Milwaukee is a city with a high hamburger consciousness. Virtually every neighborhood, regardless of its ethnic character or status, boasts an abundance of bunned burgers – cooked in skillets or over charcoal, sometimes basted in butter, served dressed or undressed, and ranging from three ounce sliders to half-pound blimps.
One of the long-time favorite burger shops is a vintage drive-in on Layton Avenue near the airport, known as the Nite Owl Ice Cream Parlor. Yes, ice cream is big here, and it is very good. The staff know how to make good malts and shakes, sodas and banana splits, as well as such soda-fountain specialties as a Turtle Sundae (topped with butterscotch, hot fudge, and pecans), a Dusty Road (sprinkled with malt powder), and a Me and My Gal big enough for two.
The Nite Owl calls itself the Home of the Jumbo Burger, and there used to be signs posted in the dining room that the Jumbo was “the largest post-war hamburger in the area.” In fact, the Jumbo is not all that huge, but it is a lovely lunch-counter paradigm, just hefty enough to be a modest meal as a single, or a veritable banquet on a bun if you order a Double Jumbo. It comes on a toasted bun and is available either plain or under a heap of fried onions, with or without a mantle of cheese.
Please note: the Nite Owl Jumbo is NOT cooked in butter. When we asked the waitress if she served butter-basted burgers (a passion in many Milwaukee burger joints), she adamantly said, “No, we are famous for JUMBOS! You want buttered, they are down the street.” She pointed a disdainful finger in the direction of Jessica’s, a hamburger shop a few hundred yards away where the hamburgers are not JUMBOS, but are served in a glistening butter bath.
"Wooden booths, linoleum floor, and Coke signs on the wall: an ideal environment for spooning into an ice cream sundae."
"I have been eating their food since 1958 and so has my family. I am origninally from Cudahy,Wi and I remember the car hops in the 60's and everytime I am near Milwaukee I make it one of my stops."