I'm not a restaurateur - I only know how to eat in them. So, it was interesting to me how a local Milwaukee area chef could take what was a popular casual Mexican restaurant featuring tacos filled with eclectic ingredients and turn it completely around into a gourmet burger joint after 4 years of being in business. That's exactly how chef Jake Replogle, Jr. did in transforming the former Haute Taco eatery into Jake's Burger in suburban Brookfield. A tip of the hat to Dawn for giving me the "heads up" on Jake's. On a recent visit to Milwaukee, I had lunch at Jake's Burger before leaving town.
In 1960, Jake Replogle, Sr. bought a supper club called Wally Behl's in Wauwatosa and opened his eponymous steakhouse - Jake's Steakhouse. Living above the restaurant, he and his first wife (it was said Jake Replogle, Sr. married 8 to 10 times) worked to make the restaurant a destination for steak lovers, as well as offering duck dinners and seafood. In 1967, he bought another Wally Behl steakhouse/supper club in Pewaukee and named it Jake's, as well. He closed down the Jake's in Wauwatosa and concentrated on the new location in Pewaukee. As the area grew up around Jake's, it became a favorite of thousands of people for great steaks and good food. (Replogle also owned the Ocean Grill in Vero Beach, FL, spending half his time in Wisconsin and the other half of the year in Florida.) Jake's son, Jake, Jr., helped his father in the restaurant business and he ended up buying the restaurant from his father in 2005. (Jake Replogle, Sr. passed away in 2009. His son, Charles, runs the Ocean Grill in Florida.)
The younger Jake Replogle - along with his wife, Karen - opened Haute Taco on the north side of the Sendik's Towne Centre in nearby Brookfield. Sendik's Towne Centre is a small shopping complex that has a number of shops and restaurants and is anchored by a Sendik's supermarket (see map). The shopping complex has had trouble attracting both merchants and patrons since it opened just before the economic downturn in 2008. Proposed housing projects in the immediate area have not come to fruition as quickly as planners had hoped. Today, the shopping complex still has a handful of empty spaces, but it's much better than the 18% occupancy rate the center had about four years ago.
The younger Replogle had spent part of his youth growing up in Mexico and he remembered some of the casual foods that he had in Cuernavaca, Mexico. He opened Haute Taco with the Milwaukee diner in mind. Although beef tongue was one of the delicacies of the area he lived in Mexico, he knew it wouldn't go over well as a taco filling in suburban Milwaukee. He developed tacos that had beef short ribs or duck as the main filling. Haute Taco was in business for four years before the Replogle's decided to shift gears, close Haute Taco, completely remodel the space, and then reopen as Jake's Burger in the spring of 2012.
The basic burger at Jake's Burger is the same one that is served at Jake's steakhouse - a blend of brisket, sirloin and short beef. Extras include Nueske's bacon, port-caramelized onions, brie, Wisconsin aged-cheddar and blue cheese. The "Haystack" onion straws at the burger place are also the same as the very popular onion rings served at the steakhouse. Most of the burgers start at less than $10, but the extras can add up pretty quickly running the total cost of the burger to well over the $10 buck mark.
It was right at the noon rush when I made it into Jake's Burger. I was able to find a spot up front as there was an empty store space next to Jake's and a frozen yogurt shop on the other side of the empty space. Not many people were hankering for frozen yogurt on a cold late winter day.
As you walk into Jake's, there's a bar area up front with small bar and a number of top shelf and call liquor bottles on a glass shelf behind. A couple three televisions are on the wall in the bar area. Near the front door when you come in, there's an old Coca-Cola machine that stores vintage cans of beer. During "Happy Hour" - which comes twice daily at Jake's Burger from 2 to 5:30 p.m. and once again from 8 p.m. to close Tuesday thru Friday - vintage can beers from the Coke machine are $2.00
I was seated in the dining room behind the bar area underneath a wall that had a potpourri of "Jake's Burger" logos stamped on the wall paper. From what I understand, there used to be a colorful mural in its place when Haute Taco was in the space.
Looking through the menu, in addition to their sirloin/short beef/brisket mixed burger, they also feature turkey burgers and grass-fed beef burgers. They also have something called "raft burgers" that are served open faced and meant to be eaten with a fork and knife. They had an albacore tuna raft burger as well as the Cali raft burger with Nueske's bacon, butter lettuce, special burger sauce, and oven-roasted tomato with avocado. There was a portobella mushroom burger on the menu, as well as a beer-battered cod burger. Jake's Burger also had a handful of salads to choose from if you didn't want a burger.
One other great thing about Jake's Burger is the beer menu. I'm not big on Belgian beers, but they had a nice selection of those, as well as a number of lager, wheat and pale ale-style beers. I noticed that they had the Bell's Two Hearted pale ale on the menu and I got one of those while I was looking through the menu.
With the extras that you can order to put on a burger at Jake's, you can come up with some pretty interesting combinations. Their signature burgers include the Truffle Burger that is topped with brie truffle cheese, white truffle oil and arugula, and the Wisconsin burger topped with beer-cheese sauce, their haystack onion straws and Nueske's bacon. I was looking to do some additions to my burger so when my server came back to take my order I got the Classic burger - with the mixed beef - and it came with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, red onion and topped with a homemade pickle slice. I added a fried egg for a buck more and for $2.50 more I got a couple of slices of Nueske's bacon. Nueske's has been called "the caviar of bacon" by a food critic for the New York Times. My server asked me if I wanted any fries or onion straws with my burger - also an extra charge. Something told me to order up the onion straws. Later on, I found that I was glad I did.
It took about 15 minutes from the time I ordered my burger to when it was brought out to me. It was topped with a large sesame seed bun and cut in half. On the menu they said they cooked their burgers "medium +", but I asked for a more medium burger with some pink in the middle. They couldn't have gotten it any closer to how I like my burgers.
The cheese was draped over the top of the burger with the Nueske's bacon sitting on top. The fried egg was underneath the burger patty resting on the veggies. It was a big damned burger to say the least.
The first bite was wonderful. The taste of the burger meat was flavorful and juicy. Coupled with the cheese, fried egg and bacon (I ended up pulling off most of the veggies because they were falling off anyhow), it was an excellent tasting burger. About the only quibble I would have with the burger at Jake's is that there was a little too much bun. But it was tasty and chewy, and didn't overpower the overall taste of the burger.
As good as the taste of the burger was, the highlight of the lunch were the onion straws. I prefer onion straws over onion rings and these were just outstanding. They had a little bit of a spicy taste to them in addition to the beer-batter flavor coating the rings. Oh, man! My stomach is doing jumping jacks just thinking about the onion straws! I normally don't get fries or onion rings when I order a gourmet burger, but I'm telling you - I'm glad I decided to try the onion straws.
I've read some on-line reviews on Jake's Burger where a handful of people didn't like the place. I thought my burger was excellent and the onion straws were out of this world. Most of the time when people say they don't like the place, it usually comes down to price. And I will say that Jake's Burger is not cheap. If you want to stay basic and get one of their Classic burgers with no extras and a soft drink, then, yeah, you can stay under $10 bucks. But to me, that's not too fun. Yeah, the extras - especially the Nueske's bacon - really zip up the price of a burger. Unless you live in the Brookfield area, Jake's is a little bit of a haul from anywhere in Milwaukee, but I think it's worth the trip to try it at least once. I'd go out of my way a couple three miles when I'm out in Brookfield to try another burger at Jake's Burger.