginess.
Lulu cooks their half-pound burgers to order. Mine had slipped past the mid-rare mark upon delivery, arriving solidly medium. Visually, it boasted a nice greasy sheen and visible grill marks on the exterior. When tasted on its own, the beef patty was fairly tender, but not quite as juicy as I’d have expected. Similarly, it boasted sufficient seasoning on its exterior, but -- despite the burger’s name -- it didn’t seem to have much in the way of a distinctly smoky flavor. Even the bacon topping the burger was more salty than smoky, leaving a dissonance between my expectations and reality.
The burger gets points for its toppings. The bacon’s flavor wasn’t amazing; it was more salty than smoky (and the slices were thinner than what I’d typically prefer); however it was ultra crisp, enough so that it provided some nice texture. The lettuce was fresh and frilly, if really more for show than flavor or texture. The sharp cheddar was flavorful and nicely melted, ensuring that every bite had a bit of cheese. Meanwhile, the red onions were crisp and sweet, offering a bit of texture and a foil for the burger’s richness.
At right around $12, this burger falls in line with most half-pound burgers of its ilk, though its fresh, well-executed toppings bump it up a notch.
While the Smokehouse Burger at Lulu Cafe was fine -- and boasted a nicely toasted bun and pretty great toppings -- it didn’t didn’t sufficiently deliver on the promise of smokiness.
Lulu Cafe is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. with brunch served from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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.