A place I've been wanting to check out over the past couple of years has been a new-ish burger place in Milwaukee by the named of Stack'd Burger Bar. Opened in July of 2009 and located just south of downtown Milwaukee in the Walker's Point neighborhood (see map), Stack'd features grass-fed burgers along with locally sourced meats, produce, baked goods and libations. I had driven up from a meeting with my dealer in Kenosha earlier in the day and pulled in front of Stack'd around 1:30 p.m.
The man behind Stack'd is Tim Dixon, a local entrepreneur who is also behind the The Iron Horse Hotel, an upscale boutique hotel that caters to Harley-Davidson fans who are in town to visit the nearby Harley-Davidson Museum, couples looking to get away from the kids for the weekend, or people in town on business. The Iron Horse features the upscale restaurant Smyth and Branded, a classic style bar. Word is that Dixon is on the verge of opening a wood-fired pizza restaurant on N. Hubbard Street where the old Roots restaurant once was.
Stack'd is located in what was the former Kramer Foundry building. Prior to Stack'd opening in 2009 the building housed Social, a trendy restaurant that featured unique foods and drinks. Dixon bought the building after Social closed up and turned it into a boutique burger joint.
I was lucky to find a place to park just outside the front door of the building on S. 1st St. I went in and was greeted by a hostess who guided me to a table in the center of the restaurant. The restaurant featured wood and steel beams going from the floor up to the exposed wood rafter ceiling. Black leather banquette seating was along the south wall, the east side of the restaurant featured an open kitchen, while the north side had a bar that went nearly the width of the restaurant with a huge thick glass window that allowed a lot of light into the dining area.
I was given a menu by the hostess and she also pointed out the beer and drink menu on the table. Stack'd featured a number of local and Wisconsin-brewed beers on their beer menu. When my server, Nora, showed up, I ordered a Capital Supper Club in the bottle. She brought it back to me moments later and it was ice-cold. Mmmm....
Nora asked me if I'd been to Stack'd before and I said I hadn't. She said, "Well, the drill as most people do it is to build your own burger." She pointed to a page in the menu that featured five separate steps. "First you choose the type of meat you'd like," she said as she pointed out that I had my choice between grass-fed beef, bison, turkey, chicken - and for vegetarians - a black-bean veggie burger and a portabella mushroom burger. Then she said I had my choice of 8 different types of cheese. After that, I had my choice of toppings including lettuce, tomato, raw onions, jalapenos, pickles, mayo, fried onions, sauteed mushrooms, thick-sliced Nueske's bacon and more.
Nora said, "Then you pick out the type of bun you want. They're all locally baked for us." They had a classic style bun, a pretzel bun, a gluten-free bun, or you could have your burger bun-free laid upon a bed of lettuce greens. After that, you had your choice of sides including cole slaw, fries, mac and cheese, baked beans, and for an upcharge, you could get buttermilk-battered onion rings, or chili or a salad. There were a lot of decisions to make before you could even order.
She also pointed out Stack'd feature burgers that included the "Hangover Stack" - a grass-fed burger topped with a fried egg, bacon, aged cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and fried onions. The "Don't Mess with Texas" burger featured a bison patty topped with pepper jack cheese, jalapenos, an onion ring and loaded with homemade barbecue sauce. One of the featured burgers that got my attention was the "Kick in the Pants" - it featured a grass-fed beef patty, Extreme Heat jack cheese from Beechwood Cheese Factory, avocado mayo, and peppered bacon on a pretzel roll. Nora gave me a few minutes to figure out what I wanted.
I decided to build my own burger - a grass-fed patty - medium - with Swiss cheese, bacon and sauteed mushrooms on a pretzel bun. I was having trouble figuring out what I wanted for my sides and I asked Nora if the onion rings were good. "My favorite thing on the menu," she quickly replied. She said it so quickly and with such conviction that I had to believe her.
Nora told me that it takes a little time for the burgers to be cooked at Stack'd. "We cook them at a lower temperature than most other places," she explained. "Can I bring you another beer in a little bit?" I couldn't say no.
After what seemed to be about 15 minutes after I ordered - maybe longer, come to think of it - my burger came out to the table. Thick Nueske's bacon (the New York Times once called Nueske's bacon as the "caviar of bacon"), Swiss cheese and sauteed fresh mushrooms were swimming between the burger patty and the top of the pretzel bun. Interestingly, the top of the bun was adorned with fried pickle slices held in place by a knife through the top of the burger. After eating the fried pickles, I wish I would have gotten them as an appetizer. They were wonderful. Four buttermilk onion rings were on the side.
After cutting the burger in half - it was the only way to eat the huge thing- my first bite showed that the burger was actually more medium-well than medium as there was little to no pink showing in the middle. It was still flavorful, but the combination of the thick-cut bacon, sauteed mushrooms and the thick slide of Swiss cheese sort of overpowered the overall taste of the burger. And that's not to say that it was bad - there were a lot of taste sensations going on with each bite. The overall taste of the burger was very, very good.
Nora oversold the buttermilk onion rings, however. They were just OK in my book. Actually, I kind of thought they may have been frozen o-rings from a food distributor. But I would think that a place like Stack'd would probably do their own onion rings.
Stack'd wasn't cheap. My burger alone was $15 bucks with all the upcharges for the mushrooms, bacon and onion rings. But it was very good and it should have been for the money. I think the burger at Stack'd would hold up against other gourmet burgers I've had at other places like Blanc in Kansas City, Burger Bar in St. Louis or Atwood Cafe in Chicago. While I'm glad I experienced the place, there are a number of very good burger places in the Milwaukee area that I think I'd rather go to before I'd go back to Stack'd. But if you're looking for a true gourmet burger in Milwaukee, Stack'd Burger Bar is the place to go.