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Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008

Perfect Burgers

Sobelman’s Pub & Grill

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Apparently some guys around town say the economy’s bad. I don’t believe ’em,” Dave Sobelman says with a sly grin. It’s Monday and he and his wife, Melanie, have just survived another of those crazy-busy weekends so typical of their restaurant, Sobelman’s Pub & Grill. In nine years, the young couple, babies-in-tow, purchased a dilapidated Schlitz tavern (circa 1889) nestled in the industrial Menomonee Valley and turned it into one of Milwaukee’s most beloved burger joints.

“When we first opened in 1999, we were just a corner bar,” Sobelman explains. “A factory bar where blue-collar workers would come in. We would cash their checks for them and they’d sit and have shots and drink beer. On Fridays, I might sell 30 or 40 burgers.” These days, a Friday will find the Sobelmans selling a whopping 450 burgers a day.

Sobelman’s is conveniently situated just south of Marquette University and just west of Downtown. The three-story, Cream City brick building with maroon trim and black awnings distinguishes itself from the industrial buildings dotting the long stretch of St. Paul Avenue. The modestly sized interior was recently expanded with the addition of another dining room, yet the warm and pleasant atmosphere remains. The bar and grill is impeccably clean—no sticky tabletops or greasy ketchup bottles to take you by surprise.

“We stand out because of our cleanliness and our friendly customer service,” Melanie says. “That’s what we strive for. Customers see that Dave and I are here every day, making sure things are consistent.”

The menu developed by the Sobelmans includes an appetizer list with the classics—Buffalo wings, jalapeno poppers, fries, quesadilla rolls, etc.—and more than 20 different sandwiches, including chicken, fish and pork selections. So confident are the Sobelmans in their kitchen and its staff, they actually televise the grill so that visitors can watch their sandwiches being made. For the award-winning burgers, the cooks begin with high-quality Black Angus beef patties and grill them to perfection. The patties are then sandwiched between crusty, golden, egg-washed buns from Breadsmith on Downer and topped with a generous portion of any number of ingredients, including cheese, mushrooms, jalapenos and grilled onions.

“I train my guys to put the burgers together so they’re even and nothing’s slopping off—so they’re picture perfect on the plate,” Dave says. “I have pride in what I do. Everything from the burger on down, we want it to be perfect here at Sobelman’s.”

The grill at Sobelman’s isn’t the only thing producing crowd favorites. The bar is quickly gaining fame for its voluptuous Bloody Mary (with Miller Lite chaser in tow). Garnished with sausage, marble jack cheese, shrimp, celery, onion, asparagus, mushroom, cherry tomato, pickle, olive and a slice of lemon, this mixed drink packs a meal in a glass.

The Sobelmans are considering expanding into other areas, such as Glendale, Chicago or local sports stadiums. “We’re constantly talking about it,” Dave notes. “But if I’m at another location making sure everything is perfect, then everything won’t be perfect here, and I don’t want that to happen.”

When the Sobelmans speak about their devotion to excellence, the reason for their success is clear. Their relentless dedication to providing a superior product in a comfortable setting keeps customers coming back again and again. “My friends would laugh at me when I would promote myself and pass out fliers saying, ‘Come try Milwaukee’s best burger,’” Dave says. “And now they’re like, ‘I can’t believe it! This place is packed and there’s a line at your door for these burgers!’” Located at 1900 W. St. Paul Ave., Milwaukee. (414) 931-1919.

Open Monday through Saturday: 11 a.m. to midnight with food service until 11 p.m. Open Sunday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.