Thursday, August 13, 2009

Musings from the Wisconsin Burger Belt

It was only 11am when I had inhaled 2 burgers 'with' at the American Legion Post #67 burger stand which meant that I needed to think about lunch soon. Fortunately I was in what I like to call the 'Wisconsin Burger Belt' which extends from Madison to Milwaukee. Just off Route 94, which connects the two cities, are a handful of tiny Mom 'N Pops that serve classic thin patty wonders. There's Zwieg's, Wedl's, and the Post#67 burger stand just to name a few and of course Madison and Milwaukee have their share of great burger spots.

Local Expert Burger Taster Todd and myself plotted a course that would take us to Wedl's in Jefferson, then onto Madison for burgers at The Plaza and Dotty Dumplings, all for lunch.

Wedl's, formerly known as Peterson's, is in my book and serves burgers out of what must be the smallest burger shack I've ever seen. Back for my 4th visit I was eager to order one with grilled onions and looking forward to meeting the new owners. I'm happy to report that not only are the burgers unchanged and amazing, the Wedl family plans to hold onto the stand for many years to come. The Wedl's son Bert worked for the Petersons and is the heir apparent to the decades-old business. The stand is safe for now.

We made it to Madison and met columnist and friend Doug Moe at The Plaza. Fortunately, owner Dean Hetue was at The Plaza when we arrived and I was able to meet the man in possession of the secret recipe for the tangy white sauce that is slathered on their burgers (for the book, all interviews with Dean were by phone which only deepened the mystique). We savored the sauce, the burger, and moved onto Dotty's just up the street.

By the time we arrived at Dotty Dumpling's Dowry I was full. 4 burgers for lunch had caught up with me but I wasn't leaving Madison without a bellyful of Sprecher's Root Beer (on tap) and an order of the Wisconsin's proudest gastronomic quirks - deep-fried cheese curds. The are, when prepared well, heaven in a fry boat.

By the time I hit the road back to Chicago I was in a daze. My caloric intake was high but somehow that didn't stop me from pulling over for a chocolate custard with hot fudge at Culver's. There's nothing like creamy cold custard, even at this so-so burger chain. The Lower Wisconsin Burger Belt was great for lunch. Eventually I need to venture into the burger joints North of Route 94.