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Milwaukee: fine dining, beer, cheese?

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I am coming out to Milwaukee the weekend of the 9th for a close friend's graduation. I've never been there before, and she's going to a college in a suburb and hasn't really ventured into Milwaukee much. I'm staying near the Midwest Airlines Center, for reference.

FINE DINING:

I want to take her out to a really great place for dinner on Saturday night. She's said she'd like Indian, Greek or Mediterranean but NOT Italian. I would like to take her to someplace that is pretty swanky or at least has fantastic ambiance. I won't say money is NO object (no diamond-encrusted ice cream sundaes wanted), but she's worked really hard and deserves a very special experience.

The added monkey-wrenches in this scenario are that I'm a vegetarian who's allergic to soy (i.e. tofu and edamame), and while her palate has gotten much more adventurous over the past four years I think she'd find someplace like Roots daunting.

Fuzion Cafe and Lounge keeps coming across my radar for a variety of reasons, but I've only seen one review and am not sure if this would fit the bill. I looked at Hinterlands, but their one vegetarian item didn't send me.

BEER:

My other half is a big beer fan, and I'd like to bring back for him some good Milwaukee-brewed beer that we can't get in California. Milwaukee Ale House gets raves - do they do six packs to take home, is it all growlers and kegs, or is it bar-only? Is there something else I should pick up?

CHEESE:

I hear y'all in Wisconsin make a little cheese. Where would one go in Milwaukee to pick up organic small-production cheeses, and is there anything in particular you'd recommend?

Thanks very much for your help!

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  1. You're right that your fine dining situation is, ah, complicated. But, I'm willing to chime in on the other points.

    Beer. If you cannot get Lakefront Brewery beers in California, then grab some. The bock is out now, in small quantities and may be around when you arrive. The Organic ESB, to me, is outstanding. If you like ESBs, I think you'll like this. Also Furthermore makes stouts and ales. all available in six packs, some samplers too.

    Cheese: the milwaukee public market in the third ward has a big cheese shop which has lots of local cheese. Likewise, Outpost Natural Foods Co-op has local and organic. The Capri goat cheeses are really good. (full disclosure, I'm an owner in the co-op)

    One shot at a dining experience. I haven't been, but have heard good things.

    http://www.meritage.us/

    2 Replies
    1. re: mike_d

      Thanks for the recommendations, Mike! I don't think we can get Lakefront Brewery beers here, so I'll give them and Furthermore a shot. And I'm pretty close to the Milwaukee Public Market, and goat cheese is my fave, so I'll try it out!

      1. re: rednikki

        There's a wine shop/bar in the public market. They'll have Lakefront, but most any good size liquor store will as well.

    2. Can't do much for beer and cheese, but for fine dining, definitely try Sanford's. I love that place. Top notch service and food.

      11 Replies
      1. re: pastry634

        Sanford is one of the very best restaurants in the entire Midwest. I had one of my best dinners EVER there. It's the first place I thought of when the OP asked for "a very special experience".

        I see that on the Sanford website ( www.sanfordrestaurant.com ), one of the types of food they say they serve is vegetarian, so I'm sure they can do well for you. As a general rule, the better the restaurant, the more they are willing to tailor their food to any particular customer's needs, and I'm sure Sanford falls into this category. Just make sure to mention your dietary requirements when making your reservation, which will make it easier for them to plan.

        1. re: nsxtasy

          Also, if you do go to Sanford (which you should :P), don't shy away from the 7-course "surprise" menu. I've had it twice, and each time was completely different and showed of the seasonality of restaurant at its finest.

          1. re: pastry634

            Can't disagree that Sanford is special, but here's the link. rednikki, you'll have to decide if the sample menu is too adventuresome.

            http://www.sanfordrestaurant.com/sanf...

            1. re: mike_d

              Thanks for the sample menu, Mike! You're right, I think that might be a little too adventuresome for my friend (elk! pheasant! pickled hedgehogs! beef cheeks!). They also don't have a vegetarian entree on the list, which makes me wary. (I've been to one too many restaurants who, when I ask for something vegetarian, say "We have *tons* of seafood!")

              Nsxtasy, from the sample menu, all of their entrees seem very driven by the slab of meat or fish at the center. If I just had to ask them to tweak something around food allergies, that would be one thing, but asking them to create something whole-cloth that is not centered around meat/fish seems like it's very far outside of what they do.

              If I ever stop being a vegetarian, I'll keep this place in mind!

              1. re: rednikki

                My bad, rednikki! I completely skipped over the vegetarian part of your original post. Reading helps, doesn't it? :) A good vegetarian-friendly place in Milwaukee is Roots. See what you think:
                http://www.rootsmilwaukee.com/menus/d...

                1. re: pastry634

                  Thank you for this tip!

                2. re: rednikki

                  rednikki, I think you are underestimating Sanford, and you're missing something special if you exclude it without investigating further. I suggest you call them and discuss your needs with them. I'm sure they can tell you what they are serving that night as their vegetarian dishes, and how they might be able to customize them to meet your needs. If you decide to go elsewhere, that's fine! But if you rule them out based on the sample menu, and especially when you stereotype them as "driven by the slab of meat or fish at the center" without ever having been there, you are not doing them (or yourself) justice. Just call them, and give them a chance!

