I've eaten at Kroll's West a three or four times on visits to Green Bay over the past 10 years or so. (Click here to see my visit to Kroll's West.) The burgers are pretty good and I've often wondered about the Kroll's East location. During a trip to Green Bay recently, I made a point to go to Kroll's East to check things out.
In the early 30's, Harry and Caroline Kroll started to serve meals at their downtown Green Bay hotel to help make ends meet during the Great Depression. The burgers that they made - a quarter-pound beef patty topped with butter, onions, pickles and copious amounts of ketchup - became so popular that they opened a small burger stand in 1936. Just before World War II, the Kroll's shut down their stand (since it was a seasonal business) and moved into the basement of the former Labor Temple Auditorium in downtown Green Bay so they could serve their burgers year round. Harry and Caroline were then joined in their business by their daughter, Pat.
When World War II came along, the Kroll's were having trouble getting good beef to make their burgers. Rationing across the nation during wartime was taking a toll on the nation's restaurants. The Kroll's were able to keep going, but decided just after the war ended to sell the business to Harry Kroll's sister, Isabel Kroll Schauer and her husband, Dick. In the meantime, Pat Kroll Van Der Perren took over the basement space for her own Kroll's restaurant.
The Schauer's moved into a building on Main Street, just south and east of the downtown area and they opened their doors in November of 1945. Isabel expanded the menu that included many of the same chili and soup recipes that are made in Kroll's East kitchen today. Everything at Kroll's East - as it was when the Schauer's opened the doors in 1945 - is made in house with their own recipes.
Behind the restaurant were a block of small cabins that people stayed in during the summer months. Just beyond the cabins were open fields. If heat was needed in the cabins, the tenants would use small kerosene heaters provided by their owner, Leonard Goeben. Kroll's was a favorite place to eat for the people staying in the cabins.
By 1969, the cabins were gone, and Dick and Isabel's son, Jim, came to work in the family business. Less than three years later in January of 1972, Dick Schauer passed away. Jim took over the day-to-day operations of Kroll's and began a remodeling project two years later that enlarged the bar area. At the time of the renovations at Schauer's Kroll's location, Jim Schauer's cousin, Pat Van Der Perran was forced to move her downtown location due to urban renewal. The Van Der Perren's moved to S. Ridge Road in the shadow of Lambeau Field to open Kroll's West.
In the 1980's, Bette Schauer joined her husband in the business. They were soon followed by their daughter, Jenny Schauer Smith, and two of their sons, Ben and Nathan. The Schauer family continues to run Kroll's East today which is located at 1658 Main St. in Green Bay. (see map)
I got into Kroll's East around 7:30 on a cool evening. The original "Lunch Time" neon sign with a clock in the middle still stands on the front of the building facing Main Street. I didn't really know the drill at Kroll's and I entered the place by the dining area by the kitchen. There's a candy-caned shaped counter in the front of the area by the kitchen. This definitely did not look like a bar area where you could belly up to and get a beer.
That was the same situation with the long narrow dining room that connects the main dining area with the bar area. There were a number of small booths that looked like they belonged back in the 70's along the walls of this area at Kroll's East.
Upon closer inspection of the long dining room, I saw that each booth had their own service button that you would push to summon a server. In fact, the booths in the main dining room by the kitchen/front counter area had them, as well. I almost kind of like that - you need something, hit the buzzer. No need for a server to come around to ask you if you need something when you don't, but then when you do need something there's no one around to be found.
I made my way into the bar are at Kroll's East. It was a larger room with subdued lighting, flat screen televisions and a number of tables and booths. Now, THIS is where it was all happening for the patrons that evening. I took a seat at the bar looking at an ornate mirror with green and white tile around it. It turns out that this was the original Italian-made mirror with the original tile from the original building before the place was renovated back in the 70's. The bartender, an older gentleman who was having trouble getting around probably due to bad hips (I've had 'em), came over to greet me and to drop off a menu. I ordered a Leinenkugel that they had on tap that evening.
Of course, they're famous for their burgers at Kroll's East. They still use a Black Angus blend of beef that is never frozen - the same way they did it back in the days of Harry and Caroline Kroll's ownership of the place. The burgers are grilled over charcoal giving them a distinctive taste. In addition to burgers, Kroll's East also features sandwiches and wraps, housemade soups and salads, and chicken wings, nuggets and tenders.
I had to try the burger - this was a double cheeseburger topped with pepper jack cheese. Similar to the burger at Kroll's West it was slathered in ketchup. The cheese was also a gooey mess on top of the burger patties. And as it is the Kroll's custom - East or West - the burger was cut in half before it was served. The usual Kroll's burger comes with a toasted hard semmel (or Kaiser) bun, but you can also order it with a toasted soft bun. That's what I did on this particular visit. I also got a side of onion rings to go with the burger.
From the first bite, I thought this burger was better than the one over at Kroll's West. The ketchup wasn't as thick and slathered on like the last couple I've got at Kroll's West. I like ketchup on a burger - many people don't - but sometimes it's too much. I'd say that it was a lot of ketchup on this burger, but not overpowering in taste. The pepper jack cheese, melted butter, onions, and pickles were a great taste combination along with the softer bun that stayed together very well with all the stuff on the char-grilled burger. I usually prefer a flat-grilled burger over a char-grilled one, but this was a very good burger.
The onion rings, on the other hand, were just all right - nothing special. They had a nice krispy outer shell, but they were sort of bland and greasy. I don't know why I got onion rings other than the fact that they sort of sounded pretty good. If it was a housemade batter, it was pretty pedestrian. The greasiness of the onion rings didn't help the taste.
I'm sure people in Green Bay have their favorites - Kroll's East vs. Kroll's West. I seemed to like the burger at Kroll's East better than the last couple I've had at Kroll's West. Both are good burgers - some people think they're the best in the state of Wisconsin. I don't know if I'd go that far, but like anything that's a local institution, people are going to be more parochial in their choices. You gotta like Kroll's East just for the history behind the place. The burgers are a great draw, as well. The only thing I can say is try both the Kroll's locations and find out which one you like better. I don't think you can go wrong with either spot.