The Burgers of Wisconsin
When it comes to the college years of life many people tend to think they already know it all and I'll admit, in alot of cases, I was one of those people. Even though I knew there was so much more to Madison than BW-3's, Pizzeria Uno and La Bamba. I knew that treats like the now returned Pel-Meni (via Alaska) were way better late nite drunken State street eats than the gyro shop and pizza place across the street down the way. I knew this because it was also really good when unstoned and sober unlike the other places. I was smart enough to walk over to one of the best Farmers Markets in the country for groceries when it was up and running. I knew where to go to grab Sunday Night Prime Rib dinner through a drive thru so I could bring it back to the crew before we watched Deadwood. I knew more about the good roadfood offerings in Madison than pretty much everyone else who was my age and living there at that time. Or did I? It turns out that Madison, from my eyes, is one of the best burger towns in America. Way better than its bigger bellied older brother Milwaukee is anyway. I didn't really know this then.
Back to Mad City we roll...
You may remember three "upscale" burger offerings that are well worth the double digit pricetag put on them. You can check that HERE. Today we do the exact opposite of that and head to three typical locally loved 'Sconnie style taverns putting out classic tavern style hamburgers.
Tony Frank's Tavern sitting atop Seminole Highway
I remember passing this place now and then when I would ride around. I always wanted to stop in but never did. Time has passed and I forgot about it as the years went by until someone sent me an email suggesting that this place has the "best burger in Wisconsin". I remembered Tony Franks right away as you can see from the outside it's a unique looking place. Opened in 1929 it shifted into a tavern after serving as a farm house. The building structure itself is over 160 years old. Its said that the two trees in its backyard are two of the tallest in Madison. Also said is that the place was still in operation during prohibition. I cant believe I never stopped in. Shall we?
My views from the bar
Tony Franks has a really nice well upkept area at the bar and beyond. It's an old school place with a new look, they must of remodeled at some point. However its still got the classic feel to it. The dining room is in another room separated from the bar. I tried lunch here on a weekday. Despite it being a Wednesday the place was still packed. Most of the people were there for lunch but every seat at the bar was filled with regulars in there for beers and baseball. The menu here is typical bar fare with a German American flair. They got sandwiches such as their Bavarian brat and a grilled ham and cheese. Reuben's too, one with a brat if you want. They all come on locally sourced rye bread. Of course they also do a Friday (and Wed.) Fish Fry and have hamburgers too. I was told not to miss their German burger which made sense to me since that's their house specialty and to go with that I also got a hot ham and cheese on toasted rye. As is typical with most neighborhood Wisconsin taverns the grill is right there behind the bar.
German Burger & Ham and Cheese on Toasted Rye
The sandwich was satisfyingly "homey" if you will with the bread being excellent. The burger? It's a damn shame I never knew about this place until now. It would of been the perfect hangover killer along with a Bloody Mary and Rhinelander shorty chaser to go with it. When the fresh patties of beef supplied by the local butcher are ready (medium rare which is nice) they place them in what I believe to be a homemade wheat bun with sesame seeds that's toasted right before. On top of that goes sauerkraut, grilled onions and Swiss cheese. Judging by how greasy and good it was I think they might of snuck some butter up in there too, maybe cooked in with the onions. This was a winner and one that I'll remember thus far on this search.
Little did I know back when I was running around that this bar I stopped into now and then had a really good burger. I had never had a burger at da 'bou I've definitely been there and remembered so right away when we pulled up and I saw their orange neon sign on display. I remember stopping in here a few times for some drinks late but never ate there and now I don't know why.
Local/Student favorite on East Johnson Street
Aside from one younger hefty hipster looking regular in there drinking shots of Jager by himself, it was just two ladies behind the bar chatting with him. Both as sweet as can be especially the older lady who I'm guessing was there when y'all were. She knew everyone. A little bit different of a vibe then when I was there and it was filled with people but still low key enough to enjoy a place without the ruckus for a change of pace. A place I'd be at now in my older and wiser days.
The view as you enter & then further down at the end of the bar where the grill is located
I never knew about the burgers until they came rec'd on here but I'm glad y'all did even if its after the fact I no longer live there thru most of the year. Perfectly described up above they even had some horseradish ready and although it wasn't their own product they had a selection to choose from, hot and hotter. The beef was very high quality especially for a bar like this and its price. The onions were grilled to the point where they gave off that potent perfume when you do them right and the slice of Wisconsin cheddar and a toasted hard roll made this as good of a no frills bar burger you'll find. Apologies to ndgbucktown if this haunts your dreams.
Caribou Burger...the bar not the meat
I'd also been past Village Green Tavern in Middleton a few times back in the day which is easy to remember when seeing it due to the big green building it sits in. Just like the last two stops though for whatever reason I never stopped in. Aside from the cool look of the place though I never had a reason to do so. Of note, however for another post, is the fact that Middleton is the new home to the National Mustard Museum. Formerly of Mount Horeb, WI it's well worth the visit if your on Team Yellow. OFF WITH REDS HEAD! Middleton is a nice little border suburb of Madison that US 12 goes thru en route to Devils Lake. I read somewhere along the lines that it's been voted 'Madison's Best Burger' by a local publication so that shot it onto my radar when so.
It's a big place but there were only three or four other people in there during the day but I imagine this place can get really full on the weekend nights when neighbors don't feel like cooking at home. The guy bartending was also cooking the burgers which was cool since as mentioned it was slow.
The view of the dining room & from my seat at the bar
The patties are pre-formed but made fresh and delivered from a local supplier. I went with a double cheeseburger which was probably a little too big. I thought I remembered hearing that these burgers were smashed but they're just placed on and then flipped. A single would of been fine and the double would of been alot better if I hadn't eaten at the previous two places. This was a pretty darn good 'local bar burger'. Nothing special but quality beef was used and alot of it at that. Served with lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions or 'picnic style' as I call it. My biggest complaint I guess was the fact they didn't have a bunch of different mustard's to choose from. The offerings of them are endless right down the street. I'll get to a fuller report on the Mustard Museum soon but the two bottles I bought are fantastic to the point I'll have to order them if I cant find a source here or get back there anytime soon. But Madison is great in the summertime so I'm sure I will. See ya next time.
Double Cheeseburger from the Village Green
National Mustard Museum & My bounty from there
Tony Franks Tavern
1612 Seminole Highway
Madison, WI 53711
The Caribou Tavern
703 East Johnson Street
Madison, WI 53703
Village Green Bar & Grill
7508 Hubbard Avenue
Middleton, WI 53562