The corner of Kinnickinnic and Becher has seen a handful of businesses attempt to muscle and moo their way into Milwaukee’s belly. Where Burger King and Omega Burger have failed, a new challenger has recently arisen with a fresh coat of purple paint and a buxom cartoon mascot. The A.V. Club took a seat at Hamburger Mary’s to see if it can end the curse of the location without the help of the Scooby Gang.
The space: The decor of the restaurant can best be summed up as “G.L.B.T. Friday’s.” Hamburger Mary’s is a small chain sprung from noted gay communities like West Hollywood, Portland, and, uh, St. Louis. If the Mary Poppins posters and pink wallpaper on the walls aren’t a signal, perhaps the drinks menu featuring the mascot riding down a rainbow while holding a cosmo is. Bonus kitsch points for denoting the men’s and women’s restrooms with posters from the almost-forgotten Warren Beatty Dick Tracy film. The restaurant is a good representation of what’s going on in Bay View right now: the clash of counter-culture cuisine and shops versus the accessibility of hamburgers and TVs showing the Packers game.
The service: A mixed bag. One visit featured a waiter that was attentive but not in the mood to chat. The other featured a pair of waitresses who were personable but unsure where one section began and the other ended. The full menu promised quite a few activities in the coming weeks, like karaoke and a drag review. (There’s even a small stage on the north end of the restaurant.) Mary’s may soon replace the late, lamented Ed Debevic’s as the place where young actors go to make a living between auditions for American TV commercials and student films.
The A.V. Club’s food: Mary’s is ramping up to its Grand Opening Nov. 4-6 by adding more and more items to the menu. The Chik’n Wangs appetizer was covered in a wing sauce that had a good, sweet, hot kick that didn’t singe the tongue with afterburn. The Crispy Caramel Chicken offered sweet chicken pieces that kicked up the flavor while dialing down the nutritional value. The Proud Mary was a massive two-patty burger that didn’t hold together long, but the components were delicious. Seasoned fries added a Cajun kick to the meal, and dessert came in the form of tabletop s’mores in a presentation straight out of a Skymall catalog. A large brownie sundae offered a big cup of homemade sweetness.
The verdict: Hamburger Mary’s is off to a solid start. If it can hold out until PrideFest, Milwaukee may soon have a new Queen of the Burger.