You know you’ve got yourself a good burger when a wooden skewer is required to hold it all together.
That’s the case with the Vintage Burger, the towering invention that is Vintage Brewing Company’s entry in Madison Burger Week. The burger — really a steal at $15, when most burgers at Vintage are in the $10 to $14 range already — is only available through the end of Burger Week on Sunday. When I went to the brewpub on Whitney Way to try it last Saturday, two days into the week, I was only the second person to order one. So you probably don’t need to worry about them running out of ingredients.
Madison Burger Week is the chance for all sorts of restaurants, from corner taverns to fancy-pants restaurants, to showcase what they can do with a burger patty and a bun. And with one dollar from each burger going to the River Food Pantry, it’s a win-win.
Looking at the list of burgers, it’s clear that restaurants are going one of two ways in an attempt to get voters to support their burgers. Some are sticking with their tried-and-true classics. The Plaza Tavern, for one, is showcasing the compact perfection that is the Plaza Burger. Others get more creative like the Tip Top Tavern, which is offering something called “Burger, She Wrote,” complete with a mystery sauce and a kitchen knife stabbed into the bun. Bob Belcher of “Bob’s Burgers” would be proud of the punny title.
The “Vintage Burger” is definitely creative. I’ll describe it from the bottom to the top, so settle in. This is going to take a while. The bottom "bun" is a rye grilled cheese sandwich featuring Munster cheese. Next are two five-ounce Knoche's beef patties covered in shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, bacon and caramelized onions.
Then Vintage adds its special sauce, which is sort of a spicier take on creamy Thousand Island dressing. It's topped with another rye grilled cheese sandwich, this one with Swiss cheese.
Oh, we’re not done yet. Not by a long shot.
Laying on top of the top grilled-cheese sandwich, like a longtime married couple in bed together, are two pickle spears, deep-fried. Then there’s the wooden skewer, which impales not only the sandwich but two tempura-fried “burger balls,” each about the size of a Titleist, covered in cheese sauce. A sprinkling of scallions tops the whole affair.
The sheer stature of the Vintage Burger makes quite an impression when the waitress serves it up. I was dining with my whole family plus my brother- and sister-in-law, and even on a table covered in meatball sandwiches, chicken and waffles, and lots and lots of beer, it stood out head and shoulders (or burger balls and pickles) above the rest. My relatives looked fascinated and concerned as I tucked in, while my youngest daughter was busy Instagramming the occasion.
Naturally, one does not just pick up the Vintage Burger in your hands and eat it, as one would a pedestrian hamburger. I needed a plan of attack. It seemed to make the most sense to start at the top and work my way down, eating the pickles and burger balls separately. Both were good, especially the pickles, with the crunchy sour pickles going surprisingly well with the batter. The tempura fried balls were fine, although the meat could have used more seasoning to liven it up.
Then I arrived at the burger part, which I attacked with a knife and fork, getting a little grilled-cheese here, some burger and toppings there. It’s a lot of food to get through. In retrospect, I think the Vintage Burger could have used a little less beef and a little more cheese filling in the sandwiches. I had lots left over to take home, and I still couldn’t get through the rest at lunch the following day.
So the Vintage Burger probably doesn’t rank a place on the regular menu in its current form. But as a limited-edition, head-turning stunt burger, it’s the perfect thing for the adventurous to order during Madison Burger Week.