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.
O’Lydia’s Bar & Grill
338 S. 1st St.
Irish pubs are known for their convivial atmospheres and generous hospitality, and O’Lydia’s is no exception. The bar and grill located on the edge of Walker’s Point always seems to be filled with a crowd of congenial folks, some drinking and chatting and others enjoying any number of casual dishes off the bar’s menu.
Eats at O’Lydia’s fall solidly in line with expected pub fare; it’s heavy on the appetizers, sandwiches and housemade macaroni and cheese. Of course, there are also burgers – hefty half-pound pub burgers, which can be topped with any number of ingredients thanks to a build-your-own option. Despite being tempted by the option to build one of my favorites (mushroom Swiss), I thought I’d try my hand at one of the signature burgers, the California Burger.
The California Burger features a half-pound Angus beef burger topped with avocado, pepper jack cheese, lettuce and tomatoes on a toasted buttertop bun ($12). It comes with a choice of homemade fries or chips, garlic mashed potatoes, coleslaw, salad du jour or a cup of soup.
Pro tip: O’Lydia’s also offers a burger special on Thursday nights after 5 p.m. You get a half-pounder with lettuce, onion, tomato and choice of one cheese for just $5.95. Fries, chips or garlic mashed potatoes are just $1. You can also opt for the weekly featured burger for $8.95.
It was a nice looking burger with its thick patty swathed in nicely melted pepper jack cheese and topped with fresh-looking iceberg lettuce, a peek of green avocado and a pop of red from the tomato. The dramatic steak knife holding everything together added a bit of drama, and it came flanked with fries and a triplet of thick crinkle-cut pickles fanned out beside.
As buns go, this one was a classic; slightly sweet, buttery and yeasty, it provided a nice amount of heft without overwhelming the patty and toppings. It came beautifully toasted on both halves, a plus. Unfortunately, that alone wasn’t enough to keep the bottom bun from getting soaked through by the burger’s juices. Score one for the juicy burger; sad face for the otherwise fitting bun.
The patty itself was robust and meaty and came out cooked as requested, a pleasantly pink mid-rare. Overall it was flavorful; the exterior seasoned with just enough salt to give it a flavor boost, and the meat itself was fairly loosely packed, keeping it juicy and flavorful throughout.
California burgers are meant to reflect the freshness of West Coast cuisine, and this burger (albeit mid-winter) did that effectively. The cheese, as I mentioned, was beautifully melted; and there was just enough of it to add a pleasant bite to the burger, though any heat it had was quelled by the fresh vegetable toppings.
I’ve not seen iceberg lettuce on many burgers around town; but biting through the crisp leaves reminded me how much texture the variety brings to the table. The avocado, which I examined fairly thoroughly, was fresh, green and perfectly ripe, meeting approval on all levels. Even the winter tomato was fair. It wasn’t as robust and juicy as one you’d find during the summer months, but it wasn’t anemic and flavorless either.
Order just about any build-your-own burger and you’ll spend at least $12 (or more). So the California Burger is a pretty fair deal in comparison. In the end, you get a meaty, juicy pub burger with ultra fresh toppings. I’m having a tough time arguing with that. Head here on a Thursday night when burgers are on special for $5.95/$8.95 and that score shoots right up to a 10.
As bar burgers go, O’Lydia’s serves up a solid.
O’Lydia’s is open Monday through 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 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.