In my recent Top Ten Burgers list, Monk's Bar and Grill in Wisconsin Dells, WI is listed as the third best burger on the chart. Since my first visit a few years ago, Monk's has had a consistently great burger. Well, until this particular visit, that is. And it doesn't have anything to do with the burger, itself. It was the way I ordered it that disappointed me.
Monk's Bar and Grill dates back to 1947 when Gustave "Monk" Heineke and his wife, Helen, opened their little bar on Oak Street in Wisconsin Dells, about a half block from the present day location on Broadway St. (see map) The Heineke's moved to the Broadway St. location in 1962 and immediately began to collect memorabilia of Wisconsin Badgers football that is still maintained to this day.
The Heineke's sons, John and Jim, were on the Badgers squad from 1952 to 1958 and a number of autographed pictures of the younger Heineke's teammates adorn the walls of Monk's. With the jump-starting of the Wisconsin football program back in the 90's, Monk's now has a lot of modern day Badgers memorabilia, as well as Green Bay Packers memorabilia.
Monk Heineke died in 1975 and Helen Heineke continued to run the place until she sold it to Tom and Jane Heller in 1982. The Heller's expanded the menu from a basic burger, ham and cheese, liver sandwich selection to the larger menu that Monk's enjoys today including appetizers, salads, sandwiches and 10 different types of burgers. The Heller's also expanded the dining area at Monk's about 12 years ago to add a second and third floor to their restaurant. The original tin ceiling over the bar area remains intact.
Over the past couple three years, the Heller's have also expanded the number of Monk's Bar and Grill's. They opened a second location in the Wilderness Territory shopping and resort area outside of Wisconsin Dells about three years ago. They then opened up a third location in Baraboo, and just less than two months ago they opened a fourth location in downtown Middleton outside of Madison. The three newer Monk's locations feature a number of gourmet burgers on their respective menus.
But the original Monk's is the one I want to keep going to. I was driving by Wisconsin Dells during a trip to Wisconsin a few weeks ago and decided to stop in for a late lunch at Monk's downtown location. As I always do when I get into Monk's, I took a seat at the bar and took a quick look at the menu after ordering a cold beer.
I've been on a mushroom/Swiss cheeseburger kick as of late and Monk's has one on their menu - a 1/3 lb. ground chuck burger that's slowly cooked on Monk's old time flat top griddle, then topped with copious amounts of mushrooms and Wisconsin Swiss cheese. I decided to get that and an order of fries. I rarely get fries with my burgers, but Monk's fries are pretty good.
Because the burgers are slowly cooked on the grill, it usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes before the burger is served. And that's OK with me. The taste of a Monk's burger is well worth the wait.
Plus there's a lot to see at Monk's. Although I'm far from a Wisconsin Badgers fan, the memorabilia both the Heineke family and the Heller's have compiled over the years is pretty interesting to see. When the Heineke's sons played football for Wisconsin back in the 50's, the Badgers had pretty good teams and an intense rivalry with my Iowa Hawkeyes. The teams were evenly matched during the years the Heineke's played at Wisconsin with Iowa winning four of the seven games during that period.
The bartender brought out the burger and fries and I was ready to eat. The term "copious" doesn't even begin to describe the amount of mushrooms they put on the mushroom Swiss cheeseburger. There was a pile of them between the cheese and the burger itself. Now, I normally don't mind the fact if the mushrooms are of the canned variety and not fresh, although I'll give extra points if they do serve fresh cut mushrooms on a burger or pizza. But the mushrooms on the Monk's mushroom Swiss cheeseburger way overpowered the taste of the juicy ground chuck meat that Monk's uses for their burgers. There was just way too much mushrooms on the burger for my taste - and I really like mushrooms. But it definitely detracted from the great taste of the burger.
With the second half of the burger, I took a fork and tried to get as many mushrooms off the burger patty as I could without destroying the cheese layer on top. Once I was able to do that, the succulent taste of the Monk's burger came through. It's juicy and tender with a lot of flavor. It's still one of the best burgers I've ever had.
The fries at Monk's are seasoned and battered, then deep fried. As I said, I normally don't like to eat fries all that much any longer, but the French fries at Monk's are absolutely special. This is a half order of fries and it's almost too much for one person. But there's something addictive in the fries at Monk's and it's almost impossible to stop eating them. I always have to get the fries when I get to Monk's.
Well, OK - so I wasn't overly happy with my mushroom Swiss cheeseburger at Monk's on this visit. But that doesn't mean I'm going to drop it down on the Top Ten Burger list by any means. I just won't get a mushroom Swiss cheeseburger on my next visit to Monk's. The burgers on their own are just outstanding, one of the best places I've ever had a burger. I'm tempted to try the new location in Middleton on my next visit to Madison, but I'm almost certain it won't be as good as the one in downtown Wisconsin Dells.
But be forewarned - you go to Monk's in the summertime with all the tourists milling around the Dells, expect a wait during the lunch and dinner hours.