During our trip to Southern California earlier this year, we spent a day in the wine region near Temecula, CA. As we were going through Temecula to get to the road that took us out to the wineries, we passed a place that had an intoxicating smell of cooking burgers on a grill. We had a number of places that we could have eaten at or near the wineries east of Temecula, but the smell of the burgers from Mad Madeline's Grill lured us back into town for lunch.
The Mad Madeline behind the name of the restaurant is a former owner Madeline Joyce. It was said that she was mad all of the time because she raised five boys that were in and out of mischief. In 1991, Bert and Mary Hamilton bought the business from Joyce and expanded the building to include a front porch for seating. They began to source their meat from a local butcher shop and it was brought in fresh daily where the Hamilton's would grind it themselves. Their son Sid was involved in the business and he eventually took it over from his parents. He continues to run the business today.
Mad Madeline's is located in the heart of Old Town Temecula on Old Town Front Street, just down from the road that takes you out to the Temecula wineries. (see map) There's a small parking lot to the side that we were able to find a spot in because it was getting close to 2 p.m. when we stopped. On the outside of the kitchen area was a sign proclaiming Mad Madeline's as the "1st Place Winner California Great Hamburger Hunt." With the smell of cooking burgers wafting through the air, this all seemed to be promising.
We took a seat in a booth on Mad Madeline's patio area. It was cool and they were getting much needed off-and-on showers that day in Southern California so the plastic window coverings were down. We got a menu and started to look through it. One thing that I noticed right off the bat was that in a region that had a multitude of great beers to choose from, Mad Madeline's didn't feature really anything but beers from the big American breweries. It was disappointing.
Burgers rule the menu at Mad Madeline's, but they also have sandwiches including a hot pastrami, a grilled ham & cheese (a cold ham & cheese is also available), and a pulled pork sandwich. Chicken strips, hot dogs (including chili dogs) and a slew of appetizers are also available.
Cindy went with the 1/4 lb. cheeseburger basket with zucchini sticks. I'm still not overly certain as to why she went with the zucchini sticks, but she did. The burger was topped with American cheese and came with a slice of fresh tomato, onions and lettuce. it was wrapped in paper and served on top of the zucchini sticks.
I got the 1/2 lb. Swiss cheese, mushroom, bacon cheeseburger with fries. Onions, lettuce and tomato also came with this burger. With the smells emanating from the kitchen, the sign proclaiming they had the best burger in California, and the looks of this burger on the right - with all the Swiss cheese oozing over the bacon and mushrooms onto the beef patty with the sesame seed bun crown - it had to be good. Didn't it?
Turns out the answer was a resounding no.
Our burgers were tremendously overcooked. Overcooked to the point where it was almost inedible. There was no juiciness to the burger, no taste, no life. It was one of the most disappointing burgers that I'd ever had. It was like the cook forgot about the burgers and was doing something else for 20 minutes while it sat on the grill. I mean, it didn't have a burnt taste to it. It was just dry, overcooked and lifeless.
And that's too bad. I had high hopes for Mad Madeline's. It turns out that they won the Great Hamburger Hunt back in the 1990's, over 20 years ago. Everything about Mad Madeline's was promising - the quaint looking place, the smell of the cooking burgers on the grill, even up to the look of the burger before I took my first bite. But it turned out that the burger was not only overcooked, it was overhyped. This was - by far - our worst meal during our trip to Southern California. I just can't help to think this was an anomaly because there's no way a place like this stays in business cooking burgers like that.