Restaurant review: Korean fusion is revolutionary at Merge


courtesy Merge

Max’s take

Located on the east side of Milwaukee, Merge offers a variety of Korean fusion dishes. 

In late 2018, Merge opened as Milwaukee’s first Korean fried chicken bar, offering a variety of small plates and cocktails. Their large venue presents a full scale sports bar, stools, booths, an outdoor patio and a room for private events.

A few weeks ago, before the initial critique, I decided to stop in to Merge after bowling with friends one late Saturday night. The quiet, ambient sounds outside of the entrance reminded me of some grandparent’s peaceful apartment complex on the outskirts of Seoul. But my intuition was very wrong. The first step inside the restaurant transported me into another dimension. Lasers flashed in my eyes, smoke covered the room, and loud Brazilian music blessed my ears. 

I couldn’t see more than two feet in front of me, but I envisioned a drug dealer approaching my friends and me at any given moment as we walked forward. Finally! I had made it past the smoke to the main seating area where seemingly Joe Biden and his cowboy sidekick sitting at the bar gave me reassurance that I was in the right place. Unfortunately, the smoke was too much and we decided to leave without ordering anything. Fortunately, this wouldn’t be the last time I went to Merge because two weeks later, I would try some of the best food on the east side of Milwaukee. 

The menu was simple, offering unique variations of fries, wings, and Korean fusion appetizers. I began by ordering the umami bombs ($8) and the beef loaded fries ($7). 

Umami, the Japanese word for deliciousness, perfectly describes their deep-fried mushrooms. My expectations were low since I didn’t exactly know what they consisted of, but I was pleasantly surprised by the sweet and savory flavors in each bite. Minced beef coated in BBQ sauce surrounded the outside of the mushroom with spicy mayo and teriyaki sauce topping it. The consistency of the squishy mushroom, the soft beef, and the crunchy outside was a bit overwhelming; however, the delicious combination of the sweetness from the barbeque, the saltiness from the crust, and the spiciness from the mayo on top made up for its flaws.

When taking a bite of the beef loaded fries, I had an unexplainable euphoric reaction. The tender beef combined with the crunchy fries was a genius combination I had never tasted before. Lime crema was drizzled on top of the beef to give a bit of sourness yet was balanced perfectly with the other flavors. A spicy sauce was added to the fries and the scallions as a garnish topped it off. My only complaint was the amount of oil that covered the beef– I’m pretty sure that I have never had anything more oily than these artery-clogging fries.

The overall ambiance was great and created a nice urban Korean feel; the dim lighting, hip wall art, and simple interior design fit perfectly with the Korean street food. The food was a bit pricey for the portion sizes, but was definitely worth it. It’s safe to say that you will catch me at Merge again.

Emmett’s take

I’d like to start off by saying that the chicken wings ($12) are quite different from your typical super-bowl party wings. At Merge, they’re fried Korean style; just the way I like them. This makes for an extra-crispy coating. Merge offers a variety of seasonings for the wings, so I opted for soy garlic. Soy Garlic is quite intense, so prepare yourself beforehand. Inside of the wing, you’ll find tender, perfectly fried meat. Although the wings are made for a very positive eating experience, it is essential to note that they are overly greasy. If you’re not a person who enjoys fatty and greasy fried foods, the wings would not be the best option compared to other dishes– still a solid wing option in Milwaukee and would go back for more.

In addition to the wings, I also ordered the Korean fried corn dog ($7). If your typical state fair corn dog is a Toyota, the Korean corn dog is a Lamborghini. It is a flashy appetizer, being fried more than once and with an extra coating of sugar on the outside (yes, sugar!). Although this sounds odd, it works with the corn dog. The flavors come together to form a unique and umami-eating experience. Overall, the corn dog was the best thing I ordered.