When I first began to travel working for my present company over 11 years ago, I had been told by a friend that I needed to try Kroll's West in Green Bay for one of their burgers. When I finally got there about 8 years ago, I remember the burger was good - juicy and tasty - and I even gave them a mention in my first Best Burger List back in 2007. Since then - and dozens of burgers have blurred my memory of the one I had at Kroll's West and it dropped out of my Best Burger List long ago. On a recent trip up to Green Bay, I had a morning meeting before a drive down to Milwaukee. I decided to have some lunch before I left town and headed back over to Kroll's West for a burger.
There is a Kroll's East in Green Bay, but there is different ownership between the two. The common denominator is founder Harry Kroll and his wife, Caroline. Harry Kroll began to serve meals in a family hotel in 1931 and his food became so popular that his wife and he opened their first restaurant in downtown Green Bay in 1936. Kroll would take a grilled quarter pound burger and top it with onions, ketchup, pickles and butter. Harry and Caroline were joined by their daughter, Pat, in the business that had opened a second location the basement of the old Labor Temple Auditorium just before World War II.
The war years were tough on the Kroll's. Getting good beef for their burgers was a challenge due to rationing. But they were able to make it through the tough years and in 1945 Harry and Caroline sold the original Kroll's location to his sister, Isabel, and her husband, Dick Schauer. Pat Kroll continued to work for her parents in the other location.
In 1974, Pat Kroll - now Pat van der Perren - was forced to move the business from the downtown location to a new location in the shadow of Lambeau Field in Green Bay. The new Kroll's West was much bigger than their old location, so it was a challenge for the family to keep up. It was about that same time that Pat van der Perren's daughter, Bobbie, and her husband, Mike Weir, came in to the business. Today, the Weir's continue to run Kroll's West.
Kroll's West is located on South Ridge Road just across the street from Lambeau Field. (see map) It is a popular hangout before, during and after Green Bay Packers games. There's not much to the description of the building - it's a squat, long building with a series of smaller windows on the front. There used to be an awning that adorned the front of the building, but on this visit I noticed that the awning had been taken down and it appeared that some new lighting bases were being built in front of the restaurant.
There's a dining area and a bar area at Kroll's West. The dining area is off to the left as you walk in and it looks for like a family restaurant than a tavern. As I did on my original visit, I ended up going to the bar area - known as Kroll's Lounge - and taking a seat on one side of the long rectangular bar. You actually take a couple steps up to sit at the bar and they have upholstered chairs to sit in instead of bar stools. There are booths along the wall and tables toward the back area of the bar if you're with a group of people.
A bartender greeted me and gave me a menu. She asked if I wanted anything to drink and I noticed that they had something called Kroll's Special Ale on tap. I inquired about that and she said, "It's made by Leininkugel for us. It's sort of like Leinie Red." I thought I'd give that a try. She was right - if it wasn't Leinie Red, it was damn close.
I pretty much knew that I was going to get a burger, but Kroll's menu has a lot more to offer. In addition to appetizers, soups and salads, Kroll's has a long list of sandwiches, as well as comfort food such as a shredded hot beef dinner, broasted pork chops and a number of fish and seafood dishes including baked salmon and deep fried walleye.
All of Kroll's burgers are cooked over Kingsford charcoal. The restaurant goes through hundreds of pounds of charcoal each week. "Everything" on a Kroll's burger is the same as it was nearly 80 years ago - ketchup, raw onions, pickles and butter. When the bartender came back around, I ordered up a burger and added bacon, mushrooms and Swiss cheese to it.
Kroll's cuts their burgers in half before they serve them to their customers. My 1/4 lb. burger patty was pretty thin - I could have had the Big K burger which is a larger version of the original Kroll's burger. The crown of the bun was hard on the outside - once again a Kroll's signature - and very chewy. In fact, it was almost too chewy.
One thing I forgot about the Kroll's burger is that when they put ketchup on the burger, they put ketchup on the burger. It was slathered in ketchup, so much so that it overpowered nearly everything else that was on the burger. I couldn't taste the mushroom that were on the burger because of the ketchup. Heck, I couldn't even tell it had been cooked over charcoal because there was so much ketchup on it. They could have considerably cut back on the ketchup and it would have helped the overall taste of the burger.
The bacon was way too chewy - I had to remove one of the pieces from my mouth because it was so tough to chew. And I decided the bun was also way too hard to chew. I'm not a fan of hard roll buns for burgers. I know some people like them - Kroll's has served their burgers on the hard buns since day one. But a good burger needs to have a good bun that stays together with each bite and is softer than the one they sell at Kroll's West.
Over time, your memory gets a little fuzzy with places you've gone to and foods you've eaten. I remember the first burger I had at Kroll's West being better than the one I had on this visit. Kroll's West is an institution with people who live in and visit Green Bay for Packers games. I don't doubt their popularity, but the burger is definitely an acquired taste. One of these days, I'm going to try Kroll's East and see if the burgers are any better - or if they're the same as the ones at Kroll's West.