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.
The Brown Bottle
221 W. Galena St., (414) 930-4606
Among the oldest bars and restaurants in Milwaukee, The Brown Bottle has a history that spans over 80 years. It’s had a few stops and starts over the years, but it always seems to make a grand return, as it did this past summer with F Street Hospitality at the helm.
Among the charms of Brown Bottle is its speakeasy-like setting. Located just off of Galena Street, it’s tucked away off of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, making it feel like a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
Inside, the bar and restaurant’s decor hearken to the past with details like antler-laden chandeliers, rustic wooden paneling, unique stained glass and a classic old school bar. Meanwhile, there’s also plenty of outdoor seating on the restaurant’s paved patio overlooking the historic Schlitz complex.
As for the menu, it offers a wide range of offerings from lighter appetizers to sandwiches, filling entrees and a slew of gluten-free and vegetarian options. Among the choices are two burgers: The Char-Grilled Burger (topped with cheddar, lettuce and tomato) and the Manchego Burger.
The Manchego errs a bit on the souped up side with toppings like serrano tomato jam and green onion aioli. But it also sounded like it had potential to be a deliciously balanced creation. So, I took a chance on it.
The Manchego Burger features a beef patty topped with Manchego cheese, serrano tomato jam, caramelized onion, charred green onion aioli and Bibb lettuce on a sesame seed bun. It’s served with house fries and pickles ($14).
The Manchego Burger was a fairly good looking choice. Its glossy bun was intriguingly doppled with both black and white sesame seeds. The thick burger cloaked in melted Manchego with peeks of serrano tomato jam and a crisp bed of light green Bibb lettuce beneath. The remainder of the plate was filled with crisp flat-cut fries and housemade pickles, sliced decoratively alongside.
The seeded bun looked lovely thanks to both its sheen and the duo of sesame seeds which were scattered on top. Inside it was beautifully toasted, with a browned interior that was evident edge to edge. Its texture was soft and fresh, and it just made the cut with regard to the bread to meat ratio, thanks to the burger’s substantial size. Its one flaw? The sesame seeds weren’t adequately adhered to the bun, so they migrated to my fingers, my plate (and virtually everywhere else) when I picked it up.
The beef patty was uniformly shaped with grill marks on either side and a doneness level that was right around medium-well. Fortunately, the meat itself was juicy with a solid fat content that gave the burger a pleasant texture that wasn’t a hint dry. It was also notably seasoned on the exterior, a quality that underscored its mild-but-beefy flavor and provided a foil for the sweet peppery serrano tomato jam.
As for the toppings, they offered a salty-sweet combination that balanced nicely against the burger. The Manchego was expectedly salty and there was enough cheese that it was evident in each bite. The serrano tomato jam didn’t harbor any heat from the peppers; but you could taste both the pepper and tomato against the jam’s subtle sweetness. It made a nice stand-in for ketchup alongside the soft caramelized onions.
Beneath the burger, the charred scallion aioli offered both a bit of creaminess and a pleasant green onion flavor, while the chopped Bibb lettuce offered a bit of texture and freshness to the compilation. It was a tasty combination of potentially overcomplicated, but inherently complementary, ingredients.
Value isn’t simply a matter of price. In the case of this burger, it included numerous elements that took time and effort to make, along with a keen palate to pull together. Combined with the higher costs of meat we’re seeing these days, this burger came well prepared and more than fairly priced.
The Manchego Burger is a nice departure from the usual with a combination of unique, housemade toppings that work remarkably well together.
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.