Crosstown burger battle heats up this weekend

Sobleman's Bar and Grill (above) will take on newcomer AJ Bombers in a "Food Wars" battle to determine the best burger in Milwaukee.

War — what is it good for?

For one thing, deciding Milwaukee’s burger king.

Travel Channel’s “Food Wars” is coming to Milwaukee this week to film an episode that will put burgers from Sobelman’s Bar and Grill, 1900 W. Saint Paul Ave., and AJ Bombers Bar and Restaurant, 1241 N. Water St., on the same plate and declare a winner.

Neither of the restaurants’ signature burgers will be featured in the competition. Instead, run-of-the-mill burgers topped only with beef, bacon, and colby cheese will be on the menu.

Dave Sobelman, owner of Sobelman’s, said “Food Wars” chose these two restaurants because of a joint effort by Sobelman and AJ Bombers owner Joe Sorge to attract the show to Milwaukee.

According to Sobelman, Sorge used social networking Web sites to ask his customers for support in lobbying “Food Wars.”

Sobelman, who also owns another burger joint on the East Side called Sobelman’s Tallgrass, said many Marquette students e-mailed the show’s producers to pressure them to come to Milwaukee.

“In the end, they could no longer ignore us,” he said.

Television cameras won’t be ignoring either establishment.

Sorge said AJ Bombers will be filmed Thursday evening with the bar open to the public. Sobelman said a crew will film his establishment Friday morning in preparation for the lunch rush.

With preliminaries out of the way, the final taping will occur Saturday at a neutral location, Bar Louie, 1114 N. Water St., where the “Food Wars” judges will eat burgers from each restaurant one last time and declare which location has the top burger in Milwaukee.

Sobelman said he is hoping for hundreds of people to show up in support of his restaurant’s burger at Bar Louie Saturday. Sobelman plans to offer half-off a burger and fries at either of his two locations to those who show up at Bar Louie on Saturday in order to attract greater numbers.

He said “Food Wars” usually has a fairly small gathering of restaurant patrons for its final taping.

“We want to outdo every other city that ‘Food Wars’ had been to,” Sobelman said.

In the battle for Milwaukee’s coronaries, however, Sobelman’s seems to have a leg up on AJ Bombers on Marquette’s campus. Sobelman’s, open for more than 10 years, has the tactical advantage of name recognition that the relatively new AJ Bombers has not yet achieved.

Colleen Kehoe, a freshman in the College of Communication, said Sobelman’s is one of her favorite Milwaukee restaurants because of its proximity to Marquette’s campus.

“I love that I can walk there and get a delicious burger at a relatively low price,” Kehoe said.

AJ Bombers opened in 2008 at the former location of The Corner Bar on Water Street, and has vaulted to prominence via its presence on social media outlets such as Twitter.

Ben Knuesel, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said although he prefers Sobelman’s over AJ Bombers, he thinks Sorge’s burger has as good a chance as Sobelman’s at winning over the taste buds of the “Food Wars” judges.

Knuesel said Bombers’ burger brings a unique taste to the table. Sorge explained how it happens.

“The secret to AJ Bombers’ burger greatness is food science: caramelization and ratio of beef to bun to toppings,” Sorge said.

Naturally, the respective owners have far more divided opinions on which restaurant has the better burger.

Sobelman believes “Johnny-come-lately” burger places like AJ Bombers can’t match his burgers.

“I use the best beef and the best buns,” Sobelman said. “Presentation is everything, and we present a beautiful burger.”

If AJ Bombers does take home the gold in “Food Wars,” Sorge said he will demand Sobelman turn over his Web site’s domain name, milwaukeesbestburgers.com.

Sobelman, however, said there is no way his restaurant is ever dropping its claim as Milwaukee’s favorite burger.

“If AJ Bombers wins, I will be seriously questioning the judges’ credentials,” Sobelman said.