My friend, Bob Kelly, married a local Milwaukee girl, Kasey Lussier, on Memorial Day weekend in South Milwaukee. Most of the out of town wedding guests spent the long weekend in downtown Milwaukee. We only stayed one night as we flew out to go on vacation to Savannah the day after their wedding. Upon arrival into our room, there was a care package of goodies along with a note from Bob and Kasey thanking us for attending their wedding. And one of the other things that was in the care package was a list of their favorite restaurants in the Milwaukee area. One that they listed for having a great burger was Sobleman's Pub and Grill. (Picture courtesy Emily Johnson Photography.)
When I was in Milwaukee earlier this summer, I had time to have lunch at Sobleman's. Although it's close to Marquette University, I found it was rather tough to find (see map). But it's worth the trip once you get there. Not only for the burgers, but for the history of the building in which Sobleman's is housed.
Back in the late 1800's, local breweries would build their own bars in which to dispense their freshly brewed beers to the masses. One such place was the building in which Sobleman's is housed today. The building has been used on and off over the years as a bar/restaurant and has housed Sobleman's since 1999. It was originally known as The Cream City Tap and I was told some of the older locals still refer to it as "The Cream City" or "The City Tap".
Dave Sobleman was working at a restaurant in 1993 when he met his future wife, Melanie, who was a waitress. It was love at first sight for Dave and Melanie. They were quickly married and started a family that consists of two daughters. The owner of the restaurant where Dave and Melanie worked wanted to start slowing down, so he offered to sell the Sobleman's a bar/restaurant in the industrial Menominee River Valley west of downtown Milwaukee. Dave and Melanie, who had no culinary experience other than working in the restaurant, jumped at the chance to run their own place.
Dave decided to focus on one thing and one thing only - good burgers. He used fresh - never frozen - Black Angus meat exclusively, grilling the burgers to give them a distinctive taste. Soft, fresh baked butter buns are used to hold the burgers. And then they top them with a variety of items from grilled onions to jalapenos.
The menu at Sobleman's is pretty basic. They offer 12 different types of burgers to choose from. They also offer some chicken breast sandwiches and grilled ham and cheese for the people who don't do burgers. There are some other sandwiches, but that's it. Dave Sobleman once said that he tried to expand the menu to include other sandwiches, like reubens. But he found that he couldn't do it right, so he shit-canned the expanded menu after two weeks. He stuck to what he knew - making great burgers for the lunch time crowd. Today, he serves up over 100 burgers to patrons who come in for lunch. His "to-go" business is also flourishing so much that he recently installed a second grill to keep up with those carryout orders.
In 2007, Dave Sobleman finally got the recognition he was after. An on line poll by readers of On Milwaukee, an internet magazine, named Sobleman's featured burger - the Sobleman Burger - as the best burger in Milwaukee. That's quite an accomplishment in a city where there are some pretty damn good burgers, including Solly's - one of my all-time favorite burgers.
I got to Sobleman's just after 1 p.m. on a weekday. There's a small parking lot on the east side of the building that was full, and parking up and down St. Paul Ave. was jammed. I parked about a block away and walked down to the place. It was understandably packed. The small bar was full, all the tables inside were full. There were places to sit outside, but the weather was rather cool for a mid-summer day and it was spitting rain, as well. I waited for about five minutes before a table opened up next to the bar.
A waitress came over and asked me what I'd like to drink as I looked through the menu. I ordered up a Miller High Life (Hey, I'm in Milwaukee!) and decided to get their signature Sobleman Burger. The Sobleman Burger is an 6 oz. Black Angus patty topped with cheddar, Swiss and American cheeses, hickory smoked bacon, then finished off with a mixture of freshly grilled onions and jalapenos. A side of fries came with the burger.
It was easy to figure out who Dave Sobleman was. He was the middle-aged guy whirling feverishly around the bar area, helping clear tables, asking people if they needed anything, orchestrating the busy lunch time business. He stopped at my table after I finished my beer and asked me if I wanted another one. Sure, you bet. I was having a good time watching the Milwaukee Brewers play an afternoon game on television. And right next to one of the TV's was a closed-circuit monitor showing a couple dozen burgers being grilled in the kitchen. I'm not certain I've ever been in a restaurant where you can actually watch them grill the food on a television.
My Sobleman Burger showed up soon thereafter and from the first bite I knew I'd found a great burger. The burger had a great taste to it and was very juicy. The three cheese toppings, along with the bacon, onions and jalapenos were a perfect complement to the meat. They didn't overpower the taste of the burger, nor did they detract from the taste. And I'm also a big proponent of the school of thought that what makes a good burger is a good bun. The Sobleman Burger bun was light and flaky, not too dry, but not so light that it became soppy and literally fell apart from the juiciness coming from the burger.
Fries came with the burger and while I'm not eating many potatoes these days, I did give them a try. They were light and fluffy, yet crisp. They had a great potato taste to them, something that usually gets cooked out of the fries during the frying process.
It's my understanding that Dave and Melanie Sobleman are opening a new restaurant that will feature burgers that are made from Tallgrass Beef - range free beef from a ranch that news reporter/documentary host Bill Kurtis owns down in Kansas. The new restaurant is not designed to be another Sobleman's Bar and Grill. It will be a new concept, all together. I've had a Tallgrass steak before at Harry Caray's in Chicago. Some people rave about Tall Grass beef. I think it's good, not great. But it would be interesting to see what a burger made from Tallgrass Beef tastes like.
The Sobleman Burger was delicious. It was very good. It definitely gave Solly's a run for their money as one of the best burgers I'd had in the greater Milwaukee area. And the atmosphere is fun. A little too crowded for my taste, but still one that is vibrant and zesty - sort of like a Sobleman Burger! I'll definitely have to thank Bob and Kasey for the tip on Sobleman's.