On the Burger Trail: The Wisconsin Mac Burger at the Wisconsin State Fair
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.
Miller Lite Sports Bar & Grill
Wisconsin State Fair Park
Grandstand Avenue & Second Street
We're in the throes of the Wisconsin State Fair. So, it only seemed right to take a swift right on the Burger Trail to try out a burger at this yearly celebration of Wisconsin agriculture, food and culture.
This year I took an unusual approach in choosing the burger to review. First, I identified three unique burgers offered by vendors at the Fair. Then, I conducted surveys on both Instagram and Facebook, asking readers which burger they'd like to see reviewed. Both surveys offered the same result: The Wisconsin Mac Burger it was.
The Wisconsin Mac Burger isn't new. It's been on the menu at the Fair for at least 8 years. And – as the menu board proclaims – has been featured on Travel Channel.
Despite its longevity and television appearance, I've learned to moderate my expectations surrounding the burgers served at festivals, where most vendors are dealing with high volume operations and often limited kitchen facilities. But I'm also cognizent that fair-goers (and consumers, in general) are increasingly interested in getting the best value for their hard-earned dollars. Sometimes it tough. Not every burger performs well.
Such was the case with the Wisconsin Mac Burger, which is described as follows: "Burger served on a butter bun, topped with deep-fried mac & cheese and bacon." The burger is $9.50.
I turned this burger around a few times to determine if it had a good side. I photographed it from three or four angles, finally settling on an angle that gave a relatively clear view of the burger and toppings. Even then, most of the burger's flaws were apparent. "That meat looks questionable," someone remarked after seeing the photo on Instagram. I couldn't disagree.
Burger patties are important. But buns can make or break an otherwise great burger. In this case, the butter bun – made by Grebe's Bakery – was pretty much perfect. It was soft and sweet with a nice texture. It was also well sized for the burger. Nicely done, Grebe's!
I doubt most people pull apart their burger just to analyze the appearance, texture and flavor of the patty. But, for the purpose of this series, it's a necessity. In this case, I found a tightly molded patty with a distinctly scalloped edge. It was slightly grey in color. Its texture was spongey and there was something off-putting about its flavor (it wasn't spoiled, just not at all the juicy beefy experience you'd expect). A bit too much iron; almost a processed mouthfeel. Edible, but not enjoyable, at least not until I covered it with every available condiment (onion, ketchup and mustard).
I know why this burger was disappointing. It was undoubtedly a pre-cooked frozen patty. It's a cheap, easy solution for high volume restaurants that want ease of preparation (cook from frozen on a flat-top, in a convection oven or microwave). Because it's pre-cooked, it results in minimal shrinkage, requires minimal skill on the part of the individual cooking, and it reduces food safety concerns. The patties are also cheap, averaging about $1 each.
But, because it's pre-cooked, it has virtually none of the elements that make eating a burger enjoyable. It's not juicy. There's no delicious beef fat to give it a pleasing mouthfeel. Its texture is compromised. And its flavor is lacking. This, I'm afraid, was that burger.
Let's start with the good. The American cheese was nicely melted over the top of the patty, and its flavor helped to conjure the taste memory that registers "cheeseburger" in most people's minds.
Beyond that, there were quality issues. The bacon was thin – almost transparent – and virtually flavorless, albeit some salt. It was crisp, but also sparse. A double portion might have covered the burger; the amount served was barely enough to flavor half.
Meanwhile, the deep-fried mac & cheese – which I somehow envisioned would be in patty-form – took the form of two processed nuggets, shaped much like a McDonald's chicken nugget and about the same size. The interior was creamy and tasted quite like macaroni and cheese. But the exterior was firm, giving it a tough exterior layer that was difficult to bite through cleanly.
Since the nuggets didn't cover the breadth of the patty, I'd venture to say that at least half of the bites taken from this burger were devoid of the burger's namesake ingredient: the mac.
Food at the State Fair isn't known for being particularly affordable. So I took that into consideration as I contemplated the value of this particular burger. At $9.50, this burger is on the pricier side, especially since it's served a la carte. Factor in the flavor, texture and quality and it falls well below average.
Wisconsin State Fair is filled with so many enjoyable things to eat, it would be a shame to waste a meal on this particular burger.
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