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.
Oak Barrel Public House
1033 N. Old World 3rd St.
Ever wonder where we got the word "pub?" It’s actually short for public house, a term originally used to refer to Anglo Saxon residences where community members would gather for the purpose of drinking ale, socializing and holding meetings. Over time, the term became more generally used to describe a wide range of businesses from inns to beer houses where folks could gather to eat, drink and be merry.
Milwaukee is filled with venues that carry on this tradition, serving up craft beer, spirits and menus of simple, comforting fare. Among them is Oak Barrel Public House, a venue that pays homage to both the barreling of beer and bourbon as well as classic American comfort foods including tacos, pizza and burgers.
Among their burger offerings is a cheesy, pork-rich creation: The Wisco Burger. It features a one-third pound smashed butter burger topped with cheddar, muenster, bourbon cider thick cut bacon, pulled bacon and bier cheese sauce on a pretzel bun with your choice of french fries, cole slaw or chips ($12.95).
Just look at it. The shine of unctuous pork and lava-like cascades of melting cheese define this burger, which is nothing if not saliva-inducing.
I’m not always a fan of the pretzel bun on a burger; thanks to its pronounced flavor and texture; it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of bun. But when you’re paying homage to Wisconsin, the home of cheese, sausages, beer and beer garden treats like Bavarian pretzels, there aren’t many other choices that will do. In this case, it was a good choice. The soft, dense bun was nicely crisped, and it did well in soaking up a decent portion of the fatty drippings from all the cheese and bacon. Don’t get me wrong, this burger was messy, but the bun kept it from becoming a minor disaster.
The burger here … well, it wasn’t exactly the star. I did manage to conduct what felt like a reconnaissance mission, digging below the cheese and pork to discover the third-pound patty and assess its value, but it wasn’t an easy task. Once located, I found a burger with a nicely caramelized exterior (consistent with the characteristics of a good smash burger). Its flavor was subdued, but beefy and it seemed to be moderately seasoned. It wasn’t, however, the juiciest of burgers – not even in a greasy diner sort of way.
The toppings on this burger really do steal the show. There is no lack of cheese, and the muenster and cheddar melded together nicely, giving the burger a rich, cheesy flavor. The flavor of the beer in the "bier cheese" was subtle and had a tendency to get lost in the shuffle. But that’s mostly because the smokiness of the bacon was a more prominent flavor.
The bacon – which came both in tender, sweet ham-like slabs and rich shreds – definitely offered up a smoky, porky flavor. In fact, one of the burger's downfalls is that, while delicious, it definitely tastes more like a porky cheesy ham sandwich than a burger. Take that message as you will.
Thanks to all that cheese and bacon, it was also incredibly rich. In the end, it would have benefited greatly from a pop of something acidic to cut through all that fatty goodness – pickles, perhaps?
At $12.95, the pricing on this burger was what you’d expect for a substantial burger, served up with a good portion of fries at a Downtown venue. In fact, I’ve paid more for lesser, making this a decent value overall.
If you like a good messy, cheesy burger, you can’t go wrong with the Wisco Burger.
Oak Barrel Public House is open Monday and Tuesday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m., Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 a.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.