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.
Kam’s Thistle & Shamrock
3430 N. 84th St.
Despite its Celtic theme, the atmosphere at Kam’s Thistle & Shamrock always reminds me a bit of a Northwoods tavern. The building is a maze of additions and augmentations. The bar always seems to be filled with friendly neighborhood folks, and the food is still made from scratch.
Kam’s is a top spot on my short list of the best area fish fries, and for good reason. Despite their massive list of fish choices (over 20, at this point, including standard players along with increasingly rare finds rarities like Northern pike, smelt, sauger and wahoo), each fish is hand-breaded and cooked to order, along with housemade potato pancakes and cole slaw.
Fish fry fans will be interested to note that they currently serve their fish fry every day. They also have daily specials including Tuesday tacos, ribs and chicken on Wednesday and Friday nights and Italian specialties on Thursdays.
The regular Kam’s menu also happens to feature four burgers: a signature cheeseburger, a patty melt, a Reuben burger and the Morning Scotty which is topped with American cheese, sauteed mushrooms, caramelized onions and a fried egg. I could have been happy with any one of them; but in the end, I felt pretty good about sticking to the basics.
The Thistle Cheeseburger starts with a one-third pound fresh ground steak patty that’s grilled to order, topped with your choice of cheese (American, cheddar, Swiss, blue, provolone, mozzarella, pepper jack and ghost pepper jack) and served on a buttered brioche bun ($7.95). From there, you can add lettuce, tomato and/or onion for $0.25 each (I opted for all three). The burger is served with housemade "Thistle Chips" and dip, which is what I had; but you can substitute crinkle-cut fries for $1.50.
The Thistle is a nice looking burger. It’s bun is shiny and tall with a shiny top and a bit more caramelization where the egg wash had been applied to the top. The burger beneath was glistening with fat and cloaked with nicely melted American cheese. Beside it sat a good portion of ultra crisp chips and showy slices of red onion, tomato and iceberg lettuce. The photo is somewhat deceiving (it makes the burger look smaller than it really is); but the burger is also fairly average in size.
I really liked the bun. The interior was soft, as brioche should be; but its crust had a bit more chew than average, giving it a pleasant bakery-style chewiness. It was also nicely buttered and toasted, giving it a crisp finish on the inside. It was well sized, so it held all the burger’s components together well, even after I added the lettuce, tomato and a bit of onion to the mix.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Beef that’s been treated and cooked well is the heart of any stellar burger. And this burger was pretty darned delicious. It was pleasantly fatty and packed loosely (just enough to keep it together), giving it an ultra tender mouthfeel. It’s exterior didn’t really exhibit much crispness from the grill; but the meat was well seasoned with a reasonably robust flavor. It was juicy and flavorful enough that it didn’t need a single condiment to boost its flavor or moisture content.
The cheese was generously applied (two slices) and nicely melted. The lettuce was crisp and fresh, the onion sliced thinly enough and the tomato fresh enough. Even better, the componants worked together to create that classic bar burger flavor.
The only fault I could find is that it was missing the slight pop of acid needed to give it some balance against the fattiness. It’s the sort of burger that would have benefited from a few slices of pickle or even a judicious swath of burger sauce.
You can’t beat a bar with great bar food. And a bar with great bar food that’s also affordable is a true gem these days. But that’s what you’ll find at Kam’s. In this case, it was a great bun filled with tasty beef, fresh toppings and nicely melted cheese for just over $8.
Pro tip: If you read down this far, you deserve to know that the value on this burger gets borderline ridiculous on Saturdays when cheeseburgers are just $2.50 until 3 p.m.
Kam’s Thistle & Shamrock has a number of delicious burgers on their menu. And even the most basic of them all is well worth the eating.
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.