Season's eatings! The weather may be getting colder, but Dining Month on OnMilwaukee is just cooking up, dishing out your winning picks in this year's Best of Dining poll. Dining Month is brought to you by Fein Brothers, your premier food service equipment and supply dealer in Wisconsin since 1929. Congratulations to all of the winners, and happy eating for all those who voted! See all the winners for the month so far here.
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.
Stella Van Buren is one of the newest restaurants Downtown, and it's definitely worth a visit if you haven't yet been. Located on the third floor of the Westin Hotel just off of Clybourn Street, the restaurant offers a beautiful space for diners looking for a Downtown lunch or slightly upscale dinner.
I always feel as if a visit to Stella pulls me just far enough out of my element that I can truly relax. There are few restaurants in Milwaukee with such a sleek, airy feel, and even fewer that pair that modern look and feel with comfortable furnishings and friendly staff.
And, whether you're visiting for a burger at lunch or a steak or pasta at dinner, the experience is inevitably enhanced by the floor-to-ceiling picture windows which offer a bird’s eye view of Milwaukee's urban landscape.
Such was the case this past week when we visited at lunch to check out the signature Prime Burger, which comes with fontina cheese, tomato jam, balsamic onion and garlic aioli, served on a toasted brioche bun with a side of parmesan potatoes ($15)
The prime burger isn’t a slouch. In fact, this magazine cover-worthy burger was pretty much picture perfect with its shiny bun, peeks of lettuce and lava-like fontina cascading down the sides of the burger patty. And it gets points for making my mouth water even before I had the opportunity to dig in. Full disclosure: those pretty parmesan potatoes did play a part in that presentation perfection.
There’s something lovely about a perfect brioche bun with it's pillowy, yet firm texture, slightly sweet flavor and a perfectly toasted cut side. And this one did its job admirably to boot. It was tough enough to support the hefty burger patty, and it didn’t dissolve even when faced with moisture from the toppings. Plus, it was delicious.
Stella’s burger is proof that the simplest things are often best. The burger, made from prime grade Midwestern beef, had a loose pack, giving it plenty of spots to retain valuable moisture. And, seasoned only with salt and pepper, it really shone for its beefy flavor. The one fault I found is that, although I ordered it medium-rare, it came out far closer to medium-well. If it hadn’t been for that slip, it would have scored higher still.
Toppings are often the make or break items for burgers, especially on a solid burger that’s so tasty on its own. But, Stella does this burger right while giving a few nice nods to Italian flavors. Balsamic onions are dark and sweet. The tomato jam added a bit of flavor, but wasn’t cloyingly sweet, and it was well balanced by the savory tang of the aioli, which provided some richness and balance. That melted fontina had a rich, almost milky flavor. And the lettuce was crisp and chopped, making it easier to eat.
You’ve got good quality beef, with great flavor, thoughtful toppings and a potato side that blows a lot of French fries out of the water. Add Stella’s bright, airy atmosphere and friendly service and you’ve got a burger I’d gladly spend $15 on at lunch or dinner.
The burger at Stella Van Buren lives up to the restaurant's motto: "simple food prepared well."
Stella Van Buren is open seven days a week with breakfast from 6:30 to 11 a.m., lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Bar hours are Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 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.