For a personal bio to be published in a local theater playbill, I recently divulged the following nuggets about my personal life:
If I had to choose one food item that I would be forced to eat every day of my life, it would be the cheeseburger. And don’t think I couldn’t do it. I’m sure that I was cheeseburger-deprived as a child and that I’m compensating for time lost.
Whenever Julie and I eat in a new restaurant, I typically scan the menu, looking for a burger option before checking any other available dishes. This can be awkward and often futile if one is in, say, an Italian restaurant.
I was tipped off years ago that my favorite New York bistro had a fantastic burger, but that it wasn’t on the menu. Patrons had to inquire about availability. For years, upon learning of the secret option, I would, with the deftness and debonair…air of a WWII-era spy, pull the waiter aside and ask softly, “Is the burger available?”
He’d scan the room for potential Nazi spies. “Perhaps.”
Raise one eyebrow.
“Goes without saying, no?”
“Very good, sir.”
I might not have found the perfect burger, but I have found a new personal favorite in the biggest-bang-for-the-burger-buck category: Mad Mike’s Burgers & Fries at the corner of Fourth & Monmouth in Newport. The small Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati-based chain has firmly supplanted my previous favorite, Five Guys Burgers & Fries.
This is no knock against Five Guys. They serve awesome burgers and killer fries. (In fact, the readers of Food & Wine magazine recently voted Five Guys as one of the five top burger chains in the U.S.) Both Five Guys and Mad Mike’s have virtually identical missions: Great made-to-order burgers with fresh-ground, top-quality meat and toppings at a price that avoids sticker shock.
But each time I eat at Five Guys, I think that something could be better. Something could be improved. Something is missing.
Let’s talk about beverage choices, for example. Five Guys offers sodas, tea, and perhaps a couple of other similar choices; Mad Mike’s offers the same. But, depending on the time of day and my specific mood, I’d like other options. Nothing goes better with a burger than a beer. Mad Mike’s offers several beers in a bottle, including a couple of imports. I also love a good milkshake with a burger. Mad Mike’s offers hand-dipped fountain-style shakes. I opted for a chocolate shake for my most recent midday visit and wasn’t disappointed. The shake was thick, smooth, creamy, and chocolaty, topped with whipped cream and a cherry.
It should be illegal to order a burger without fries. Mad Mike’s fries are fresh-cut, skin-on. They’re perfectly browned and crispy on the outside with a soft inside. A regular-size order of fries is more than plenty to share. Cheesy Bacon Ranch Fries are also on the menu and definitely on the radar for my next visit.
Non-burger options at Mad Mike’s include all-beef hotdogs, veggie sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, and BLTs. Five Guys also features all of the previous items on its menu. Mad Mike’s, however, also features several versions of a chicken sandwich (though I’m not sure whether the chicken is grilled or fried…cut me some slack…I can eat only so much on a couple of visits).
The main draw at Mad Mike’s is the burgers, which feature fresh-ground, hand-pattied Black Angus beef on good-quality buns. Customers may also upgrade to ciabatta bread or pretzel bread for an upcharge. The complete list of toppings is too long to list here, but includes such unexpected items as cranberry chutney, beer-battered onion straws, Philly cream cheese, feta cheese, and tzatziki, just to name a few. Customers may construct burgers with whatever toppings they choose or select from the eleven-item gourmet burger list, including the Rockefeller, the Big Tex, the Pride of Zeus, and the Look Out Below.
I tend to prefer the basics, so on both of my previous visits, I chose the American Outlaw: two beef patties, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, grilled onions, and “Mad Sauce.” Each time, the burger was delicious and perfectly cooked. Also each time, the burger met my standard for juiciness: one napkin required per bite of burger.
For the burger, fries, and shake, the tab was just a little over $11. If Food & Wine’s readers spend any time in the Tristate area, don’t be at all surprised if we see Mad Mike’s on the readers’ poll in the near future.
Mad Mike’s has five Cincinnati area locations: Newport, two Florence stores, Hebron, and Cheviot. Everything written here is based on my two visits to the Newport location; I get the impression that availability of certain items varies slightly by location. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. The Newport location is open a bit later on weekends. Check out their locations and menu at madmikesburgers.com.