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Oh, no, I wasn't pushing Sanford out of the picture at all. I definitely think you should contact Sanford and see what they can do. I have had plenty of excellent vegetarian dishes there (mushroom-filled ravioli, awesome beet salad). I was just throwing some more names out there

                    1. re: pastry634

                      Oops! Sorry, I meant to direct that post to rednikki. Post edited...

                    2. re: nsxtasy

                      Nsxtasy, I'm not just thinking of myself. My guest had never even tried Chinese, Mexican or Indian food until two years ago, when I forced it on her :-) She grew up in an area where pizza was considered ethnic food. I have seen her really expand her comfort zone over the past two years, but I am concerned that someplace with pickled hedgehogs on the menu would frankly freak her the heck out.

                      I've been really digging, and I thought I was just not looking hard enough, but - there's really no such thing as high-end Indian, Greek or Mediterranean in Milwaukee, is there?

                      1. re: rednikki

                        Indian, Greek, and Mediterranean are cuisines that typically do not have high-end restaurants in this country. Even in Chicago, which is five times the size of Milwaukee, I cannot name a single high-end Indian or Greek restaurant! Mediterranean cuisine is best represented by higher-end Italian restaurants (which Milwaukee has) and mid-priced tapas restaurants.

                        This is not unique to those cuisines, either. Chicago has only one high-end Chinese restaurant (Shanghai Terrace) and one high-end Thai restaurant (Arun's), and many more ethnic cuisines from around the world without any high-end restaurants at all.

          2. Until I started looking, I didn't realize how bad things were for the non-carnivores in this town. There are some very good veggie-vegan restaurants, but none that would generally be classified as fine dining. It seems that MIlw. has decided that pasta is all you're going to get. You can get some wonderful Italian in this town, but most everything else gives maybe one slot on the menu to the non-carnivore and that's that. Perhaps I'm overstating, but with the Barossa closing, there's not a lot, it seems. I've been cruising menus for awhile now.. jeez

            Here's link, maybe it'll help.
            http://www.vegguide.org/region/104

            We should, as Milw. hounds, try to get a good list together for folks, I think.

            3 Replies
            1. re: mike_d

              Good idea, Mike. I have a feeling that the list may be short, but very helpful to vegetarians. Vegetarians will find a hard time here, but vegans...oh boy...
              Anyway, I'd like to add Cafe Manna in Brookfield to the list. This is an all vegetarian place with a few vegan items. I've eaten here twice and was very impressed with their sandwiches.
              http://www.cafemanna.com/

              1. re: mike_d

                Thanks, Mike, that helps a lot!

                I was hoping that there was a high-end Indian or Mediterranean restaurant in Milwaukee, and that I just wasn't looking hard enough, but it doesn't seem like that's the case. I know she'd really prefer Indian or Mediterranean, so I think I'll have to accept that I'll have to notch down my ambiance expectations (which she really won't care much about anyway) so she can get her wish.

                1. re: rednikki

                  If this was a year ago, you'd be in business. We had a high-end Indian resto.......But they decided after 5 or 6 years to retire, essentially.

              2. I recommend The King and I (upscale Thai) followed by drinks or dessert at the Hyatt Polaris. I'm no longer in the Milwaukee area, but visited The King and I recently and really enjoyed my meal. Anyone graduating college will [still] be excited by the revolving rooftop view at the Hyatt, and drinks/ dessert there are both good (the food is not). They're across the street from each other and both are near where you're staying.
                For breakfast or lunch, given your own interests, you should definitely check out Beans & Barley. Everything they serve - most of which is vegetarian - is outstanding and they used to have a small grocery attached (they may still)...

                1 Reply
                1. re: meredithalt

                  Sadly, the Polaris is no longer with us - http://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/...
                  But I agree on King and I. And, if I am correct, they have a great lunch buffet as well

                2. BEER: I reccommend looking up The Lakefront Brewery beers (http://www.lakefrontbrewery.com/milwa...). We do not sell beer for taking home in MKE bars because you can get it from just about any store any day! If you find a Sendik's grocery store (www.sendiksmarket.com) and their liquor dept. associates are REALLY helpful and they carry a ton of local brews!
                  Good Luck!

                  1. Beer- I'll have to add another vote for Lakefront. I keep their Riverwest Stein stocked in our bar! If you have the time, head straight to the brewery, take the tour and try them out...you won't be disappointed

                    Cheese- Try Whole Foods, they make an effort to buy local cheeses.....they have a smoked blue cheese that is great to cook with as well as eating by itself.

                    Restaurants--Sanford is absolutely one of the best Milwaukee has to offer. But, in my opinion, the atmosphere has always been a little stuffy. If you're looking for something with great atmosphere I'd try Carnevor. They're a high end steakhouse, but have always done a great job creating vegetarian dishes to accomadate guests. Also, for middle eastern, you could try Casablanca on Brady Street. Good food, plenty of vegetarian options, a little lacking on the atmosphere. Best choice for upscale middle eastern since Dancing Ganesha closed.

                    Hope that helps!