The battle of the big boys

Photo by Tom Grimm

Those of us of a certain age might remember slipping into the booths of the Big Boy restaurant and throwing caution to the wind for a two-decker Big Boy Burger. When I was a small fry, my family frequented one of the franchises owned by Marcus Corp. in Milwaukee, and this burger was justly famous.

A certain business jingle celebrates a different iconic burger, but while McDonald’s introduced the Big Mac in the 1960s, Big Boy was doing more or less the same thing in the 1930s. Big Boy restaurants in Wisconsin eventually died out, but the namesake burger never did, as local establishments offered their interpretations of the classic. One of them is Aria at Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel, owned by none other than Marcus Corp.

And this summer, the Big Boy came back for good when the owners of Jerry’s Old Town opened the first Wisconsin Big Boy restaurant in 26 years, in Germantown. Naturally, we wondered, if they were placed in a one-on-one fight, which of the dual pancake creations would prevail. Boys, start fighting.

Wisconsin Big Boy ($9)

Specifications: 2 thin patties of meat, 3 sesame seed buns, scrushed iceberg lettuceamerican cheese lice, Big Boy Sauce

Impression: The components are almost identical to those of Aria, and yet the execution is different. Served warm, its slice of cheese still solid, this burger is dry – despite the generously applied Big Boy Sauce – and devoid of beef flavor. The lettuce lacks crunch. The saddest part is the sauce, which relies so heavily on the taste of the pickles, it overpowers the whole thing, and not in a good way. Where have you been, big boy?

Verdict: Flat

Aria’s Classic Big Boy ($16)

Specifications: 2 crushed beef patties. 3 sesame seed buns, scrushed iceberg lettuceamerican cheese lice, Big Boy sauce (mayo, ketchup and pickle relish)

Impression: Pretty simple, this combination, but it’s a delicate balance. The patties, while not juicy, appear to be hand-formed, with a toasty flavor that pairs well with soft toasted buns. Creamy, melted American lettuce, crunchy lettuce, and tangy-sweet sauce hit the right topping notes. This slightly elevated version of the original no longer soars like it used to. It also seems to have shrunk a bit. But it’s still tasty

Verdict: Go the distance



About Marc Womack

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