On the (Veggie) Burger Trail: The Vedge at Cafe Hollander
During the month of January, Lori Fredrich will be making some special stops on the burger trail to find the latest, greatest and most delicious veggie burgers in Milwaukee. The criteria for presentation, bun, toppings and value will remain consistent with those established for the Burger Trail; but the veggie burgers themselves will be rated on the basis of overall quality, flavor, texture and preparation.
7677 W. State St., Wauwatosa, (414) 475-6771
2608 N. Downer Ave., (414) 963-6366
20150 Union St., Brookfield, (262) 785-4490
5900 W. Mequon Rd., Mequon, (262) 236-0107
As I ventured into January, I made the decision to feature a number of vegetable-based burgers in the Burger Trail series. I did so not only because I'm aware that more diners are choosing plant-based proteins (and because I enjoy them myself), but because I really wanted to explore the options that were available. I also had an additional motivation: I wanted to see if the vegetable options presented were truly worthy or if they were simply paying lip service to the notion of plant-centric fare. Along the way, I've found some of both.
For this veggie burger venture, I opted for a locally owned multi-unit restaurant with accessible locations across the city (and beyond): Cafe Hollander. And I did so because it does a fair job of accommodating both vegan and vegetarian diners with options that are on-par with the remainder of their food. I went to the East Side location on Downer, but the burger I reviewed is available at all Hollander locations.
It pays to note that the housemade pistachio beluga lentil patty can actually be substituted for a beef-based burger on any one of the burgers (something I might try on another occasion), but I decided to go with the featured veggie burger, The Vedge. My philosophy: this burger was actually created as a vegetable-based burger, so it's more likely to exhibit a cohesive, thoughtful flavor profile than any of the others (which were created with a beef burger in mind).
The Vedge features a housemade pistachio beluga lentil patty topped with roasted smoked beets, chipotle aioli, Roma tomatoes, organic arugula and crispy bbq onions ($12.95).
This wasn't the prettiest veggie burger upon which I'd ever laid eyes; the beautiful green arugula was buried under the dark, lentil-studded patty, and the deeply colored beet slices did little to enhance the look of the breaded fried onions. I didn't spy tomato at all. At first glance, it reminded me somewhat of the health food dishes I was subjected to as a child in the early '80s, virtually none of which were particularly visually appealing. More than anything, the appearance of the burger made me curious about how it tasted – which is something. After all, as experience has taught me, it's often a mistake to judge a dish strictly on its looks.
The bun, on the other hand, looked good. It was soft and glossy and possessed a nicely crisped interior (as all burger buns should). As for flavor, it was clean and yeasty as can be expected from a quality bakery bun. Its size was also appropriate, as it didn't overwhelm the burger.
The burger itself was tasty. The lentils brought a deep earthiness to the table and the pistachios lent a sweet nuttiness. Best of all, the burger was firm and stayed together exceptionally well. Someone definitely put a good amount of time and energy into developing the recipe, and I appreciated that. In fact, the only fault the burger possessed is that it was slightly dry. It definitely needed toppings to bring out its full potential.
The toppings, overall, offered nice balance. The beets were sweet and ever-so-slightly smoky, and they contributed both good texture, a bit of moisture, and flavor. The arugula was also fresh and plentiful. It offered a nice peppery bite and a pop of green flavor that perked things up.
The onions were more delicious than they looked and gave the burger a nice bit of crunch. Texture is always valuable, and in this case, it was a nice touch. Sadly, I never found the tomatoes, which would have offered both a bit of acid and additional moisture.
Despite its more positive attributes, I found the burger to be short on sauce. In fact, I found it difficult to locate the sauce (though, assuredly, it was there). Some had soaked into the onions; but there wasn't enough to add a significant amount of flavor, nor any significant level of creamy (maybe even slightly spicy) goodness.
In fact, as I contemplated this fact, it occurred to me that every burger – meatful or meatless – should give the diner the satisfaction of having indulged in something deliciously messy. This burger could've used more of that.
Despite any criticisms, I'd order this burger again (probably with a side of extra sauce). It was thoughtful and balanced in terms of composition, and the burger itself was a good protein-packed example of what a veggie burger can be. It was also fairly priced for the amount of effort that went into its creation.
The Vedge burger at Hollander is definitely solid; and with a few tweaks, it would be a great one.
Cafe Hollander on Downer is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to midnight (closing times vary slightly by location, so double check before you go).
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