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.
400 W. Canal St.
It’s proximity to the Harley-Davidson Museum makes MOTOR a popular spot for visitors, bikers and non-bikers alike. But its bright dining room, sporting comfortable seating and floor-to-ceiling windows makes it a great spot for anyone to enjoy a meal. Top that off with one of the city’s best patios (think summer) and a familiar menu of comfort food favorites and barbecue, and you’ve got a winning combination for casual dining.
Among their offerings are a nice selection of burgers, along with a monthly burger special, which is currently the "Thanksgiving Burger" which features layers of mashed potatoes, a turkey burger, stuffing and cranberry chutney smothered with gravy and stacked high on a sesame seed bun.
On my latest visit, I opted for the highly acclaimed Prime Smokehouse Burger. And I’m going to quote the menu here: "The best burger you will ever eat! We’ve combined the best of the best…ground chuck, beef brisket and short rib, hand-packed into an 8-oz. patty topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions, then drizzled with MOTOR’s signature steak sauce, served on a sesame seed bun 15.95."
That’s a serious claim. So, I was eager to dig into this one.
Take a look at it. The burger is presented well on a dark plate with a hefty portion of fries. And it, in no way, comes off as wimpy. It’s piled high with mushrooms and onions. And the bun is giving what I like to think of as a "hat tip," reassuring the eater that he or she has, indeed, chosen the right burger in which to indulge.
The burger’s bun is the standard sesame seed bun that’s been a classic for burgers for … well, forever. And that’s not a bad thing. The bun was soft and pliable. The hefty burger definitely could’ve taken a more sturdy bun, but this one did the job just fine.
The burger itself is definitely a highlight.
You can absolutely taste the difference in the blended beef, which adds a good deal of value to the burger. My dining companion ordered one of their other burgers, which are made with ground chuck, and the difference in flavor is notable. My delicious half-pound of beef wasn’t too tightly packed, and (miracle of miracles!) it came out solidly medium rare. I’m stopping here for a moment of silence, because this is a rarity. I can’t tell you how many burgers – out of the nearly 40 I’ve tried on the Trail – have been overcooked. But, this one was perfect.
Back to its flavor: when I tasted the burger on its own, it was distinctly meaty, but not particularly seasoned. Normally, I’d strike that off as a deficit; however, in this case it was a good thing, since the steak sauce it was topped with brought in plenty of salt and a good amount of umami.
As I was eating this burger, I kept thinking that it should really be called the "steakhouse" burger, rather than the Smokehouse Burger. After all, its flavor brought forward a distinctly steak-like flavor, largely thanks to the combination of its beefiness and the addition of steak sauce to the mix. Add to that the toppings of sauteed mushrooms and onions, and the association only grew stronger. It’s one of the first burgers I’ve tried that didn’t include cheese. In this case, it didn’t really need it; it’s an addition that would have merely gilded the lily. The shredded lettuce was fine, too – crisp and clean tasting – but I’ll be honest, it wasn’t necessary.
If you’re going to lay down $15.95 on a burger, you should make it a good one. And this burger didn’t make me squirm when the bill came. There was obvious thought put into the build and execution of the burger, and my biggest complaint was likely that "smokehouse" didn’t exactly describe the burger I’d eaten.
For me, the beauty of this burger was in its execution: from the tasty beef blend to its delivery at the perfect medium-rare temperature. Was it the best burger ever? No, not exactly (I'm not sure such a thing actually exists); but, I'd happily eat it again.
MOTOR is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 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.