Rapid Review: Van Buren's Whiskey Bar and Grill
For the ninth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, dining guides, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as voting for your "Best of Dining 2015."
Van Buren's Whiskey Bar And Grill
1682 N. Van Buren St.
If you're looking for a relaxed bar to watch the game, Van Buren's Whiskey Bar and Grill might just be your scene. Happy hour runs from 3 to 8 p.m., offering plenty of time to take advantage of two-for-one taps and 25 percent off appetizers. The self-proclaimed "whiskey bar" sports a decent list of mid-range bourbons and whiskeys, including names like George Dickel, Buffalo Trace and Bulleit, the usual Irish suspects and a decent selection of Scotch; so, it's not a bad spot to grab a glass for sipping. But, despite a list of "gourmet" burgers featuring wild game options like ostrich, elk and bison, there are definitely better spots to get your burger on.
Type of food: Burgers and bar nibbles
Prices: $6.95-10.95 for entrees; $5.95-7.49 for appetizers
Vegetarian friendly? No.
Hours: Monday through Friday 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday 3 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.; Saturday noon to 2:30 a.m. and. Sunday from noon to 9 p.m.
Parking: Limited street parking along Van Buren
Vibe/dress: Super casual. The space, which showcases an oblong bar and small grill at its center, is filled with flat screen TVs and video poker machines. Booths and pub tables augment about 15 barside seats.
Hits: The bartender was friendly and attentive, right down to bringing us the second of our two-for-one draft beers (a benefit of happy hour, which lasts until 8 p.m. daily) as soon as she saw our glasses nearing empty.
Pretzel bites, which were served with a definitively spicy nacho-cheese style beer cheese sauce, were just fine. They'd be great to nibble alongside a beer or cocktail.
The tater tots that came with our burgers were also crisp and delicious, making us wonder if we should have opted for the "loaded tots" on the appetizer menu.
Misses: The burgers, which set the bar high in terms of their menu descriptions (read: ⅓ pound elk, glazed with sweet bourbon sauce. Topped with thick cut bacon, Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, buttercrunch lettuce and tomato, served on fresh baked brioche bun), failed to meet muster. The elk, which we ordered medium rare, came out medium to medium well, topped with limp bacon and fried (not caramelized) onions, a crisp piece of lettuce and a thick slice of (unfortunately anemic) tomato. We didn't catch even a hint of bourbon glaze on the burger, and "fresh baked" was a bit of an oversell on the bun which, while it was a fine brioche bun, didn't ring any particular bells.
We met with similar disappointment with the "Presidential" burger, reported to be the most popular on the menu. The burger – which stood tall with toppings – sported thin tasteless beef patties (also not cooked as ordered), a thin smear of peanut butter, cheese, lettuce and a large tomato slab. The fried egg, which was cooked just enough to provide a bit of runny yolk to moisten the burger, may have been the highlight of the sandwich.
The housemade empanadas were also a miss – featuring a crisp but greasy exterior and relatively basic fillings. They were served with a fresh tasting vinegar-based salsa; but even that wasn't quite enough to make the savory pastries much more than average.
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