On the Burger Trail: The Smashburger at Eagle Park Brewing Co.
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.
Eagle Park Brewing Co.
823 E. Hamilton St.
You can tell that a city has a healthy craft beer scene when there's a healthy mix of breweries including some dedicated to creating solid, well-executed classic beer styles, others who explore the boundaries of genres, and still others that push the limits in ways that challenge both the palate and the industry.
You'll find some of the latter at Eagle Park, a brewery that keeps up with trends like hazy New England IPAs and dabbles in emerging styles like milkshake IPA's.
Fittingly, it also offers a menu of amped up bar fare, created by Chef Nathan Heck, featuring accessible bites that push the envelope a bit in terms of flavor. Options include fried cheese curds, Brazilian cheese bread and tea marinated, hop smoked wings. There are also sandwiches including buffalo curry chicken, smoked pork and three burgers, including the Smashburger, which features a ⅓-pound ground chuck patty, caramelized onions, house-cured bacon, Hook's 5-year cheddar, mixed pickles, pickled mustard seeds, arugula, tomato, garlic mayo and a portion of karate chopped (handcut) fries ($13).
This burger offers up a nice initial showing, packed into a small lined tray with a generous portion of fries. You get glimpses of the burger itself, covered in nicely melted cheese and a thick-cut slice of housemade bacon. On top you've got a glossy ruby-colored tomato slice topped with a mound of caviar-esque pile of pickled mustard seeds.
First, the good: this bun is made right on site, something you'll only find at a handful of places around town. It's got a nice golden color and a very soft, almost spongy texture that reminds me vaguely of a pork bun. It's also nicely toasted, creating a nice contrasting texture and – ideally – a bit of protection from sogginess.
Beyond that, the bun struggles quite a bit. The bottom half, in particular, takes a beating from the juices of the burger, rendering it quite mushy. Meanwhile, the spongy texture of the bun gets compacted over the course of the meal, rendering the bun a bit more doughy than might be optimal.
The burger itself is a bit unique. While there's plentiful evidence that this patty was cooked in the traditional smash burger style (including an irregular shape and a nicely caramelized exterior), it's also one-third of a pound, meaning it's thicker than the usual quarter-pound (or less) smashed patty. So you get the juiciness and texture of a thicker burger and even a bit of pink in the center. As for flavor, it was big and beefy and nicely seasoned.
On the toppings side, there's quite a bit going on, from the textural (and slightly spicy) pop of the pickled mustard seeds to the chewy crispness of the bacon. And the burger gets points for the effort put into each. The tomato was fresh and bright. The house-cured bacon is thick and salty with a nice smoky funk. Even the five year cheddar is a good choice here, which offers a slight bit of sharpness. Meanwhile, the pickles offered a nice pop of acid against the richness of the bacon and burger. My one disappointment was was in the onions – which, in my case – were pickled, rather than the caramelized onions the menu promised. I can't be sure, but I think the burger would have benefited from both the sweetness and rich umami flavor that comes with a good caramelized onion.
The price on this burger ($13) is more than fair when you consider the amount of work (and time) that went into creating each individual component, from the house-made bun and house-cured bacon to the aioli and pickles.
If you're torn between the thin crispness of a smash burger and the thicker juiciness of a more substantial patty, the burger at Eagle Park might just be for you.
Eagle Park Brewing Co. is open Monday through Thursday from 3 to 10 p.m., Friday from 3 p.m. to midnight, Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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