I had the opportunity to write about DLux, the new burger joint opened by Food Fight, a few weeks ago and it got me thinking about burgers. They’re just a patty and a bun, right? Sure, maybe at their core, but the styles of burgers have become so varied that it can be hard to keep up. From fried eggs to peanut butter, restaurants seem to be adding anything they can find in their kitchens to make their burgers unique.

Although I’m a huge fan of toppings, a good burger still does – and always will – start with the basics. While burgers are never fully defined by their patties and buns, it’s not a bad place to start. I’ve eaten some pretty great (and unfortunately some pretty bad) burgers in Madison. The ones that scored points with me were the ones that perfected the basics before moving on to the extras.

Patties come in many different sizes, and the way they’re cooked changes the feel of the whole burger. I like to group patties into two distinct styles. There are smaller patties that are usually pressed thin and cooked longer, sometimes even crispy on the edges, and larger patties that are left thick and usually cooked with some pink in the center. I’m not here to pick a side because I like certain aspects about both. But in order to be successful, the meat has to be fresh (and locally-sourced, if possible).

Buns are even more varied than patties and freshness is important here, too. The ones I’ve liked best are definitely fresh, but also unique, complimenting the taste of the meat and toppings used in the burger. With all that in mind, here’s my take on the best burgers in town, in order of increasing patty size (I would classify the first two as smaller pressed patties and the last three as the larger kind):

The Mad Sconnie Burger (AJ Bombers) 

AJ Bombers takes pride in serving fresh, local ingredients and that scores a lot of points with me. The patty on The Mad Sconnie Burger is their ‘Gahnzo’ patty, which is a blend of grass-fed beef and bacon (yes, there’s bacon ground into the patty). The bun is a miniature version of the spicy cheese bread made by Stella’s bakery (the very same stuff you eat all morning at any given farmer’s market). AJ Bombers crushes their patty, making the edges crispy and the overall sandwich relatively thin. Don’t let that fool you though, because the size of the patty is still a quarter pound. Extras include a special “bomber” sauce, lettuce, tomato and fried pickles (or ‘frickles’).

The DLux Burger (DLux)

Moving up in patty thickness, we arrive at the burgers at DLux. Like AJ Bombers, they, too, press their patties, but not as much. The patty on the DLux Burger is the same patty they feature on all their burgers. 

It consists of a standard 80/20 ground beef (that’s beef-to-fat ratio) and is a third-pound. The bun on the DLux Burger is a potato roll with a light flour dusting. Extras include a port wine-onion marmalade, blue cheese and fresh arugula. (For more on DLux, check out the story that ran Sept. 26).

The No. 30 (The Old Fashioned)

The Old Fashioned is known for doing everything Wisconsin. Everything they make is sourced from small vendors in the state, and their namesake drink, “the old fashioned,” is consumed more in Wisconsin than anywhere else. The apple pie at The Old Fashioned even comes with cheddar cheese. Like much of their menu items, the No. 30 is decadent. Its patty is a third pound of 80/20 beef and the bun is made of Challah (pronounced ‘holla;’ Challah is a braided bread served during Jewish holidays). Extras include hickory-smoked bacon, aged cheddar and a garlic sauce. A soft-cooked egg tops off the stack, and the yolk runs all over the burger once you break it.

The Melting Pot (Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry)

The Melting Pot is the number one selling burger at Dotty’s and for good reason. It’s called “The Melting Pot” because it features three kinds of melted cheese: cheddar, Swiss and provolone (obviously, this one can get a little messy). Like DLux and The Old Fashioned, the patty is 80/20 ground beef, but they serve theirs in a 6 oz. patty. The bun is seeded and baked fresh every day. Extras include bacon and an English garlic sauce (and, of course, the cheese).

The Spanish Burger (Blue Moon Bar and Grill) 

At The Blue Moon, they love to let the beef shine. Their patty tops the list at a half-pound and their bun is a fresh Kaiser. They offer a variety of variations, but my favorite is The Spanish Burger. Topping the patty on The Spanish Burger is fresh pico de gallo salsa, black olives and pepper jack cheese. At this patty size and beef freshness, it’s ok to order like you would a steak. I order mine medium rare.

Next time you enjoy a burger, take a few moments to think about the little things. You will start to appreciate those places that make burgers out of fresh meat and on buns that aren’t overlooked.

Questions? Comments? Did I leave a great burger off my list? Let me know.