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.
Sobelman’s Pub & Grill
1900 W. St. Paul Ave.
I’ve eaten numerous burgers at Sobelman’s over the years, both at the original location and the restaurant on the Marquette University campus. So, I found myself wondering which of the near-20 options I should choose for the Trail. Ultimately, I went with the namesake burger; after all, a burger that bears the name of the restaurant should be the best of the bunch.
The Sobelman features a quarter-pound patty topped with American, Swiss and cheddar cheeses, bacon, fried onions and diced jalapenos. It’s served with fries and a pickle for $10.25.
The presentation of The Sobelman is a familiar sight; you’ll find a burger, cradled in a lined basket, nestled near a fairly generous portion of battered fries. The burger itself is largely obscured by three slices of cheese, which are just beginning to droop from the patty’s heat. And there’s a glimpse of the diced pickled jalapeno peppers, onion and bacon, all peeping from beneath the towering top of the shiny egg-washed bun.
The bun is a masterpiece of sorts. It’s shapely and soft, with a pleasant yeastiness and a gorgeous, glossy exterior. It was sturdy and fairly well toasted, offering good support for the burger and toppings. But it’s a big bun. Had I ordered a double burger, the bun would have been near perfect; but for a single quarter-pound patty – even one topped with a good amount of cheese – it felt a bit excessive.
I tend to spend a bit of time with the burger patty itself; after all, the beef is the foundation of any great burger, and the best of them taste just as good on their own as they do with the bun and toppings.
Although I wasn’t asked how I’d like my burger prepared, I was pleasantly surprised to find it possessed a vague pink hue at its center (somewhere between medium and medium well). It was nicely browned, but not overcooked, leaving it juicy with a pleasant texture.
I wasn’t as fond of the burger’s flavor, which fell flat for me on all accounts. It wasn’t discernibly seasoned; nor did it possess a particularly beefy flavor. In fact, after eating a good half of the patty without the benefit of the toppings, I can say that it didn’t spark the joy I’d expect from a "world famous" patty. It definitely needed the toppings to take it to the next level.
I love bacon on a burger. I like the smoke and the salt. I also like the texture it brings to the table, especially when it’s been well-cooked. This bacon tasted great; but texturally it was soft and flaccid, offering up more of an elastic pull in terms of texture than a pleasant crunch.
The same goes for cheese. The combination of cheddar, American and Swiss cheeses is generally a winning one. In an ideal world, you get the salt, umami and beautiful meltability of the American cheese along with the slight sharpness of the cheddar and the nuttiness of the Swiss. But that’s not quite how it played out on The Sobelman.
The cheddar, which had been placed on the patty first, was fully melted and had settled into the crannies of the burger. But the American cheese and the Swiss (which I was surprised to find wasn’t Swiss at all, but rather the processed version of Swiss …) hadn’t been given quite enough time on the grill. So they were limp, but not fully melted, giving them more of a pasty texture than would have been ideal.
Meanwhile the onions, which were tender but scant, didn’t have much presence; their flavor was all but lost to the pickled jalapenos, which offered a nice vinegary tang (but not a ton of heat) to the burger. They were, in fact, the burger’s greatest asset, cutting through the paste of the cheese and offering a counter to its saltiness.
In terms of value, the Sobelman sits pretty squarely in the middle. In fact, at just over $10, this burger is in line with a good number of burgers across the city. But, bun aside, its ingredients don’t necessarily push it far beyond the mid-point.
In the end, the Sobelman is a relatively basic bar burger on a great bun; for the best experience, I’d definitely advise ordering a double.
Sobelman’s Pub & Grill is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 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.