On the Burger Trail: The burger at Birch + Butcher
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.
Birch + Butcher
459 E. Pleasant St.
If you appreciate the nuanced flavors offered up by hearth-fired cooking, you're sure to appreciate Birch + Butcher, where any number of ingredients and dishes – from breads and vegetables to meats – are treated to smoking or roasting over a hot wood fire. And it's a must-try for folks who can appreciate a well-executed meal.
Of course, there are ways to sample the restaurant in small doses. Brunch gives diners a good sense of the restaurant with dishes like pulled pork shoulder served over rustic polenta with egg and hollandaise or the unbeatable steak and eggs. There's also happy hour, which takes place from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday. While you won't be able to sample the full breadth of the offerings, you'll be treated to $5 pricing on select beer and house wines, a daily sausage plate; a burger; or a plate of stand-out cornbread and cultured butter There's also a three-piece charcuterie and cheese plate for $14.
Much like the remainder of the restaurant's menu, their happy hour burger is no slouch. It features a housemade brioche-style bun (made dark by the choice of flour), two beef patties, caramelized onions, housemade beet ketchup, thick cut house bacon and Widmer's cheese spread ($5). A big bowl of Birch + Butcher's amazing pork fat fried smoked potatoes will set you back by $10, but it's enough to share; plus the cracked potatoes are creamy on the inside, ultra crisp on the exterior, slightly smoky and super flavorful. They come with chili aioli for dipping.
Pro tip: If you prefer, a version of the burger is also on the menu during Sunday brunch when it's served complete with a side of potatoes for $12.
The strikingly dark bun is likely the first thing you'll notice about the Birch + Butcher burger, which also cradles two beef sirloin patties, visibly dark housemade bacon and a trail of deeply caramelized onions. Also visible is a generous portion of swiftly melting cheese spread, which oozes from between the patties.
This dark, handsome bun may not look anything like what you think of when you envision brioche (I'm with you there); but it's beautifully pillowy and just as full of flavor from the addition of butter and milk as any other brioche you'll find. In my book, that just means points for creativity … and for the time and effort it takes to bother with making all the bread served at the restaurant. Beyond that, the bun is well buttered and nicely toasted, just as any good burger bun should be.
Quality beef that's been treated and cooked well is the heart of any stellar burger. And, at a place like Birch + Butcher where freshly cut meats are part of the day-to-day, it makes sense that the burger meat is A-plus. In this particular case, the patties are made with freshly ground sirloin, so it has a nice beefy flavor. It's loosely packed enough that it retains both a healthy amount of fat and a tender texture.
The beauty of toppings is how they work together to highlight and enhance the flavor of the burger. In the case of the Birch + Butcher burger, each component adds a new layer of flavor. Even better, the ingredients all exhibit the necessary time and attention needed to place them solidly above average.
Caramelized onions are deep and dark with the telltale color, texture and umami of true caramelization. Meanwhile, the beet ketchup is sweet and sour, offering much of the benefit of regular ketchup. Paired with the caramelized onions, the flavor also takes on a more sophisticated bent, almost reminiscent of a red wine onion jam. It's lovely.
The Birch + Butcher bacon is thickly sliced with a slightly sweet, smokey flavor and exceptional texture. It adds to the meatiness of the sandwich on the whole, as well as reinforcing a smoky character.
Meanwhile the Widmer's cheese spread harbors a nice sharp cheese flavor. It's ultra creamy, so it melts into the cracks and crevices of the burger, offering each bite a bit of flavor.
At $5, this is the likely best burger deal in the city when you consider the combination of quality and price. Even at $12 during brunch (with potatoes), it would be tough to argue against the value here.
The Birch + Butcher burger is truly a stand-out.
Birch + Butcher is open Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (dinner service beginning at 5 p.m.), Friday and Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (dinner service beginning at 5 p.m.),and Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Brunch is offered both Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Happy hour takes place Monday through Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.
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