By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 06, 2009 at 11:33 AM's ongoing "Take the Milwaukee Challenge" series takes on a plethora of locally-made products, everything from custard and coffee to wine and water (Milwaukee vs. Waukesha).

But each time summer comes around, we like to put the various components of a backyard barbecue to the test. A few years ago we pitted Klement's against Usinger's in the grilled brat department. Then we tackled side snacks and compared El Rey chips and salsa to Manny's.

In this latest segment, we're going veggie. We've all had our share of Boca or Gardenburgers, and we wanted to see how they stacked up to the chef-prepared vegan barbecue burger found in the deli case this time of year at Whole Foods Market.

Molly Snyder Edler
Staff Writer
Pick: Whole Foods burger

I have probably eaten 1,000 veggie burgers in my life, and almost all of them came out of a box. When I saw the Boca burgers and Gardenburgers in this challenge, I was certain I was going to choose one of these old faithfuls, however, I was blown away by the flavor and taste of the Whole Foods' vegan barbeque burger.

Originally, I was skeptical, thinking it was going to be dry because it is a very thick, chunky patty. However, the burger was actually very moist and flavorful, and tasted especially delicious when smothered with condiments. This vegetarian burger is a great choice for grilling because of its heartiness.

In short, don't let the "healthy" appearance of this vegan burger scare you off -- it has visible quinoa and carrot bits -- because the taste, moisture and bulk make for a very satisfying sandwich. Just don't compare it to a meat burger because that's an apples-and-oranges comparison.

Julie Lawrence
Staff Writer
Pick: Whole Foods burger

After all these years, I think I have finally figured out the bulk of commercial veggie burgers' fatal flaw: they're trying to be something they'll never, ever be. It's not that I don't think Boca or Gardenburger taste good for what they are; it's that I think they could be so much better if they dropped the inferiority complex and quit trying to be a beef patty.

When it comes to the art of the classic hamburger, any beef burger lover will attest, poor imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery. (Note: those fake grill marks aren't scoring points with anybody.)

This is the number one reason why Whole Foods' chef prepared barbecue burger wins this challenge. It wasn't trying to be something it wasn't. To me, my preference was shaped less by preconceived notions of what a "burger" should be and more on, shall we say, interestingness. If you've had one brand of frozen soy patty, you've pretty much had them all. They're good, not great, but they get the job done in grilling season. But the ones Whole Foods prepared were thick, dense and packed with quinoa, wheat, vegetables and spice. In a word: satisfying, which is more than I can say for those slim little Boca burgers.

And honestly, that's one of my main criteria when eating dinner -- I don't want to be hungry when I'm done. And if I continue to grill the ones in the Whole Foods deli case ($1.49 each), I don't think it'll be a problem.

Maureen Post
Staff Writer
Pick: Whole Foods burger

As an eater of meats, I opt for the vegetarian or vegan alternative more often than you'd expect and I honestly thought I'd be partial to the Boca burger. The vegetarian burger is a staple in my freezer, and although the vegan version isn't particularly my choice, I like their thin, mildly seasoned soy patties. It's not a hamburger but it's an easy, healthy alternative. But I have to say our taste test proved me wrong.

I initially worried Whole Foods' thick, coarse patty would be dry; the 1.5-in. burger was visibly stuffed with coarse quinoa and whole grains. But it wasn't at all. Did it taste like a beef patty? No. But, unlike the pre-packaged soy counterparts, it actually felt like a burger. Hefty on the bun, the Whole Foods vegan burger was the proper balance of grain and bean. Neither crumbly nor chewy, the burger took on the texture of meat and adapted the smoky flavor of a hot grill.

Made fresh and never frozen was another added bonus. When tasted side by side, I could all of a sudden detect the frozen flavor in the Gardenburger and Boca versions. The Whole Foods vegan burger held up far better than the other two and I'd definitely go back for more.

Bobby Tanzilo
Managing Editor
Pick: Whole Foods burger

I'm not a vegetarian so I have a hard time imagining myself choosing any of these over an actual hamburger (although I do love the ostrich burger at Hooligan's). If I want a burger, I eat one. If I don't, I eat something else. I wouldn't likely choose an imitation of a burger. However, of the three, the Whole Foods example was the most satisfying, with a good flavor that doesn't attempt to mimic beef. It's clearly got bits of carrots and other vegetables and boasts a nice hearty size and shape.

Unlike the Boca burger, it's also pretty moist -- although the Gardenburger isn't nearly as dry as the Boca, either. Both the Boca and Gardenburger examples are flat and mass produced-looking (because, of course, they are mass produced) and get lost on the bun. Add to that the fact that the toppings overpower their flavor and they end up seeming pretty insignificant in comparison with the weighty, flavorful fresh burger made the Whole Foods chefs.

Andy Tarnoff
Pick: Whole Foods burger

I definitely don't dislike veggie burgers, though I rarely seek them out. While I'm not a vegetarian, for many reasons, I wish I was, and I have no problem eating veggie burgers when presented with them. Thing is, there are few things I enjoy more than a great beef hamburger, and every store-bought, frozen veggie burger simply pales in comparison to the real deal.

That's why it's important to judge veggie burgers on their own merits -- nothing will ever compare to the taste of an actual hamburger. Both the Gardenburger and Boca products tasted bland to me; not offensive, but certainly not anything to get excited about. Not surprisingly, the Whole Foods offering blew them both away. Again, it didn't taste like a real burger, but at least it tasted interesting. Hints of soy sauce and spice, plus an interesting texture, made the vegan barbecue burger taste substantial. I still found it slightly bland, but with a little salt, a pickle, some onions and mustard (and on a great bun), this is something I'd actually buy on occasion.

Was Whole Foods' offering the best veggie burger I've ever had? Yes. Does it compare to an average hamburger? No. But it's healthier and totally guilt-free for this reluctant carnivore. And that's good enough for me to include it in my next tailgate party of backyard barbecue.