My first month in MKE
I was an avid lurker of chowhound, though I never contributed, when I lived in San Francisco mostly because that board is so active with people so knowledgeable about the next great thing that I had nothing to add. But now after a month in Milwaukee I can say I am extremely happy with my chow life here so far. Yeah, there aren't the great fresh veggies in the markets (even whole foods) that I grew to expect in SF, but Milwaukee is a great food town. So far my favs are:
Traditional Italian Pizza: Zeffiro's at Farwell near Brady. I spend a lot of time in Rome (ask me about suggestions on where to eat in Rome sometime), and this is the closest I've come to Roman (not Neapolitan) pizza so far anywhere outside Rome. The crust is paper thin, crispy, a tiny bit burnt. I don't know what kind of oven they use, but I suspect it is coal fired, not wood, because I don't taste any wood. Coal is ok, or maybe even gas if it is cranked up to 800+ degrees) because the temperature is hot hot hot.
Deep dish pizza: Edwardo's Natural on Van Buren. This is better than Uno's by far, the ingredients are better, and the sauce is more to my liking, slightly acidic, a little sweet. The pizzas don't look big, but are a huge quantity of food because they are so thick. They take a LONG time to cook. Don't expect a quick pizza meal.
Corned Beef and Pastrami: Jakes on North, at 16th. This is without a doubt the best pastrami and corned beef outside of NYC, and I used to be a New Yorker before I was a San Franciscan. It may even be better than Katz's on Delancy Street in New York...it's been so many years since I've been there. Both the pastrami and corned beef are spiced just right and are tender beyond belief. Yeah, the neighborhood is a rough one, and it's sad to see such poor people there, but the locals seem very friendly. I don't think I'm naive, I'm just a city boy.
Higher end Italian: Mimma's on Brady. I haven't talked to Mimma, though I want to, but I suspect she is from Northern Italy, and her menu reflects that. It is a truly Italian menu, with few compromises for any lack of Italian ingredients. I don't normally order Lasagne at Italian restaurants because I make a good one and I'd rather order something that I don't make or is hard for me to make, but their lasagne, full of spinach and with a hard to describe non-standard red sauce (sort of sweet, no chunks, very smooth...I think there is beef broth in there) turns this dish from a peasant dish into a sophisticated winner. And it is definitely Italian, not Italian-American-goopy. I've also had their Tortelloni con Prosciutto e Piselli. The tortelloni were clearly fresh, never frozen, and I suspect house made. The cream sauce with peas and prosciutto was just right, and not too much of it, again like Italy, just a small amount of sauce, not the swimming in it in the American fashion. So you could really taste the delicate tortelloni and love the sauce, instead of drown in it. Their mixed antipasto platter is easily a whole meal for two, and is excellent, particularly the caponata, which in Italian is known as a kind of "agrodolce" (sour-sweet). This was just the right combination of those two flavors, along with the eggplant and olives, again each balanced so no single thing dominated, but you could taste all of them. My only complaint is that the salumi and the cheese were cold, which is part of the American obsession with food going bad. It tastes better at room temperature, and salumi and cheese were both made as a way to preserve food before refrigeration. They can easily sit out for hours without going bad, and I wish Mimma's (and every other restaurant that serves a mixed antipasto) would do that. Mimma's also owns a restaurant two doors down, Coco Bella, serving very very good pizza (more neapolitan style than Zeffiro's) and very good pastas. I like the simple Italian modern decor of Coco Bella better than the overstuffed "elegance" of Mimma's. But they are both excellent.
Chinese: Coming from SF, I have pretty high standards for Chinese food. There just isn't the plentiful set of choices to pick from here in MKE, but so far, Fortune Chinese Restaurant, in West Allis on Route 100 (108th Street) is the closest I've come to real Chinese food here. The day we were there there coincidentally had been an article in the local paper about a dish of theirs "Salt and Pepper Pork Ribs", a dish I know well from SF. I hadn't read the paper, but the waitress (Caucasian in a chinese restaurant, my first experience of that!) was talking all about it. I had planned to order it anyway as soon as I had seen it on the menu The dish was delicious, but not quite what I was expecting. In SF, they are paper thin pork chops, with a piece of bone, dry fried with a coating of salt, black pepper, garlic, and served with hot peppers and scallion. Here they were closer to "pork tenders", prepared the same way. Almost as good, but the paper thin version gives you more salt, pepper and spices per bite than a thicker version. Maybe people here don't like bones. I haven't tried it there, but they also serve a very similar dish, Salt and Pepper Shrimp, which for the non-squeamish can be even better, but you shouldn't mind seeing shrimp heads. When I eat it, I bite off the head, suck out the insides, and then eat the whole rest of the shrimp shell and all, to get all the flavor. That same waitress was advising the other customers to peel the shrimp which seemed to me just WRONG. The eggplant claypot we ordered was a bit overcooked, and became kind of a mushy mess, but the flavors were right. Still, I'd go there again and again because it is real chinese food, if not 100% perfect.
Of course, beer here is excellent (Go New Glarus brewing company, I love your Spotted cow!). And cheese curds...yum!
I've got to go back to SF for a few weeks to clean up some affairs, but when I come back, I'll write again when I've accumulated another few great spots.
Thanks for the post. Milwaukee and the surrounding areas has really improved with great restaurants. You should try Jackson Grill, near Miller Park, Yannis dowtown is great. We have never had a complaint at Coquette. And then of course there's the ultimate Sanford's.
I haven't been to Fortune yet but I have also heard that the salt and pepper squid is to die for. The party that was there and told me about the squid had a waitress that told them to eat the shells. I guess it all depends on who you get.
We used to love a place called Jacques French Cafe on 2nd. They've moved to 1st St and the new name is Chez Jacques. Haven't been to Milwaukee recently so we haven't gotten there yet but if it's like it was before, it's a good spot. My favorite thing to get there was the Jacques Special plate (foie gras, greens, cheese, fruit, baguette) or just the cheese plate with wine & then a bit of dessert, or sometimes a special like softshell crab. Always delicious.