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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.
The first thing you might notice when walking into McKiernan’s Irish Pub is that the bar doesn’t look like your stereotypical Irish pub. But if you believe (as the Irish do) that the defining characteristic of a true Irish pub is that it’s friendly in a non-pretentious way, McKiernan’s is pretty much spot-on.
In the best of times, you’ll find a mix of both friendly bartenders and chatty guests, most of whom are perfectly happy to strike up a conversation even with the new folks at the bar. You’ll also find Irish whiskey, Irish brews and a menu of both Irish and not-so-Irish dishes. Among them are burgers, including a popular “Big Boy style” burger.
The Big Boy Style Burger features a one-third pound patty, grilled to your liking, topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and thousand island dressing. It’s served with a side of French fries, chips or slaw and a pickle ($8.95).
The carry-out burger was packaged in a lined styrofoam container (insert my wishes for a styrofoam-less world here) with the accompanying crinkle-cut fries and sauce, which I ordered on the side to prevent any unnecessary sogginess.
The bun was a bit dented and wrinkly, but it didn’t present too badly on the plate next to the fries. In fact, it looked pretty good with its layers of lettuce, cheese, tomato and sauce showcasing a pretty classic burge profile.
Despite its wrinkled appearance, the bun was fresh and soft. It was an egg bun, so it had a bit of a yellow hue on the interior and a deeply browned, shiny exterior. Inside, there was a good toasting on both of its cut sides, with a particular crispness around the edges.
I found the bun to be appropriately sized for the third-pound patty; but it did err on the “too soft” side of things, compacting quite significantly as I ate and taking on a doughy consistency. The burger itself was also juicy; and as good news as that was, it gave the bottom bun a run for its delicate money, leaving it a big on the soggy side.
Visually, the burger was uniformly shaped and visibly grilled. More importantly, it was evenly grilled on both sides (rather than being grey and steamed on one and grilled on the other, which I’ve found to be a fairly common fault among grilled burgers).
Texturally, it was moderately packed with a faint crispness on the edges. As for doneness, I’d specified mid-rare (expecting a near-medium burger); but it actually arrived on the rare side of mid-rare. It was juicy with an ample fat content and a moderate amount of seasoning which complemented its solid beef flavor.
As for the toppings, they were ample. A balanced amount of American cheese was melted nicely over the top of the burger, covering a good amount of the patty.
The burger came with three thinner slices of tomato (they were pale, but not entirely devoid of flavor) and a good amount of iceberg lettuce, a bit of which had wilted from the heat of the burger, but the bulk of which remained crisp and fresh. That was a very good thing, as it offered the burger a nice textural element and a bit of the fresh vegetal flavor it needed.
Meanwhile, the “thousand island” was balanced with a combination of sweet, salty and a bit of acid from the sweet relish. Overall a solid burger sauce that pulled everything together while adding that signature flavor that one expects from classic burgers.
A burger for under $10 with fries? Yes, that’s rarity these days (and probably for good reason). After all, it's important that bars and restaurants not only reap a fair cost for their food, but also the labor to make it. But it also made this burger a literal steal.
As its name implies, the Big Boy Style Burger is not a dead ringer for the predecessor to the Big Mac; but its flavor profile will take you most of the way there.
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.