By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Jan 18, 2021 at 11:01 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

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

Wild Roots
6807 W. Becher St., (414) 231-9081
wildrootsmke.com

When Wild Roots opened in spring of 2019, it stood among a series of openings that contributed  to the growth of an increasingly diverse West Allis food scene. Led by veteran chef Thi Cao, the restaurant brought together not only Cao’s varied kitchen experiences, but his respect for nature and support – not only for locally sourced products – but wild game and foraged edibles.

All of those things shine clearly on the Wild Roots menu, which currently showcases a broad range of influences through dishes like chili, ginger, lemongrass and coconut scented mussels; boar schnitzel and Osteria’s Carbonara, a dish Cao carried over from his time as executive chef at the late Osteria del Mondo.

But diners get more if they follow Wild Roots on social media, where the restaurant posts regular palate-stretching specials, which have ranged from pork belly bahn mi and tacos to grilled octopus and delectable “nasty bits” like sauteed sweetbreads, marinated beef heart and fried prairie oyster tacos.

During the pandemic, the restaurant also made a splash with weekly burger specials, along with staples like the Wild Roots signature Smashed Burger (beef brisket patty, herbed goat cheese, lettuce and tomatoes). Currently, they are also featuring the “Duck Fat Burger” on both their regular lunch and dinner menus.  And yes, if you put “duck fat” in the name of your burger, I’m going to be intrigued.

The Duck Fat Burger features a house-ground beef brisket patty, American cheese, Wild Roots thousand island sauce and sautéed onions. Pricing is $11 at lunch (fries or salad can be added for an additional $3) or $15 at dinner with a choice of seasoned fries or salad.

Wild Roots Duck Fat BurgerX

Presentation: 10

The burger and fries came packaged with a side of ketchup in a recyclable plastic container that transported well, with minimal disturbance to the burger.

In the end, it arrived hot and in good shape, plating up with little effort. In fact, as I dove in to take the burger’s glamour shot, I was rather impressed by its appearance -- from its near perfectly shaped bun to the layers of cheese, onions and sauce which cascaded gently over the burger patty. 

Bread/Bun: 10 

The soft, sesame seed-studded bun was exceedingly airy and nicely flavored. It was also beautifully toasted on both sides, sporting a gentle golden brown color in the middle that grew darker towards the edges. Despite its soft texture, it was sturdy enough to support the burger, absorbing its rich juices without getting soggy and offering a spot-on bun to meat ratio.

Burger: 10

The expectations were high on this burger: first because house-ground meat should be superior  to its pre-ground counterparts (however customized); but also because it was fried in duck fat, an element that – when used well – has the potential to not only offer up a crisp exterior (thanks to its high smoke point), but also a rich, silky mouthfeel and complex flavor profile.

That said, this burger did not disappoint on either of those counts. The patty, which was probably somewhere around a half-inch thick, was cooked on the rarer side of medium (always a plus, in my book). It showcased a beautiful exterior crust and an amazingly juicy, loosely-packed interior that was also unmistakably beefy, likely thanks to its composition of 100% brisket. That beefiness was compounded by deft seasoning, including a hint of black pepper, and augmented by a perfectly fatty mouthfeel that made it a pleasure to eat, both with and without its toppings. Honestly,  I’ve not had such a well-flavored burger in quite some time.

Toppings: 9

As for the toppings, they were classically complementary. The cheese was impeccably melted, offering the classic umami flavor that only American cheese has. The onions were sweet in flavor, sauteed until tender and brown and smartly placed atop the cheese, which held them in place. In fact, the only chink in their armour was that they were applied a bit unevenly, so half of my burger had them and the other half didn’t.  

All was topped with a sweet and tangy housemade sauce that truly pulled everything into balance while offering up the flavors you’d expect in a classic burgers sauce.

Value: 10

I’m not sure how you could regret spending $11 on this burger. It was well-prepared (from its balanced composition to its level of doneness) using high quality, nicely flavored beef and top notch ingredients. Someone took time with this burger, and it shows.

Total: 49/50

Duck fat alone does not a great burger make, but in this case it added to what was already a stellar creation.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

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.